North Dakota: Water Protectors Erect New Frontline Camp Directly in Path of Dakota Access Pipeline

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On Sunday, hundreds of water protectors erected a new frontline camp of several structures and tipis directly on the proposed path of the Dakota Access pipeline. The new frontline camp is just to the east of North Dakota State Highway 1806, across from the site where on September 3, over Labor Day weekend, Dakota Access security guards unleashed pepper spray and dogs against Native Americans trying to protect a sacred tribal burial ground from destruction. The water protectors also erected three road blockades that stopped traffic for hours on Highway 1806 to the north and the south of the main resistance camp and along County Road 134. The group cited an 1851 treaty, which they say makes the entire area unceded sovereign land under the control of the Sioux. The blockades were dismantled late Sunday. We speak with Tara Houska, national campaigns director for Honor the Earth. She is Ojibwe from Couchiching First Nation.

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This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

AMY GOODMAN: We continue our coverage of the Standoff at Standing Rock with Tara Houska, national campaigns director for Honor the Earth, Ojibwe, Couchiching First Nation. She has been in North Dakota for quite some time now. It seems this weekend an acceleration of the building of the Dakota Access pipeline, as well, of the protests of the water protectors and also of journalists, where numbers range from 87 to 140 people arrested this weekend.

Tara, what do you know is happening, the numbers? But also, is the Dakota Access pipeline—and we’d like to put this question to them, but we weren’t able to get them on the show—is it accelerating, the construction right now? Are they trying to race towards deadline to get this pipeline built?

TARA HOUSKA: As soon as the court lifted the 20-mile, you know, so-called buffer zone on either side of Lake Oahe, or the Missouri River, I mean, it was full steam ahead. They’ve been doing everything they can—you know, constructing on weekends, constructing long hours with massive crews, to get this pipeline into the ground. Probably, I mean, as another tactic, too, to pressure this final—the Army Corps permits that are under the water crossings are all under review right now, so I’m sure they’re looking to get as much of the pipeline in the ground as they possibly can up to the Army Corps crossings, as another pressure point.

AMY GOODMAN: Now, what happened exactly this weekend? Why this acceleration also of the arrests?

TARA HOUSKA: I think, you know, the sheriff is telling a story of these escalated behaviors and, you know, agitators. I found it very interesting that the Morton County press—their press contact actually stated instead that, you know, although the protesters peacefully dispersed, what they were doing was still illegal. So they’re—you know, the Sheriff’s Office is attempting to characterize it both as a riot, as people praying as a riot, and increasing numbers of arrests, while at the same time acknowledging that people are indeed peacefully dispersing when asked to leave. So, it’s kind of like two conflicting stories here. And I think they’re looking to scare folks off to get this pipeline into the ground, to do anything it takes to get the pipeline into the ground, including massive arrests and, you know, open violations of, you know—I mean, using mace on people for absolutely no reason. Some of the videos show that there was no way that the officer was in any threaten of harm, actually grabbing protesters and macing them.

AMY GOODMAN: I was on a North Dakota radio program right after Sheriff Kirchmeier, and he was very clear. He said five people, or more than five people, is a riot. Can you respond to this? Because it seems that the charges have escalated. In the beginning, it was disorderly conduct, then criminal trespass, and now it’s riot.

TARA HOUSKA: I think they’re looking to—you know, like I said, I think they’re looking to scare folks off. They’re also looking to drain resources. There is a legal fund that has been collected off of people’s goodwill donations to support the direct action—the direct actions against Dakota Access to stop the construction. And now, with these escalated charges, they can increase the amount of bail for each individual arrested. You know, claiming that people praying and drumming is somehow a riot is ludicrous. I’m interested to see how a prosecutor could even bring that and prove that in a court of law. I know that at one of the lockdowns that happened in the last week, there was only four people there. That doesn’t even meet the statutory requirement of their so-called riot, yet they still were all charged with inciting a riot. Four people doesn’t seem like a riot to me, nor does a group of Native Americans peacefully praying and smudging one another.

AMY GOODMAN: I wanted to ask about the letter that Honor the Earth, the Indigenous Environmental Network and others sent to the Army Corps of Engineers on October 10th. What does this letter say?

TARA HOUSKA: It goes through, you know, the various violations and issues that are present within the permitting process. In particular, it’s very, very important that people know that on September 3rd, which was the day of these dog attacks, folks were out there protecting a sacred site that had been identified the day prior by the tribe. They had gone out with Tim Mentz. They had actually, you know, submitted a supplemental brief and stated, “Here are—you know, here are the exact sacred places that are not being considered on your pipeline route. Here are several of them.” And they submitted that at 5:00 p.m. on a Friday. The following day, Dakota Access skipped over 20 miles ahead to bulldoze those sites. In the National Historic Preservation Act, Section 110(k) states, if they—if the company intentionally destroys or disrupts sacred places, that the permit cannot be issued, that the Army Corps cannot issue these permits, that, you know, this project cannot be approved. And that’s exactly what happened here.

AMY GOODMAN: And so, what happens at this point? Today, what is happening, for example? And where does this all go from here?

TARA HOUSKA: Folks are continuing to—you know, you mentioned the construction of the frontlines encampment growing now, people putting tipis and enacting structures for living directly on the pipeline route. They are—they are miles away. Dakota Access is moving at an incredible pace to try and get this pipeline into the ground. And so, I think that, you know, the interactions will continue between protectors, water protectors, and the police. There will continue to be resistance of, you know, people putting their actual bodies on the line, because this is such a larger issue. This is the—you know, we’re fighting for future generations. We’re fighting for the protection of water for the 17 million people that live along the Missouri River. I think, you know, the court cases are continuing. There is a long process for that. But really, the Army Corps of Engineers needs to answer: You know, what—where is this review process? Are you going to uphold the National Historic Preservation Act and acknowledge that Dakota Access intentionally destroyed these sites, and cancel these permits, cancel all these water permits? This is not a legal pipeline. It was never an environmental impact statement. Stringent-level review was never conducted. That is not in the public interest. Dakota Access profits do not come over the safety and well-being of the people.

AMY GOODMAN: Tara Houska, I want to thank you for being with us, of Honor the Earth, Ojibwe, Couchiching First Nation.

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