As heavily militarized police raided a North Dakota camp of Native Americans and allies resisting construction of the Dakota Access Pipeline, and as indigenous youth occupied Hillary Clinton’s campaign headquarters in New York City demanding she oppose DAPL, the Democratic presidential nominee broke her silence on the standoff Thursday by releasing a statement calling on both sides to “find a path forward that serves the broadest public interest.”
Democracy Now reports 11 young Native Americans traveled from the Standing Rock Reservation in North Dakota to Clinton’s New York campaign headquarters to seek her opposition to DAPL. The $3.8 billion, 1,100-mile (1,886-km) crude oil pipeline is being built on land privately owned by Dallas-based Energy Transfer Partners. However, Native Americans inhabited the land for thousands of years prior to the genocidal conquest of the continent by European invaders and the Standing Rock Sioux assert that under the oft-broken 1851 Treaty of Fort Laramie — which designated the land as belonging to the Great Sioux Nation — they are its rightful owners.
While the pipeline does not cross the reservation, it comes close enough to worry tribal members, environmentalists and others that drinking and agricultural irrigation water for the tribe and millions of others living downstream along the Missouri River could be contaminated in the event of an accident. Last Friday, 55,000 gallons of gasoline spilled from a ruptured pipeline owned by Sunoco Logistics — an Energy Transfer Partners subsidiary — into the Susquehanna River in central Pennsylvania, underscoring arguments by DAPL opponents that the pipeline is an environmental and public health danger.
“We wanted to bring our songs and prayer to tell [Clinton] to oppose this pipeline, that the youth, the future leaders of this nation and the future occupiers of this nation, do not want this pipeline, because it will affect our water,” Daniel Grassrope of the Lower Brule Sioux Nation in South Dakota told Democracy Now. Grassrope said no one from the Clinton campaign would speak with the occupiers, who built a tipi in the Brooklyn campaign office. He stressed the importance of the #NoDAPL movement.
“We’re trying to protect our water, and right now it’s being threatened by this pipeline,” he said. “And everyone in the Native nation knows that water is our first medicine. Water brings life to everything — the plants, the trees, the… the animals that we eat, everything. It brings life to us, in general… It’s very important that we have water.”
Indian Country Today reports the Clinton campaign broke its long silence on DAPL Thursday in a statement responding to a letter Native leaders had sent asking for her help. It wasn’t the response many of them had hoped for:
We received a letter today from representatives of the tribes protesting the construction of the Dakota Access Pipeline. From the beginning of this campaign, Secretary Clinton has been clear that she thinks all voices should be heard and all views considered in federal infrastructure projects. Now, all of the parties involved — including the federal government, the pipeline company and contractors, the state of North Dakota, and the tribes — need to find a path forward that serves the broadest public interest. As that happens, it’s important that on the ground in North Dakota, everyone respects demonstrators’ rights to protest peacefully, and workers’ rights to do their jobs safely.
Many Native Americans and pipeline opponents were disappointed by the statement. “What a crock,” tweeted Last Real Indians co-founder and Indian Country Today reporter Ruth Hopkins. Bill McKibben, founder of the climate change action group 350.org, tweeted that Clinton “managed to make a statement about the Dakota Pipeline that literally says nothing.” MSNBC host Joy Reid tweeted, “kind of a BS statement by the Clinton camp on #NoDAPL, frankly. The outrage taking place out there cries out for outrage.”
Grassrope was more optimistic about Clinton’s response. “She’s telling people… on the ground [in] North Dakota that everyone respects the demonstrators’ rights to peacefully protest,” he told Democracy Now. “And as protectors of land, we are peaceful. We are there peacefully. We’re not there to violent or engage in any violent activity. We are there to stop this pipeline through prayer, and that’s what we’ve been doing from the beginning.”
Clinton’s statement came on the same day hundreds of police raided Sacred Ground Camp, where around 200 Sioux, members of other tribes and allies from across the nation are resisting the construction of the pipeline. Democracy Now reports police officers in riot gear and armed with automatic rifles, flanked by massive mine-resistant ambush protectant vehicles (MRAPs) and Humvees driven by National Guard troops, advanced on the camp Thursday afternoon. Water protectors said police used tear gas, mace, pepper spray and flash-bang grenades and bean bag rounds against Native Americans and shot rubber bullets at their horses. ABC News reports 141 arrests. Daily Kos’ navajo reports that while Sacred Ground Camp has been dismantled, Oceti Sakowin, Sacred Stone, Rosebud and Red Warrior camps are still standing.
“The protesters are not being peaceful or prayerful,” Cass County Sheriff Paul Laney said in a press release. “Law enforcement has been very methodical in moving ahead slowly as to not escalate the situation. However, the protesters are using very dangerous means to slow us down. Their aggressive tactics include using horses, fire and trying to flank us with horses and people.”
Standing Rock Sioux Chairman Dave Archambault II decried what he called a “disproportionate response” to the protest.
“Militarized law enforcement agencies moved in on water protectors with tanks and riot gear today,” Archambault told ABC News. “We have repeatedly seen a disproportionate response from law enforcement to water protectors’ nonviolent exercise of their constitutional rights. Today we have witnessed people praying in peace, yet attacked with pepper spray, rubber bullets, sound and concussion cannons (LRADs).” Archambault demanded the Justice Department “send overseers immediately to ensure the protection of First Amendment rights and the safety of thousands here at Standing Rock.”
Previous enforcement operations against the water protectors have been criticized for their violence. Last month, private security guards unleashed attack dogs against Native Americans attempting to protect a sacred burial site from bulldozers. Images of a dog with blood dripping from its nose and mouth went viral, raising awareness and support for the water protectors.