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Shot with Rubber Bullets, Hospitalized, Jailed: Line 3 Protester Tara Houska Decries Police Attack

StoryAugust 04, 2021
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At least 20 water protectors were brutally arrested in Minnesota as resistance to the Enbridge Line 3 pipeline continues, and they say state and local police have escalated their use of excessive force, using tear gas, rubber and pepper bullets to repress opposition to Line 3, which, if completed, would carry Canadian tar sands oil across Indigenous land and fragile ecosystems. “The level of brutality that was unleashed on us was very extreme,” says Indigenous lawyer and activist Tara Houska, who suffered bloody welts after she was shot with rubber bullets, then arrested and held in Pennington County Jail over the weekend, where several water protectors say they were denied medical care for their injuries, denied proper food and some reportedly held in solitary confinement.

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

AMY GOODMAN: This is Democracy Now! I’m Amy Goodman, with Juan González.

We end today’s show in Minnesota, where at least 20 water protectors were brutally arrested over the weekend as resistance to the Enbridge Line 3 pipeline continues. Water protectors say state and local police have escalated their use of excessive force, using tear gas, rubber and pepper bullets to repress Line 3 protesters. On Sunday, Indigenous lawyer and activist Tara Houska published photos of herself on social media with bloodied welts on her arms after she was shot with rubber bullets during an action last week. Houska and 19 others were held in Pennington County Jail over the weekend, where several water protectors say they were denied medical care for their injuries, were denied proper food, and some were reportedly held in solitary confinement.

Well, Tara Houska joins us now for more from the Namewag Camp in Minnesota, founder of the Giniw Collective and is Ojibwe from Couchiching First Nation.

Welcome back to Democracy Now!, Tara. Can you describe what happened when you were arrested and the escalation of force that the police are using against you?

TARA HOUSKA: Good morning.

Yeah, so, in a situation in which there were a number of shutdowns of various drilling operations across several rivers here in northern Minnesota, this would have been the fifth drill shutdown in as many days. And the attempt by water protectors, including myself, to engage in those processes and attempt to protect the river was met with extreme force.

We were under smoky skies and a red sun due to the wildfires that are raging in Ontario, just north of us and west of us, and next to a drought-stricken river, so a very, very deeply harmed river, and a gigantic drill in the background drilling through, attempting to put in a tar sands pipeline through that drought-stricken river.

And the level of brutality that was unleashed on us was very extreme. People were shot in their faces, in their bodies, in their upper torsos. I saw a young woman’s head get split open right in front of me. It was a really, really brutal scene. And the arrests in person were also quite brutal, throwing people face down in the dirt and being extremely violent in a situation in which we were outnumbered by police at least two to one, and many, many, many counties present protecting this one place, and which also happens to be a county where a murderer, an actual murderer, is still on the loose, has not been caught, but there were somehow over 50 police officers in that one place watching water protectors.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: And, Tara, could you talk about this increasing cooperation and partnership between Minnesota state and local police and Enbridge?

TARA HOUSKA: When I was sitting on the side of a police vehicle with several others waiting to be brought to jail, I overheard several of the police officers talking about how they were going to get bonus time for this brutality they had unleashed upon us. It’s, at this point, a pretty known thing that police officers are reimbursed for any costs associated with Enbridge Line 3 protests, and it seems like they welcome the opportunity. One police officer was actually grinning and smiling and said he had a great time and couldn’t wait for us to come again.

They’ve billed over $1.7 million to the Public Safety Escrow Trust, in which Enbridge is dumping millions of dollars to incentivize and encourage police officers to repress, suppress and surveil, harass Indigenous people and our allies that are helping us try to stop this pipeline from happening in our treaty territory. It is a very clear pattern of aggression and of cooperation, that’s also being enabled by things like the Energy Security Act that has just passed through the House very recently. So, it’s a precedent that is very dangerous, and everyone should be afraid of this, regardless of whether or not they’re engaged in pipeline protest.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: And the latest protest on the Red River came as another spill was reported on the Mississippi River headwaters, where Enbridge has continued to drill despite a temporary halt buffer zone issued by White Earth Nation. What’s the latest on the construction of the pipeline and other actions?

TARA HOUSKA: Construction is 24 hours a day. Enbridge is working as fast as it possibly can. I’m guessing after police were harming Indigenous people, using rubber bullets paid for by the Enbridge company, that there’s probably even more of a push to get this done as quickly as possible, before the Army Corps intervenes, if that’s indeed what they choose to do. There is an ongoing call out to the Army Corps, to the Biden administration intervene before more people are hurt, before more frac-outs happen at the Mississippi River headwaters, the place where the Mississippi River, one of the biggest river systems in the world, begins. There have been a number of spills just in that one location and several others along the 200 water bodies that are proposed to be impacted by Line 3, the 800 wetlands that this project wants to go through.

AMY GOODMAN: Tara, we just showed the images that you put out, just even of yourself with the rubber bullet welts on your arms. If you could describe why you’re doing this? I mean, we’re seeing progressives in Congress. They’re fighting hard. You are putting your bodies on the line. And what message do you have for Washington now as they fight over this infrastructure bill, these two bills, what you’re doing, what you want them to know about Minnesota, about the Giniw Collective Camp, and how you’ve been blockaded there by the police?

TARA HOUSKA: I began my own professional career in Washington, D.C., and understand a lot of how the dynamics of Capitol Hill work. I worked in various offices, including the White House, when I was out there. And it is so clear to me and to the many young people who are part of not just this movement, but movements across the globe, the Indigenous people who are leading struggle to protect the last beautiful sacred places, that it is simply not working fast enough.

In the conversations and arguments, that are very based in status quo, in this idea that we will continue on in the way that we have always done things, and that it is simply a matter of transitioning into another form of energy economy, that is not reflective of what is actually happening. We should understand that, as the last time I spoke with you, there was an entire city that had been burned to the ground from wildfires that are directly related to climate crisis. The climate crisis is happening.

And for myself, if it takes seeing Indigenous bodies being brutalized to understand what is really occurring in real time, what is happening to the people as we are defending these last places, that’s what I’m willing to do. And that’s what many, many others are willing to do. I was just one of many people who were hurt. I was put in solitary confinement. I was denied medical care, after being hospitalized when I got brought in. We, as human beings, have to decide what we’re going to do. And some of us are pushing as hard as we can with everything that we can.

AMY GOODMAN: Tara Houska, we want to thank you so much for being with us, Indigenous lawyer and activist, founder of the Giniw Collective, Ojibwe from Couchiching First Nation, speaking to us from Minnesota, where she was just recently arrested, hospitalized, put in solitary confinement, and now out, brutalized with police shooting rubber bullets at her.

That does it for our show. Democracy Now! is currently accepting applications for our video production fellowship and our digital fellowship here in our New York City studio. Learn more and apply at democracynow.org.

Democracy Now! produced with Renée Feltz, Mike Burke, Deena Guzder, Messiah Rhodes, Nermeen Shaikh, María Taracena, Tami Woronoff, Charina Nadura, Sam Alcoff, Tey-Marie Astudillo, John Hamilton. Special thanks. I’m Amy Goodman, with Juan González.

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