Pipeline talks reach impasse, Laney says officers being portrayed as 'jack-booted thugs'
MORTON COUNTY, N.D. — Negotiations between protesters and law enforcement broke down Wednesday, Oct. 26, with protesters holding their ground at a frontline camp to block the Dakota Access Pipeline.
Cass County Sheriff Paul Laney was among a contingent of law enforcement who met with camp representatives Wednesday on Highway 1806 on the other side of a roadblock established by protesters.
Laney told the protesters officers don’t want a confrontation, but they have to enforce the rule of law.
Mekasi Camp-Horinek, one of the camp coordinators, told officers the protesters planned to stand their ground, saying “Do what you’ve got to do.”
Laney told the camp representatives that they are forcing law enforcement’s hand. The frontline camp had grown to 200 on Wednesday, with the addition of a trailer surrounded by hay bales that was to be used by camp security volunteers for strategic planning.
“If there’s a confrontation, they’ve chosen to have it because we’ve tried everything we can over the last 2½ months not to have it,” Laney said as he left the negotiations.
Earlier Wednesday, Camp-Horinek said in an interview the group would continue protesting with prayer and song and children had been relocated from the frontline camp back to the Oceti Sakowin camp.
“This is a last stand right here,” he said “We’re not going to move.”
About 100 people had formed a human barricade across Highway 1806 around 11:30 a.m. Wednesday.
Morton County Sheriff Kyle Kirchmeier said law enforcement will continue to do everything they can to resolve the situation peacefully, but he said discussions with camp leaders Wednesday reached an “impasse.”
Law enforcement would like the protesters to stop blocking the highway and relocate from the frontline camp, which is on private property owned by Energy Transfer Partners, back to the main camp.
“At this time, we are going to continue to try to work with them and see what we can do to resolve this, but they were also advised that they can’t be blocking state highways, they can’t be trespassing on private land and they cannot continue to block off county roads,” Kirchmeier said.
Kirchmeier emphasized that “the last thing we want to do is do it forcefully.”
“If we have the chance for open dialog, that’s what we want to continue,” he said.
Pipeline opponents say they’ve reclaimed land under the Fort Laramie Treaty of 1851, noting the Sioux never ceded that territory.
But Kirchmeier said Morton County authorities have to enforce existing laws and treaty issues would need to be resolved by the federal government. He added that currently the protesters are infringing on other residents’ rights by blocking the highway.
In a press conference, Laney said law enforcement, which includes officers from at least six states, “have the resources and the manpower to go down and end this right now” but they don’t want a confrontation.
Laney said officers are being portrayed as “jack-booted thugs” but he said they are trying to avoid a confrontation.
“We could go down there at any time, and we are trying not to,” Laney said.
David Red Bear Jr., 30, from the South Dakota side of the Standing Rock Sioux Reservation, was among those from the main camp two miles south when there was a call for help at the roadblock.
Red Bear said he was willing to get arrested, if necessary, though he also was concerned about his 4-year-old son at the main camp.
The protesters were just trying to keep law enforcement from preventing their efforts to stop the pipeline, Red Bear said.
"If we don't stop them here, they're going to cut us off closer to the pipeline. We can't let that happen,” he said. "We're not trying to force anybody's hand. We're just trying to stand up for what we believe in."
Meanwhile, civil rights activist and Rainbow PUSH Coalition founder, Rev. Jesse Jackson, joined the effort to stop the Dakota Access Pipeline project south of Mandan.
"We must call upon the full weight of our government to honor the treaties and stop the abuse of eminent domain, to protect the land," Jesse Jackson told the protesters, encouraging them to chant along with him.
"We'll hold out for one day longer, one day longer, one day longer!”
A news release issued prior to Jackson’s said he would join “tribes and protectors of sacred lands and water,” and meet with the press. He planned a tour of camps, where opponents have gathered to block the $3.8 billion, 1,172-mile project, and the pipeline route.
“The tribes of this country have sacrificed a lot so that this great country could be built,” Jackson said in the release. “With promises broken, land stolen, and sacred lands desecrated, the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe is standing up for their right to clean water. They have lost land for settlers to farm, more land for gold in the Black Hills, and then again even more land for the damn (sic) that was built for flood control and hydro power.
“When will the taking stop? When we start treating the first peoples of this lands with the respect and honor they deserve?”
The decision to change the pipeline route from north of Bismarck to its current route is “the ripest case of environmental racism I’ve seen in a long time,” Jackson said. “Bismarck residents don’t want their water threatened, so why is it OK for North Dakota to react with guns and tanks when Native Americans ask for the same right?”
The news of Jackson’s arrival came just hours after the Federal Aviation Administration issued a “no-fly” order above the contested land where protesters have gathered to block the pipeline crossing beneath the Missouri River, just north of the Standing Rock Sioux Reservation.
The FAA issued the flight restriction late Tuesday, Oct. 25. It prohibits pilots from operating an aircraft in a 7-mile radius, including the camps set up by protesters, through Nov. 4.
The pipeline is largely completed and will move 470,000 barrels of Bakken crude per day to a hub in Illinois.
Actor Mark Ruffalo participated in a panel discussion Tuesday night at Prairie Knights Casino on the Standing Rock Sioux Reservation.
During a quick stop at the state Capitol in Bismarck, Ruffalo told Forum News Service the pipeline doesn’t need to cross the Missouri River, which provides drinking water to millions.
“There’s another route this could take,” he said, adding, “What they’re doing is they’re putting money above the health of a whole group of people.”
The actor-director, activist and co-founder of The Solutions Project, which promotes clean and renewable energy, planned to deliver solar trailers Wednesday to the Oceti Sakowin Camp, the main protest camp situated on Corps land just north of the reservation. More than 300 tribes have been represented at the camp, which currently supports an estimated 1,200 people.