Whiles many were engrossed in a festive mode in preparation for the annual thanksgiving, Native Americans who staged the Dakota protest were being tear-gassed.
WASHINGTON ― Thanksgiving began in the fall of 1621 when a group of Native Americans joined with newly arrived English settlers to create a harvest feast together and protect each other from violence, Huffington Post reports.
This year, as Americans pick out their turkeys and count their blessings, members of the Sioux Nation in Standing Rock, North Dakota, reported being attacked with tear gas, rubber bullets and water cannons in subfreezing temperatures as they protested an oil pipeline that threatens to contaminate their water and disrupt their sacred sites. Approximately 300 Native American and non-native protesters were injured in one 10-hour clash with law enforcement on Sunday evening, according to the Standing Rock Medic & Healer Council, and 26 were taken to hospitals with severe head and limb wounds, eye trauma, internal bleeding and hypothermia from being doused with water in 22-degree weather.
“Basically, it’s an act of war,” said Frank Sanchez, a delegate from the Yankton Sioux Tribe, in an interview with The Huffington Post.
The government says the $3.7 billion Dakota Access Pipeline is the safest, most efficient way to carry crude oil from North Dakota to Illinois. But the project has become a rallying point for Native Americans because the pipe would cut under the Missouri River within a mile of the Standing Rock Sioux Reservation, potentially contaminating the local tribes’ source of fresh water and encroaching on land that the U.S. government had agreed to set aside for them in an 1851 treaty. The Dakota protest boiling point on Sunday, when force was used to keep protesters off a barricaded bridge about a mile south of the pipeline construction site.
The Morton County Sheriff’s Department said the demonstrators were being violent. The Sioux ― who have long suffered economically ― say the blocked-off bridge is the main access point to their reservation, and they are trying to protect the land and water that have sustained them for centuries.
“I’m a prisoner of war in my own land,” said Sanchez. “That’s the only way I can see it. We have the right to hunt, fish and gather, as we always did, but all the barbed wire fences and posts to ‘Keep out’ have to come down so we can continue living the way we’ve always lived.”
Sanchez, 61, is in Washington, D.C., this week lobbying the federal government on behalf of the Sioux tribes. He is a direct descendant of the man who signed the Treaty of Fort Laramie in 1851, in which the U.S. government ceded portions of five states to the Sioux and agreed to strict rules preventing outsiders from accessing Sioux territory. But Congress soon broke its end of the bargain by seizing the Black Hills of South Dakota in 1877, when gold was discovered there ― and the government’s land grabs have continued.
“This issue could have been settled years ago, but we don’t have the money for attorneys to represent us,” he said.
In the meantime, the Sioux will be celebrating Thanksgiving alongside hundreds of non-native allies who have joined the protests in North Dakota. For Native Americans, Sanchez said, Thanksgiving “is just another day.”
Opponents of the Dakota Access oil pipeline vowed Wednesday to keep protesting despite a clash this week in which law enforcement officers fired rubber bullets and pepper spray at demonstrators and doused them with water hoses in subfreezing temperatures, according to Los Angeles Times.
A protester of the Dakota protest, Sophia Wolansky, 21, from the Bronx, N.Y., remained hospitalized Wednesday in Minneapolis after suffering an arm injury during an explosion early Monday. Protesters said she was hurt by a concussion grenade thrown by law enforcement, while authorities suggested she was hurt by a propane cylinder that they speculated protesters were rigging up to hurl at the officers.
The clashes were the latest in a months-long standoff between law enforcement and protesters, during which more than 500 people have been arrested.
Last week, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers declared that more study was needed before it could issue a permit to complete the pipeline, which is more than 80% built. The developer, Energy Transfer Partners, then sued in federal court to resume construction.
Sunday night’s clashes began when activists attempted to remove burned-out vehicles from a previous protest that are blocking access to Backwater Bridge. Police have said the vehicles are not safe to move until the bridge is examined for damage. But activists say they are hampering travel by local residents, including delaying ambulances that need to reach the city of Bismarck, to the north.
Local officials said hoses were brought in to put out fires on the bridge, but acknowledged using them against “criminal agitators.”
At a news conference Monday, Morton County Sheriff Kyle Kirchmeier said he was “confident that the decision made to use water was the correct one.” If a similar situation arises in the future, he added, he wouldn’t hesitate to use water again.
Rather unfortunate, not all Americans are happy this thanksgiving; seeing how debilitating their living conditions have become in their own country due to systematic racism. Native Americans have a similar history to that of African Americans; both groups can relate with the long years of slavery. And today, they are faced with almost the same situation Black Americans suffer from. For this reason, we need to stand in solidarity with them to prevent the white supremacist from executing their malevolence agenda. Moreover, their spirit of determination exhibited in the Dakota protest should serve as a source of encouragement for us to continue to oppose systematic racism.