Police hit hundreds of unarmed protestors who gathered to stop the Dakota Access Pipeline at Standing Rock in North Dakota with water cannons Sunday night. Protestors also reported being hit with rubber bullets, teargas, pepper spray, and percussion grenades during the clashes.
The activist group Digital Smoke Signals posted live video to Facebook of the confrontation, shining a light on tactics a well equipped police force deployed against protestors in freezing temperatures.
“They were attacked with water cannons,” Standing Rock Sioux tribe member LaDonna Brave Bull Allard told the Guardian. “It is 23 degrees [-5 °C] out there with mace, rubber bullets, pepper spray, etc. They are being trapped and attacked. Pray for my people.”
The police said the use of water cannons was in response to protesters starting several fires on the Blackwater Bridge on Highway 1806, just north of a protest camp. Activists admitted lighting two fires to keep warm in plummeting temperatures but denied starting any more. The Morton County Sheriff’s department called the incident “an ongoing riot,” estimating that up to 400 protesters were blocking the bridge.
In a video statement posted on Twitter by the Indigenous Environmental Network, a medic reported at least four wounds from rubber bullets, with three of those to the face or head. A spokeswoman for the group told The Guardian that 167 people were injured, and seven were taken to the hospital.
In a statement on Facebook, the Standing Rock Medic and Healer Council called for “the immediate cessation of use of water cannons on people who are outdoors in 28F ambient weather with no means of active rewarming in these conditions.”
Protesters have been camped out at Standing Rock since April, where they’ve decried the planned Energy Transfers Pipeline. Four hundred people have been arrested since the protests began, but tensions reached a boiling point in October as law enforcement officials increased the use of military vehicles and teargas in their attempts to quell the unrest. While the majority of protestors were peaceful, reports surfaced of molotov cocktails being thrown at police and gunfire.
Activists claim the pipeline, which is almost complete, will contaminate local water supplies, threaten their livelihoods, and irrecoverably damage sacred sites.