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What Are the Dakota Access Pipeline Builders Trying to Keep Secret?

Posted on Jan 20, 2017

By Four Arrows

  Standing Rock water protectors are enduring harsh winter conditions in Cannon Ball, N.D., to oppose the Dakota Access oil pipeline. (David Goldman / AP)

Editor’s note: Four Arrows (aka Don Jacobs) is a professor at Fielding Graduate University, the author of 21 books, the former dean of education at Oglala Lakota College on the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation in South Dakota, a popular speaker and a Standing Rock water protector. The opinions and accounts expressed here are his own.

Why should it be so difficult to determine whether drilling is continuing on the Dakota Access pipeline in the face of an Army memorandum blocking such work? A finding must be made before more water protectors are hurt, and here are six reasons to quickly facilitate an on-site investigation by a credible inspection party.

1. The recent violence by National Guard troops and DAPL security militia against the water protectors still at Standing Rock—violence aimed at preventing those demonstrators from getting a view of building operations that were supposed to have ceased.


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2. The continued closure of Highway 1806 on the Backwater Bridge.

3. The placement of an AN/TWQ-1 Avenger missile defense system. Although a North Dakota National Guard spokesman said the system is in place to serve in an “observation role,” the only purpose I can imagine for this would be to shoot down photographic drones.

4. A rational distrust of the Army Corps of Engineers—and the Army’s memorandum—by water protectors who have remained on the scene despite dangerously cold weather.

5. Public statements by Energy Transfer Partners (ETP, the company building the pipeline) and DAPL management that they would continue with the program regardless of the Army’s memorandum.

6. An analysis of a drone video of the east drill pad, concluding that pipe has been placed under the Missouri River from the east side.

1. The Recent Violence

On Monday, hundreds of water protectors participated in two actions throughout the day and night in freezing temperatures. One was near the west drill pad, where DAPL security, state police and Morton County Sheriff’s Department personnel were walking on Dakota graves. When the protectors arrived, the authorities lined up in full riot gear and holding large shields. Several feet away, on the other side of a coil of barbed wire, were the water protectors.

I watched two hours of a video covering the event.

Most of the action on the part of the protectors involved singing and praying. Some urged the police to “turn around and face the true enemy.” Shouting occurred here and there; some called the police cowards—for instance, when an officer used a stick to swat a person. One protector immediately reminded the person who was hit to be loving and not to provoke the police. However, another demonstrator cut the barbed wire and stepped across in defiance of those he believed had no right to be standing on his ancestors’ graves.

A participant described the water protectors’ action as being in honor of Martin Luther King Jr. Day and in solidarity with oppressed people everywhere.

There was a much larger group on the Missouri River side of the drill pad area, outside the concertina wire. It appeared that one man had crossed the wire and stood praying. The demonstrator was met by a phalanx of National Guard troops. Behind them, a North Dakota cop with a rifle positioned himself and shot the unarmed man in the forehead with a rubber bullet, just above the right eye.

The second action was at Backwater Bridge, near the main camp. The militia supporting DAPL shot plastic bullets and threw tear gas canisters at unarmed people who were standing, praying and singing. People were pushed back farther, past their side of the bridge.

In still another violent occurrence, a policeman ran over a water protector with a snowmobile. According to various reports, including a tweet from Linda Black Elk, the victim was taken to a hospital for emergency medical care.

Allegedly in response to the DAPL protests, several North Dakota state legislators introduced House Bill 1203 this week to make it “unlawful for a pedestrian to walk along and upon an adjacent roadway” and to give exemption from all liability if a motor vehicle driver kills a pedestrian.

My question is, why would DAPL security be guarding the drill pad area so aggressively if there were no concern about water protectors slowing down work that supposedly isn’t taking place?

2. Continued Closure of Highway 1806 on Backwater Bridge

The Backwater Bridge has been closed since October when vehicles were set on fire during an encounter between demonstrators and law enforcement. On Dec. 20, Dave Archambault, chair of the Standing Rock Sioux tribe, and North Dakota Gov. Doug Burgum discussed the importance of opening the bridge, agreeing to have core samples drawn immediately to determine its structural safety. Archambault does not believe that the bridge was closed for safety purposes, as authorities have claimed.

Virginia Polytechnic Institute conducted a major study on whether fires on concrete bridges could significantly endanger them and found that such damage would be nearly impossible.

On Jan. 5, at the monthly Standing Rock Tribal Council meeting, the bridge closure was a major topic. The issues it poses are significant to members of the Standing Rock community and the water protectors, who must take a long and treacherous detour to Mandan or Bismarck.

From a psychological warfare perspective, there could be many reasons DAPL continues to keep the bridge closed, but might the closure be about preventing scrutiny of what is happening on the east side of the river?

3. Anti-Drone Missile System

One of the water protectors at Standing Rock managed to get close-up video footage of a new object on the hill overlooking the main camp. Published Monday on Underground World News, images reveal what appears to be an AN/TWQ-1 Avenger, developed for the Army.

According to Wikipedia, the Avenger is “a self-propelled surface-to-air missile system weapon which provides mobile, short-range air defense protection for ground units” and has a range of 10 to 20 miles. In 2014, Tyler Rogoway, a writer who helped develop the defense-oriented website Foxtrot Alpha and the current editor of The War Zone (a Time Inc. publication), wrote an essay about Avenger units becoming “a commonplace fixture in and around Washington, D.C.,” and addressed the potential hazards to citizens.

Why would DAPL security require air defense? The only reason I can think of is to protect against the camera-carrying drones the water protectors have been using. Police have been shooting at the drones from the beginning, with one officer explaining that this was necessary to protect the helicopters flying over the main camp day and night. What could DAPL authorities be doing that they do not want photographed?

4. Distrust of the Army Corps of Engineers

Wesley Clark Jr. is responsible for having brought thousands of military veterans to Standing Rock to support the water protectors, and the presence of those veterans may have played a role in the Army’s decision to deny a permit for the pipeline to cross the river and for its requiring an environmental impact statement. On Monday, Clark told me he had a contact with the Army Corps of Engineers (ACE) who informed him that the corps is monitoring conditions at Standing Rock and that its “sensors” indicate no drilling is taking place.

I told him that many people, including me, have little trust in the corps, for good reasons. For example, consider ACE’s role in the flooding of the Missouri Valley in the 1950s. According to a 1997 peer-reviewed article by Robert Kelley Schneiders of Texas Tech University, officials of ACE and other government agencies ramrodded through dam site location and design in ways to favor farmers, with no regard for the Standing Rock Indians. The author describes how ACE built the dams on Indian treaty lands to protect major urban centers from the inundation that tribal lands suffered. The resultant flooding forced a fourth of the reservation population to relocate. Schneiders writes that—in ways similar to what’s taking place now—the Standing Rock tribe intensely resisted the efforts of ACE when it began construction of Oahe Dam in South Dakota, fearing they would lose their prime agricultural lands. ACE ignored this concern and broke treaties to continue.

Native Americans have a number of other historical reasons for not trusting ACE in addition to their long abuse at the hands of the government. For example, in resisting ACE’s destruction of the Gila Bend Indian Reservation, the Tohono O’odham Nation could win only a small victory in 1992. Add to this the way ACE in the current dispute allowed the relocation of the DAPL pipeline and engaged in the illegal activities that Bobby Kennedy Jr. describes so well.

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