By Glynn Wilson –
Did Facebook Live just make cable news irrelevant? Not sure how to feel about that.
But as I was about to turn off the news feed on Sunday night and switch to my favorite show on Netflix, up popped a notification saying Kevin “Happy Chappy” Gilbertt was live from the Standing Rock Sioux camp in Cannon Ball, North Dakota.
When I clicked on the link, there was this bearded guy apparently from New Zealand trying to sound like a broadcast journalist showing live footage of Morton County Sheriff’s deputies and private security forces clashing with demonstrators on Blackwater Bridge on Highway 1806 over the Missouri River. Since we were just in that camp about a month ago, I was familiar enough with the scene to figure out what was going on and where it was happening.
As best as I can piece the facts together on Monday by looking at all the online news coverage and info on Facebook and Twitter, it looks like the Dakota Access Pipeline company was preparing to start work on the section of the pipeline under the river. So some of the “Water Protectors” tried to move a barricade of burnt vehicles cops had erected to keep them away from the pipeline construction site.
It is not clear under what authority they were trying to do this, since the last substantive thing we reported was that the protest over the Dakota Access Pipeline won another construction delay last week when the Obama administration announced last Monday it would put off granting an easement for the pipeline to traverse the Missouri River until the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers conducts a further environmental review with the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe.
But sure enough, there was evidence in the Facebook Live video that work was commencing, on a Sunday night, with the local temperature hovering around 26 degrees, six degrees below freezing.
When protesters activated and tried to get in the way, the cops opened fire with rubber bullets, water cannon fire, tear gas canisters, and apparently pepper spray and/or mace to try to disperse the crowd of about 400.
The live video went on for hours, and there was more of it this morning, which I shared on my Facebook page.
On Monday, we found out from web coverage by Russian Television that one Lakota Sioux tribal elder was hospitalized after suffering cardiac arrest in the DAPL clashes
“An unidentified elder was reportedly in critical condition after going into cardiac arrest at the scene of violent clashes between law enforcement and water protesters at the Dakota Access Pipeline site,” they report. “The winter temperatures of below freezing make the powerful water cannon even more dangerous.”
“At least one elder went into cardiac arrest,” Angela Bibens, legal representative of the Water Protectors Legal Collective, told Indigenous Environmental Network organizer Dallas Goldtooth on Sunday, adding that the tribal elder “was revived by CPR at the front lines by medics.”
The elder is one of hundreds of demonstrators injured at the pipeline protests, with seven people hospitalized for severe head injuries on Sunday.
Indigenous Rising Media said police were targeting protesters’ heads and legs. Legal observers from the National Lawyers Guild confirmed multiple protesters were unconscious and injured after being hit in the head with rubber bullets.
Bibens described protesters losing bowel function, witnessing at least one seizure, people vomiting and the water cannon mixing with the mace.
According to Native News Online, tensions escalated after protesters moved a burnt out truck that had been blocking the bridge for weeks. The blockade has impeded emergency services from reaching the camp where water protectors gather, as well blocking access to the Standing Rock Sioux Reservation.
“It was to open up the road so in the daylight the world can see the face of militarized law enforcement and state oppression,” Goldtooth said.
“It is below freezing right now and the Morton County Sheriff’s Department is using a water cannon on our people, that is an excessive and potentially deadly use of force,” he added. “Tribal EMS are stepping up and providing services that should be the responsibility of Morton County. This is ridiculous. Because of the police-enforced road block, ambulances now have an extra 30 minutes to get to the hospital. Those are life-and-death numbers right there, and Morton County and the State of North Dakota will be responsible for the tally.”
The Morton County Sheriff’s Office claims, however, that protesters were rioting and being “very aggressive,” although reports from the scene say protesters remained peaceful despite attacks from authorities.
Protesters’ actions have been branded “illegal” by Morton County Sheriff Kyle Kirchmeier, who also says the campsite used by protesters is “insufficient to protect them from the elements.”
“We’ve seen that many of these protesters are not from North Dakota and may not be familiar with the harshness of our winters,” Kirchmeier said. “We urge them to leave the camps and seek appropriate shelter for their own health and safety.”
Protesters have been demonstrating against the $3.7 billion pipeline for months. If completed, it would transport oil from North Dakota to Illinois.
There is concern that the pipeline violates Native American land treaties and will destroy sacred land as well as damage the water supply.
Video taken near the protest camp outside the Standing Rock Sioux reservation showed a crowd of protesters facing off with authorities Sunday night. At least one person was arrested.
According to the Associated Press, a spokesman for the sheriff’s office said the water cannons had been deployed to put out fires set by the protesters around the bridge. But the video also showed flares being shot into the crowd, which protesters say started the fires.
In a statement on Facebook on Sunday evening, the Standing Rock Media and Healer Center urged the sheriff’s department not to use “confrontational methods against people peacefully assembled.”
“The physicians and tribal healers with the Standing Rock Medic and Healer Council call 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,” the statement said. “As medical professionals, we are concerned for the real risk of loss of life due to severe hypothermia under these conditions.”
Kevin Gilbertt, a protester who was filming the scene from a nearby hillside, said via Facebook Live that protesters had gathered on a bridge and were being attacked by police. The situation had escalated from earlier in the day, when protesters had sought to clear burned-out trucks that had been acting as a blockade, he said.
The protest near the Standing Rock Sioux reservation has drawn thousands of people over three months, including Native Americans, environmentalists, and some celebrities. Protesters, some of whom call themselves “water protectors,” have sought to block construction of the pipeline, which they fear could contaminate local water sources, by camping on land owned by its developer. The pipeline would also cross sacred land, protesters have said.
In October, 117 people were arrested for blocking a road and camping on private property with permission of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers near the Standing Rock Sioux reservation. As winter has set in, with temperatures in the 20s, some protesters have tried to fortify their campsites with hay and propane heaters. Local authorities have said publicly this constitutes building illegal permanent structures.
On Friday, Morton County Sheriff Kyle Kirchmeier urged campers to go home.
“Protestors at the camps are erecting unlawful structures in an attempt to fortify for the coming winter weather, but their actions are both illegal and likely insufficient to protect them from the elements,” Kirchmeier said in a statement. “We’ve seen that many of these protestors are not from North Dakota and may not be familiar with the harshness of our winters, and we urge them to leave the camps and seek appropriate shelter for their own health and safety.”
U.S. Senator and Democratic presidential candidate Bernie Sanders chimed in Sunday night on Twitter, saying, “We must protect the safety of Native Americans and their supporters who have gathered peacefully to oppose the Dakota Access Pipeline.”
You can watch some of the video footage captured on YouTube here.
Or see all the videos I shared on my Facebook page here.
We will continue to follow this story as it develops.
We suspect now that Donald Trump, a major partner in the pipeline company, has been elected president, there will be a concerted effort to crush the protest and finish building the pipeline. So far, the Obama administration has seemed willing to allow the Native Americans some say in this fight. Since there appears to be no new statements out of Washington yet on Monday, it is unclear how the administration will respond to this latest development.
Tens of thousands of people all over the country and the world on Facebook are urging President Obama to take the advice of Bernie Sanders and declare Standing Rock a national monument.
Stay tuned. As they say, the #WholeWorldisWatching.
© 2016, Glynn Wilson. All rights reserved.