Kandi Mossett of the Indigenous Environmental Network wrote on the blog of the Sacred Stone Camp website that she joined people protesting the Dakota Access Pipeline (DAPL) at the Front Line Camp to pray on Thursday.
Instead, she found herself “in what I can only describe as a war zone.”
Dressed in riot gear, officers riding assault vehicles, firing bean bags and pepper spray, arrested 141 people at what was known as the Front Line Camp on private property near Highway 1806.
That’s where protesters had re-established roadblocks and barricades following a confrontation with police less than a week before.
The Standing Rock Sioux Tribe and environmental activists have been protesting the pipeline project since August. They say it could ruin the local water supply, would run through property promised to the tribe by treaty, and could destroy tribal sacred sites.
The protesters, who set up the Front Line Camp on Monday, said that while Morton County might consider it to be private property the Standing Rock Sioux tribe is the rightful landowner under an 1851 treaty.
North Dakota Gov. Jack Dalrymple (R) didn’t see it that way, and police went into action.
The Morton County Sheriff’s Department wrote on its Facebook page that protesters responded with violence.
“Officers met violence and resistance including a protester who fired a gun at officers in the police line, protesters who threw Molotov cocktails at them and set vehicles and debris on fire.”
The police won.
The Morton County Sheriff’s Department reported today that law enforcement officers were holding a line north of the main camp of protesters and had no intention of moving into the main camp.
Dave Archambault II, chairman of the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe, said the police action was nothing less than a military assault.
“Militarized law enforcement agencies moved in on water protectors with tanks and riot gear today,” Archambault said in a statement. “The Department of Justice must send overseers immediately to ensure the protection of First Amendment rights and the safety of thousands here at Standing Rock. DOJ can no longer ignore our requests. If harm comes to any who come here to stand in solidarity with us, it is on their watch.”
Wyn Hornbuckle, deputy director of public affairs for the U.S. Department of Justice, told ABC News in a statement that the department was “taking the situation in North Dakota seriously.”
Actor Mark Ruffalo complained on Instagram that the police action was “rubber bullets in the face of peaceful and prayerful Water Protectors” and called on President Obama to “please help those young people you met on the reservation and brought to the White House.”
But North Dakota Gov. Dalrymple and Attorney General Wayne Stenehjem (R) complimented the officers.
Dalrymple said DAPL protesters were given every opportunity to move their protest off private property and away from the county and state highways before police moved in to forcefully remove them.
Dalrymple also said he had reached out to Standing Rock Sioux Tribal Chairman Dave Archambault two days before police moved in, asking the protesters who moved to the Front Line Camp to get back to their main camp.
When none of the protesters retreated, Dalrymple said the Morton County Sheriff’s Department had no alternative but to go in.
Stenehjem praised the officers who took action against the protesters for handling the assault in a professional manner.
“Law enforcement has been in a very difficult position since the very beginning. I think they handled it well and they have been thoughtful under very trying circumstances,” said Stenehjem.
Kandi Mossett accused the officers of showing everything but restraint.
“I was sprayed in the face with pepper spray, the guy next to me was shot by something that didn’t break the skin but appeared to have broken the ribs & another guy beside me was randomly snatched violently by police shoving me into the officers who held me off with batons then tried to grab me,” Mossett wrote. “I’m still in shock & keep waiting to wake from what’s surely a nightmare though this is my reality as a native woman in 2016 trying to defend the sacred.”
Another witness to the police action wrote that two medics helping those injured were “hit with batons and thrown off the car they were sitting on.”
“Then police grabbed another medic, who was driving the car, out of the driver side while it was still in motion,” the anonymous witness added. “Another water protector had to jump into the car to stop it from hitting other people.”
Eryn Wise of the International Indigenous Youth Council said more than half of the youth council was attacked, injured or arrested by police.
“In addition to our brothers and sisters being hurt and incarcerated, we saw police steal our sacred staff,” Wise said. “I have no words for what happened to any of us today. Our youth are watching and remember the faces of the officers that assaulted them. They pray for them.”
Gov. Dalrymple said he hoped a point had been made.
“Hopefully we have persuaded these protestors that our state highways and county highways, and private property, are not the place to carry out a peaceful protests,” Gov. Dalrymple said. “We will stand by that for as long as we can.”