SIOUX FALLS, SD—The latest development in the Dakota Access Pipeline (DAPL) controversy has left more than 300 protesters injured—including a woman facing potential arm amputation—and incited allegations that these injuries “were the direct result of excessive force used by police over the course of 10 hours” during a protest against the $3.7 billion pipeline’s construction, according to an official statement prepared by the Standing Rock Medic & Healer Council at the Standing Rock Resistance Camps.
The clash between police and protestors began at approximately 6 p.m. on Sunday, November 20, when a group of demonstraters made a collaborative effort to remove a scorched truck that was being used to barricade the Backwater Bridge, which leads to North Dakota Highway 1806, a public road north of Cannon Ball. Activists cited law enforcement’s use of water cannons, tear gas, concussion grenades and rubber bullets against “unarmed and peaceful water protectors.”
“It was to open up the road, so in the daylight the world can see the face of militarized law enforcement and state oppression,” Indigenous Environmental Network Director Dallas Goldtooth wrote in a Facebook post on Sunday. “Police in response are using a water cannon, tear gas and concussion grenades on the crowd.”
Most of the patients treated suffered hypothermia, according to Standing Rock’s Medic & Healer Council, which alleged that “police continuously assaulted demonstrators with up to three water cannons for the first seven hours of this incident in subfreezing temperatures dipping to 22 F.”
“What has happened is the militarized police have responded,” said Omaha native and Videographer Kevin Gilbertt while streaming the altercation as it unraveled live on Facebook. “You’re watching peaceful, unarmed water protectors being fired on with tear gas, rubber bullets and water cannons.”
Approximately 300 injuries—26 of which were listed as “serious”—were “identified, triaged, assessed and treated” by physicians. Three of the patients who suffered serious injuries were immediately transported to a nearby hospital in Bismarck for emergency treatment. Others were transported by ambulance upon initial assessment and treatment at the camp.
One law enforcement officer was injured and 16 people were arrested, according to the Morton County Sheriff’s Department.
Sophia Wilansky of New York City—whose age has not been released—was confirmed to have suffered a critical arm mutilation when she was “struck directly by a concussion grenade on the front lines” during what activists are describing as a “mass casualty incident,” according to Goldtooth. Wilansky was airlifted to a Minneapolis hospital where she will undergo extensive surgery in an effort to save her arm and hand, according to Goldtooth’s most recent update. No other information was immediately available.
“It wasn’t from our law enforcement, because we didn’t deploy anything that should have caused that type of damage to her arm,” said sheriff’s spokeswoman Maxine Herr. Medical officials first encountered Wilansky at a nearby casino, she told the Los Angeles Times, “We’re not sure how her injury was sustained.”
In its initial statement, the Morton County Sheriff’s Department described the event as an “ongoing riot on the Backwater Bridge” and wrote that there were “protesters in mass amounts” attempting to “breach the bridge to go north on highway 1806.” The statement alleged “protesters [had] started a dozen fires near the bridge.”
Spokeswoman for the Indigenous Environmental Network Jade Begay told The Guardian that two bonfires were lit by activists for warmth and cooking, but that any others were started by weapons from law enforcement.
“There are no fires down there, contrary to what is being reported,” Gilbertt said while live-streaming the protest and panning his surroundings. “The only fires are to keep people warm – they are no threat to the police at all.”
During a news conference on Monday, November 21, officials defended the use of force. “Some of the water was used to repel some of the protest activities that were occurring, and it was used at a time where they were aggressive towards the officers,” said Morton County Sheriff Kyle Kirchmeier.
Energy Transfer CEO Kelcy Warren said that his company, which is behind the pipeline’s construction, has no alternative but to stick to its proposed plan, according to a report published by the Associated Press (AP) on Friday, November 18.
“There’s not another way,” Warren told the AP. “We’re building at that location.”
Warren is optimistic the pipeline will be completed under a Trump presidency, PBS NewsHour reported. President-elect Donald Trump has between $500,000 and $1 million invested in Energy Transfer Partners, as well as $1 million holding in Phillips 66, which will have 25 percent stake in the Dakota Access project once it’s completed, according to his financial disclosure forms. Energy Transfer Partners’ stock price has climbed more than 15 percent since Trump’s election – from $33.37 to $38.68 a share.
“This is not a peaceful protest,” Warren told PBS NewsHour. “So, if they want to stick around and continue to do what they’re doing, great, but we’re building the pipeline.”
Last week, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (Corps)—which owns the land that’s being converted into a pipeline—announced that it would be delaying construction until further notice, indicating that it had completed a review launched on September 9, 2016, and resultantly determined “additional discussion and analysis were warranted in light of the history of the Great Sioux Nation’s dispossessions of lands, the importance of Lake Oahe to the Tribe, [the Corps’ own] government-to-government relationship, and the statutes governing easements through government property,” according to a press release published by the Corp on Monday, November 14.
Energy Transfer Partners called the Corps’ decision “unjust,” adding that the controversy surrounding the pipeline’s construction was a “sham process” and “sends a frightening message about the rule of law.”
“This action is motivated purely by politics at the expense of a company that has done nothing but play by the rules it was given,” Warren told PBS NewsHours.
Protestors similarly have no intentions of backing down and have mobilized near the Missouri River, bracing themselves for the harsh North Dakota winter.
“From the beginning, we’ve had water protectors attacked by guard dogs, rubber bullets and mace. Last night, law enforcement upped the ante by using exploding tear gas canisters and water cannons in sub-freezing temperatures,” said Standing Rock Sioux Chairman Dave Archambault II in a statement. “There’s no telling what law enforcement will do next.”
Sioux Tribe leaders are calling on President Barack Obama to stop the DAPL. “Live video footage on Facebook this Sunday night (November 20) clearly documents that North Dakota’s law enforcement and government officials have sanctioned aggressive acts in failed attempts to disperse water protectors who have the right to demonstrate against and report on this failing project,” Archambault said on Monday. “It’s time for President Obama to condemn these tactics and this pipeline.”