Photo by Christopher Francisco
Published November 7, 2016
CANNON BALL, NORTH DAKOTA -The Standing Rock Water Protectors stood. They stood waste deep in North Dakota water less than half a normal human’s body temperature, downhill from riot police indiscriminately spraying them all with pepper spray, bear mace, tear gas, and rubber bullets. They stood in the face of racist comments. They stood in the path of an oil pipeline, in the way of monied interest, and the weight of a country. They stood to protect the water. They stood and waited for the police to run out of mace so they could pray. They stood in pain, shivering, and afraid. They stood and faced the violence – the violence ordered on them by the Army Corps of Engineers.
Law enforcement took to boats to patrol river.
In the effort to watch Water Protectors, police rove by foot and car in the high hills overlooking the camps. Water Protectors informed police their surveillance track on federal Army Corps of Engineers land, just across Cantapeta Creek from the camps, was sacred burial grounds. Police’s response was to traipse on the bodies of the Standing Rock Sioux ancestors.
In the middle of the night, Water Protectors made a bridge from wood and moxie. On November 2, they laid the bridge across Cantapeta Creek toward their ancestors and tried to cross. If they could reach the other side, they could put their ancestors to rest, and perform a water ceremony.
A contingent led by the Morton County Sheriff destroyed the bridge.
So the Water Protectors swam. They stood. They absorbed the violence.
Just days before, on October 27, The Morton County Sheriff brought forth an army of police and raided the Sacred Ground Camp; a Water Protector campsite on oil company land, directly in the path of Bakken-DAPL. The residents of Sacred Ground campsite were called trespassers.
Like a pack of wolves, the police descended upon the Water Protectors – destroyed their camp, impounded their cars, and destroyed their possessions including homes and items. Police arrested over 100 people as they fled or tried to hold off the police. The police used tear gas, rubber bullets, bean bags, tasers, concussion grenades, LRADs, arrest, and terror to push the Water Protectors from their camp, from their homes.
The entire world was rocked by the images of the raid and horror heaped on the Water Protectors. Photos of the raid slashed newspapers, videos washed over the internet, and television smeared the visuals over its viewers.
Water Protectors were undeterred. They found a new way to be in the path of the pipeline – to stand and stare it down; Turtle Island.
Turtle Island is the new affectionate title the Water Protectors gave a small island in the Missouri River behind the Water Protector camps. To many indigenous tribes of North America, Turtle Island is the name of the continent on which they lived.
The new Turtle Island is much smaller than the whole world, but to Water Protectors, it is about the whole world. It is directly in the path of the drill which will cut under the river; the Standing Rock Sioux’s primary water source for drinking water. A small group of Water Protectors moved themselves onto Turtle Island – putting themselves directly in the path of the pipeline again, this time on federal Army Corps of Engineers land.
The Army Corps of Engineers responded with a letter to Morton County Sheriff explaining that the Water Protectors were trespassing and asking for their help removing them from Turtle Island – officially giving Morton County Sheriff – the wolves of Sacred Ground – the authority to
After months of escalating violence by the Morton County Sheriff against Water Protectors, after dozens of tossed out charges, and after hundreds of injuries to Protectors, on November 1, District Commander Colonel John W. Henderson asked the Morton County Sheriff to remove trespassers from their land.
In a letter to Morton County Sheriff, Henderson wrote, “As such, the Corps of Engineers would consider these individuals to be trespassers. On be half of the Corps of Engineers, as a property owner, I am requesting law enforcement assistance in this matter…”
The Army Corps of Engineers knew the violence they were unleashing on the Water Protectors when they released the hook on the Morton County Sheriff wolves. They saw Morton County Sheriffs use their fangs against Water Protectors to stop their “trespass”.
The Army Corps of Engineers, a branch of the United States Army, could not claim ignorance of methods used by Morton County Sheriff’s Office. They employed the unspeakable violence against Water Protectors knowingly. Their request sent the word to Morton County – their techniques were approved and they were free to perpetrate violence in the way they had thus far – the boundary of tolerance had yet been found.
The United States Army willfully, and maliciously attacked dozens of Native Americans praying on the side of a river using a mercenary force with badges.
One sunrise later, the Water Protectors were being suffocated by mace, tear gas, and rubber bullets by the Morton County Sheriff – to stop their trespass
As the Water Protectors retreated from the edge of the water to escape the bites of the Morton County wolves, a silky film swirled about the surface. The remains, the consequence, of disregard for the water, and the people who need it.