Growth of DAPL protests much bigger than expected

Published: Feb. 23, 2018 at 5:00 PM CST
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DAPL protest draws international attention

The protests against the Dakota Access Pipeline were unprecedented for Native Americans and the state of North Dakota.

Hundreds of tribes from all over the country joined The Standing Rock Sioux Nation to resist construction of an underground oil transportation system that crossed under the Missouri River reservoir, just north of the reservation.

Thousands of native and non-native protesters gathered at the Oceti Sakowin camp from August of 2016 through February of 2017.

The prairie site was transformed into a small city, and served as a temporary home for Native Americans and supporters of the anti-pipeline movement.

"It's the first time in history where this many tribes have come together to stand for something simple like water," said Dave Archambault, former Standing Rock Sioux chairman.

The events in Morton County eventually made national and international news. As the size of the protest camp grew to thousands, so did media attention. Journalists from all over the world covered the continuing story until the camp was cleared of all demonstrators on Feb. 23, 2017.

"It exploded into a national frenzy directed by various environmental activist organizations to make an big example out of a particular river crossing," said former Gov. Jack Dalrymple.

Protest becomes start of something

The first arrests made in connection with protests against construction of the Dakota Access Pipeline occurred on Aug. 10, 2016.

Six demonstrators were taken into custody marking the beginning of an seven month struggle between law enforcement and activists.

The anti oil movement activities in Morton County grew rapidly from less than 100 protesters in August, to more than 7,000 to 10,000 by the end of summer and fall.

Social media pleas from demonstrations on Facebook, Twitter and Instragram encouraged an immense number of activists from all over the country to join the cause. Former Standing Rock Tribal Chairman Dave Archambault was surprised the movement attract so many supporters.

"When you're standing up for something as simple as water, that anything is possible and it is surprising to me to see how big this got," said Archambault.

Former Gov. Jack Dalrymple also did not expect the demonstrations to grow as quickly and large as they did.

"I think at first we were all amazed at the number of people that were coming to Cannonball, N.D., over a single pipeline crossing. There are something like 38,000 pipeline crossings of water in the United States, this is just one," said Dalrymple.

One hundred and six state agencies provided support for the ongoing event..

Law enforcement response to DAPL protests

Policing the seven-month long Dakota Access Pipeline Protest was challenging to say the least.

Activists claimed the demonstrations were peaceful and prayerful. Officers who were assigned the duty of keeping protestors out of construction zones dealt with a wide range of tactics trying to maintain law and order.

During demonstrations, Cass County Sheriff Paul Laney was the operations commander for the law enforcement response to the protests. He was on duty for 15 hour days, seven days a and saw first hand what kind of actions the activists engaged in, from passive resistance to violent, life threatening behavior.

"The peaceful and prayerful were exactly that. They were there to get their message across. They were expressing their first amendment rights as Americans. But, that fraction that hid themselves within the camp and hid themselves within the masses of the peaceful and prayerful, were very violent, throwing things at our people, threatening to kill them, the gun shots on Oct. 27, the molotov cocktails the night of Oct. 27 launched right at our lines, we're not talking hurling insults, they could have killed our people," said Laney.

A majority of the protests took place in rural areas of Morton County and along Highway 1806. Then as activist numbers grew, the demonstrations moved into the Bismarck-Mandan area.

Scott Davis, the executive director of the North Dakota Indian Affairs Commission, is certain the protests would have spiraled out of control without the police presence.

"Had not law enforcement been there, to be a buffer between some of the so called security guards for the oil company, people would have died and there were examples of that where it got really ugly with the dog incidents," said Davis, North Dakota Indian Affairs Commission.

Sheriff Laney agrees with Davis, and says the intensity of demonstrations escalated after an incident on Sept. 5 involving guard dogs and private security contractors for Energy Transfer Partners. The guard dogs allegedly bit demonstrators who broke through security fences and confronted workers while law enforcement officers were not present.

By March of 2017, 761 people had been arrested, 94 percent of them from out-of-state. The estimated cost to police the protests is more than $38 million.