Standing Rock Prostests Escalate As Police Attack Activists With Water Cannons In Freezing Weather, Call For More National Guard Troops

Standing Rock activists faced a new wave of assault from law enforcement agencies as officers sprayed them with paper spray, fired rubber bullets at them, and blasted them with water cannons in freezing weather, The Guardian and other news outlets are reporting.

The clashes arose last night as activists attempted to block a bridge leading to a construction site for the Dakota Access Pipeline, a 1,200-mile-long project that will carry oil from the Bakken oil fields in Northwest North Dakota to oil facilities in Patoka, Illinois.

Environmentalists, Native Americans, and their allies have argued that the pipeline will endanger the natural water supplies of the Standing Rock Indian Reservation and millions of other people who live along the pipeline’s route.

Ironically, the Army Core of Engineers originally approved an alternate route, but that plan was scrapped over concerns that municipal water supplies could be affected by it.

“Rerouted from the company’s original chosen path north of the capital city of Bismarck, N.D., in part to protect municipal wells, the current route sends the pipeline under the Missouri River a half-mile north of the border of the Standing Rock Sioux reservation,” Lynda V. Mapes writes for The Seattle Times. “The route is just upstream from the tribe’s drinking-water intake.”

The $3.8 billion project, directed by Dallas firm Energy Transfer Partners, has avoided much of the red tape often associated with such large projects that could pose substantial environmental concerns.

“Pipeline construction so far has been permitted in a fast-track fashion by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers,” Mapes notes. “Only a short-form assessment of natural resource, cultural or environmental justice concerns was done, with scant if any consultation with the tribe, records show.”

Since April 1st, members of the Standing Rock Sioux tribe and their allies have been holding non-violent protests in the path of the pipeline’s construction. The ranks of the protestors quickly grew into the thousands as environmental activists and indigenous leaders from across the country and around the world came to support the cause.

Later that same month, the the Environmental Protection Agency, the Department of the Interior, and the Advisory Council on Historic Preservation all urged the Army Corps of Engineers to conduct a more thorough environmental assessment of the proposed route, according to an Associated Press report.

Despite those calls, construction of the pipeline continues.

The violence last night marked an escalation in the tension between law enforcement officers and activists at the site of the demonstrations.

“North Dakota law enforcement deployed tear gas and water hoses against hundreds of activists on Sunday night, during a tense bridge standoff amid ongoing protests of the Dakota Access Pipeline,” The Guardian reports. “Protesters also reported being hit with rubber bullets and percussion grenades during the standoff, which took place on a bridge just north of the encampments established by indigenous and environmental activists in opposition to the controversial pipeline.”

The use of water cannons in freezing cold temperatures came as a particular surprise to the activists.

“They were attacked with water cannons,” LaDonna Brave Bull Allard, a member of the Standing Rock Sioux tribe, 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.”

Allard founded the Sacred Stone camp, which the protestors have been using as a base since April.

“As medical professionals, we are concerned for the real risk of loss of life due to severe hypothermia under these conditions,” the Standing Rock Medic & Healer Council said in a Facebook post quoted by The Guardian.

A total of 167 people were injured Sunday night, with seven needing hospital attention, Jade Begay, a spokeswoman for the Indigenous Environmental Network, told The Guardian.

[Featured Image by Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images]