BISMARCK – Eight people were arrested Wednesday, Aug. 31, after protesters descended on a construction site for the Dakota Access Pipeline project in North Dakota and two men bound themselves to construction equipment, authorities said.
Part of the incident unfolded live on Facebook as video was streamed from the site, with more than 13,000 people watching online at one point.
Morton County Sheriff Kyle Kirchmeier said authorities received a report at about 7:20 a.m. of people on the construction site climbing on equipment near State Highway 6 south of St. Anthony, or about 20 miles west of the main protest site along Highway 1806 near Cannon Ball where hundreds of mostly American Indians are camped out in protest of the pipeline.
Deputies observed about 50 protesters and 40 vehicles at the site, including two protesters who had secured their arms around parts of an excavator and a haul truck using PVC pipe, chain, chicken wire and tar, with grease put on to make it slippery, Kirchmeier said.
The Mandan Rural Fire Department helped cut the men free, and the man bound to the excavator was finally extracted around 11 a.m. — a task made more difficult by the height of the excavator, requiring a harness and bucket truck, he said.
The man, identified as Dale “Happy” American Horse Jr., 26, Sioux Falls, S.D., was arrested on suspicion of preventing arrest, criminal trespass and obstructing a government function.
Lisa Winter, 47, St. Louis, who was standing on equipment, was arrested on suspicion of preventing arrest, disorderly conduct and criminal trespass. Jeremiah IronRoad, 25, Cannon Ball, who also was secured to equipment, was arrested on suspicion of criminal trespass and obstructing a government function.
Five other people from Texas, California, Sisseton, S.D., Washington state and Fort Yates, N.D., were arrested for disorderly conduct and obstruction.
Dallas Goldtooth, an organizer with the Indigenous Environmental Network, said the arrests were a continuation of the nonviolent direct action tactics pipeline opponents are using to protect the water and communities.
“People are using civil disobedience as a means to raise awareness of the issues and the need to protect the water and as a way to delay construction of the Dakota Access Pipeline,” Goldtooth said.
A total of 37 people have now been arrested in connection with the Dakota Access protest in Morton County.
On the ground, deputies created a perimeter around the equipment and tried to keep protesters from getting too close as they heckled the officers, sang songs and chanted slogans such as “Stand by Iowa, shut down DAPL.” At one point, protesters shouted “water is life” as a deputy poured bottled water into the mouth of the man who’d been bound to the excavator for several hours. About 40 officers from at least four agencies responded to the protest.
After the arrests, the remaining protesters were moved to the highway right-of-way and eventually left, Kirchmeier said.
Goldtooth emphasized that the protesters’ actions did not put any workers or law enforcement in danger, and Kirchmeier confirmed the protesters were nonviolent, though he noted there were “numerous comments” made against officers “to make agitation.” As a safety precaution, officers didn’t wear their name badges so they couldn’t be identified, he said.
Kirchmeier commended officers for showing proper restraint, and he reiterated that while the protest was nonviolent, it was illegal and was not considered peaceful.
“This is a location where legal business is being conducted, and that needs to continue and is continuing at this point,” he said.
Authorities temporarily closed Highway 6 from the junction of County Road 138A on the north to the junction of State Highway 21 on the south because of safety concerns about the protesters present and dozens of cars parked on the road, Kirchmeier said. The highway was reopened by 2:30 p.m.
The $3.8 billion pipeline will carry 450,000 barrels per day of Bakken crude from North Dakota to Patoka, Ill. The Standing Rock Sioux Tribe has sued the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers in federal court over its approval of a Missouri River crossing about a half-mile north of the reservation. Opponents fear the pipeline threatens the tribe’s water supply and other sacred sites. A judge in Washington, D.C., is expected to rule on the tribe’s request for an injunction by Sept. 9.
A roadblock on State HIghway 1806 that restricts southbound traffic remains in place, despite calls from protesters and civil rights groups that it be removed.
Kirchmeier said there have been discussions with protest camp leaders about lifting the checkpoint if they can guarantee people will stay off the road.
“It’s really hard to do that at this point when incidents like this occur,” he said.