White people from North Dakota like to refer to their congeniality and Midwestern values as North Dakota Nice. I’m a white North Dakota transplant in the Bay area myself, and long ago, I began to treat that idea of Midwestern “niceness” with suspicion as I became critical of attitudes and stereotypes about Native Americans prevalent in ND. So, even though my NoDak community of friends and family have a long list of complaints about the negative effects of the oil boom, I was not surprised by the derisive response they had to Native Americans standing up to Big Oil. I was, however, surprised by the swift and violent escalation by the state. Even with a pretty good bullshit detector, I overestimated the sheriff’s North Dakota Nice and underestimated the lengths he would take to protect the state’s oil profits.
The out of state oil corporations have very little interest in investing in the well being of communities they operate in. They are there to wring as much money out of us as possible and cannot be trusted to clean up their messes. One only need look at the boomtown sex trafficking, dangerous unregulated working conditions and hundreds of oil spills that have already happened to see that.
I began following the developments in Standing Rock mid-August and was intrigued by local law enforcement’s response. I watched as compassionate North Dakota State Troopers tried to figure out what their role was in this protest. Yes, Berkeley knows about protests, but not my quiet state of North Dakota. I was proud of the way they handled themselves and treated water protectors with respect for their rights and as people. Sometimes shaking their hands, dancing and praying with them, and even were moved to tears themselves. This was North Dakota Nice I could be proud of. I held my breath, wondering how long it would last.
Then Governor Dalrymple quickly escalated the situation and changed everything. I watched over Labor Day weekend as Enbridge intentionally moved their equipment to destroy historical, sacred artifacts before the state could conduct the proper historical and cultural investigation of the area. I watched my state use an illegally permitted security company to attack women, children, elders, and horses with dogs so poorly trained they turned on each other and their handlers. This was the first image that sent the world the message that our North Dakota Nice was being replaced with the moniker Mississippi of the North.
At this point, it was clear a heavy hand was in charge, supported by private security companies employed by Big Oil as I began to see tactics never before employed in my home state. An undercover DAPL employee pretended to be a water protector while aiming a firearm at them and a brave Native American veteran used his training to de-escalate the situation, talking the highly agitated provocateur into handing over his gun without anybody getting shot. You can imagine how horrified I was when the veteran was then arrested and charged while the person wielding the firearm was released without charges. Justice is not blind to the politics of oil interests in North Dakota.
The tone and response got uglier and more violent as local law enforcement agencies became embedded by private security firms hired by the oil companies, compromising the integrity of and trust of the Morton County Sheriff’s Department. Unnecessary militarized equipment were pointed at Native Americans and protesters engaged in peaceful, non-violent resistance in the act of praying, while Enbridge illegally dug and laid pipeline.
Most disturbing is that North Dakota has spent its entire rainy day fund to foot the bill as a training ground for out of state law enforcement agencies so they can learn how to become their own oil police when this stand for environmental justice comes to their state. State health care providers are being asked to pay 5% more of their own benefits and other agencies that provide crucial services are being looted for funds. Neighboring states are rushing to help so they can learn these same tactics when they need them.
Media have been targeted and arrested and drones are shot out of the sky in order to suppress information about state actions and illegal drilling activity of Enbridge.
Then there’s the illegal use of less than lethal weapons. Do you know how Sophie Wilanski lost her arm? Medical evidence tells us it was not a propane bomb, as the Morton County Sheriff’s Department claims, but concussion grenades taped together with duct tape to create a blast. Countless pieces of evidence show us that law enforcement agencies are misusing less than lethal weapons by aiming at people’s limbs, groins, faces, and heads to cause injury and bodily harm.
North Dakota’s legal system is being used to target and arrest Native Americans, allowing law enforcement officers to manufacture evidence and concoct false charges with no evidence. The Morton County Sheriff’s Department has and continues to lie to the public about their actions. They publicly claim law enforcement officers did not shoot water cannons at people, despite clear footage publicized by major media outlets showing MCSD aiming directly at people with water cannons. One of these water cannons took the sight of a woman in one of her eyes.
There have also been some amazing acts of unity as the movement at Standing Rock unfolds, particularly in Indian Country as tribes have come together to lead the way to protect our environment in the changing landscape of energy use. Many Native American entrepreneurs are leading the way in the use of renewable energy. These same entrepreneurs are showing up at Standing Rock to build a model of how we could be living.
In an example of reparations in the form of apology, Reverend John Floberg of the St. James’ Episcopal Church in Cannonball, ND gathered over 500 clergy to repudiate the Doctrine of Discovery, recognize the validity of Native American religious practices, and support Standing Rock and Native American’s sovereignty rights.
Reverend Floberg also spoke at a public forum at the Dakota Resource Center in which he described Governor Dalrymple’s initial reaction to the growing movement in the Fall. He described a heavy handed response in which the governor very quickly escalated the situation so he felt as if his only action was to continue to escalate. Governor Dalrymple was quoted as saying he couldn’t back down now or he would look bad.
Dalrymple was just replaced by a new governor who cannot deny that North Dakota looks bad, not just because of the state’s continued militant response to civil disobedience. North Dakota has become the Mississippi of the North and will continue to be on the wrong side of history if laws such as the ones being debated on the legislative floor right now are passed. Laws allowing people to commit vehicular manslaughter against protesters (HB1203). Laws diminishing rights and allowing police to target whoever they want by making it illegal to cover your face in public (HB1304). Laws showing an utter lack of historical understanding about the founding of this state and this nation, calling for the “return” of the Missouri River and mineral rights to the state of North Dakota to reimburse the costs of the overblown militarized response to Standing Rock (HB1281).