Protests at Standing Rock over the weekend resulted in 127 arrests amid clashes with police in the ongoing standoff over a proposed oil pipeline that would run through the area. Saturday saw the largest number of arrests in a single day since protests began near the reservation on Aug. 10, the local sheriff’s department confirmed to VICE News. Police accused 200 protesters of cutting a fence and entering an area near the $3.8 billion Dakota Access Pipeline’s right of way.
But the mostly Native American protesters, who call themselves “water protectors,” say they were there to pay their respects to sacred sites, and that they did not provoke police.
Saturday’s protests were notable for something else as well: Police officers shot down a drone they said was flying toward a surveillance helicopter “in a threatening manner.” The incident damaged the drone and forced the operator to land it, the Morton County Sheriff’s Office said in a release.
There have been 269 arrests since protests began at Standing Rock.
The resistance in North Dakota is part of a larger movement across the Americas in which indigenous people are standing up against energy projects that they say would contaminate their water, contribute to climate change, and infringe on their land rights.
While some indigenous leaders believe pipelines and other energy projects can be beneficial for their communities because they bring jobs and new sources of revenue, others contend that the risks of leaks and environmental damage are too high.
Specifically, the Dakota Access Pipeline is a multibillion-dollar, nearly 1,200-mile project that would carry at least 470,000 barrels of crude oil per day from the Bakken and Three Forks areas of North Dakota to pipelines in Illinois.
The pipeline’s proponents, including the company behind the project, Dakota Access, a subsidiary of Energy Transfer Partners, argue it will create thousands of construction jobs and decrease the amount of oil shipped by rail, which many in the industry often argue is more dangerous than pumping oil by pipeline.
Locals disagree. In Standing Rock’s case, the pipeline would run directly under a lake from which the reserve of 8,000 people draws its drinking water, putting their water at risk of contamination if it leaks.
The tribe also says the pipeline construction is ruining sacred sites north of the reserve, including a burial site that was bulldozed on Sept. 3.
In July, the Standing Rock tribe filed a complaint against the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, saying it failed to consult them before approving the pipeline, despite its duty to do so.
Thousands of indigenous people and their allies from all over North America have joined the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe in North Dakota to resist the construction of the Dakota Access Pipeline.
Saturday’s mass arrests
Police used pepper spray on some demonstrators during what local law enforcement termed an “illegal protest.” Tribal chairman Dave Archambault II of the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe took issue with that characterization and denounced the arrests. Archambault said the protest was “peaceful” and accused police of “needlessly escalating violence” and “unlawful arrests.”
Following the mass arrests, he called on the U.S. Department of Justice to immediately intervene, saying authorities at the state level “have failed to ensure the safety and rights of the citizens engaged in peaceful protests who were arrested on Saturday.”
“Their lack of leadership and commitment to creating a dialogue toward a peaceful solution reflects not only the unjust historical narrative against Native Americans, but a dangerous trend in law enforcement tactics across America,” he said in a statement.
In a parallel demonstration over the weekend, several protesters locked themselves to a vehicle along the pipeline route using chains and U-locks, according to the sheriff’s department.