Armed police officers representing eight police departments recently surrounded and threatened to arrest unarmed Native American Water Protectors who were praying beside a road in Cannon Ball, North Dakota. The response is the latest confrontation between police and nonviolent protesters who say the Dakota Access Pipeline could destroy indigenous land in the near future.
Native News Online reports that five Water Protectors left a pipeline protest and stationed themselves on the side of a road in Cannon Ball. Soon after, roughly 40 officers from three states and eight departments arrived at the site to disband the group. Many of those officers were clad in riot gear, and equipped with firearms, batons, an acoustic weapon, and an armored vehicle. As officers blocked the road, one informed the praying men that they were unlawfully protesting, threatening to arrest them for doing so. The Water Protectors ultimately dispersed after praying for about ten minutes.
“The law was broken by 40 officers, including freedom of religion, and speech,” Water Protector Makoons told Native News Online.
The incident is the latest face-off between law enforcement and members of the growing resistance movement to block the pipeline’s construction, which would cut through federal land that’s considered sacred by the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe.
For months, thousands of indigenous people and allies from around the country have set up protest camps on the Standing Rock reservation in opposition to the proposed 1,172-mile line. The underground pipeline would transport millions of barrels of crude oil from North Dakota to Illinois. According to the tribe, the $3.8 billion project would threaten its water supply and damage its cultural and religious ties to the land.
Officers equipped with military-grade weapons and gear have been cracking down on protesters — the majority of whom are nonviolent — by arresting them on charges of trespassing, possession of stolen property, or resisting arrest. But demonstrators have also been attacked by dogs and pepper sprayed by a private security officers hired to guard the land.