Cheyenne River Sioux Chairman Brings Pipeline Opposition to Meeting With President Obama

The stand-off between the Standing Rock Sioux and the Dakota Access pipeline shows no sign of letting up. Indigenous opponents of the four-state, nearly $4 billion dollar pipeline have set up another encampment.

Members of the Great Sioux Nation say they are invoking eminent domain over land rightfully theirs under an 1851 treaty; and have situated their Winter Camp directly in the path of the pipeline. Energy Transfer Partners, developers of the massive pipeline that would run beneath the Missouri River, says the land belongs to the company after they recently purchased the tract from a farmer.

According to the Morton County Sheriff’s Department, six states have deployed law enforcement officers to the area. Tuesday night in a Facebook post, the department said private security hired by Energy Transfer Partners who unleashed attack dogs and pepper spray on protesters in early September were not licensed and could face prosecution.

Hundreds of people have been arrested during months of protest; most on minor trespass charges. Yet many have been subjected to strip searches and jailed.

FSRN’s Nell Abram spoke with Cheyenne River Sioux Chairman Harold Frazier, who met with President Barack Obama Tuesday to discuss the pipeline project, and the militarized police response to the protests.

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Nell Abram: Chairman Frazier, thanks for joining us on FSRN. You spoke with President Obama and asked him to him protect the rights of the Lakota people, their sacred sites and the waters of the Missouri River. How did your conversation go?

Harold Frazier: You know, I was a little hopeful, but I guess I kind of got what I expected. There’s court cases proceeding. One of the things they assured me is that he is going to follow, continue the consultation process, which three agencies put in place and he’s reviewing the statutes, so that was good, because I think that’s important, that the laws that govern oil pipelines are followed. I’m happy that he is assuring us that he will be reviewing the laws.

Monday, the chairman Standing Rock Sioux, Dave Archambault, sent a letter to U.S. Attorney General Loretta Lynch asking the Justice Department to investigate the use of force and militarization of police response against Native American pipeline opponents and their supporters. Did this issue come up with the president, and what are your thoughts about the tactics used to suppress the protests?

Yeah, that’s one of the points that I brought up to him — civil rights violations and the brutality of the police. And he assured me there are federal monitors on site. I think that’s really important. I went out to the camp this weekend and on Saturday, they were arresting the protectors as they were complying with the order to disperse. And as they were walking back from the site to the camp is when the police went and arrested them. To me, why, you know? They were complying with the order of dispersing, and so it’s really disappointing. Right now, that is my immediate concern — the safety of the people who are up at the camp.

You said the president mentioned there were federal monitors on the site?

I don’t know who the monitors are. I know, like Chairman Archambault, I had written a letter about three weeks ago and I was told by the FBI that there was a representative from the Department of Justice that went to the site and to the camp. They asked me to come up with names of our members to visit with them. As a matter of fact, we have a tribal member who was bitten by one of the attack dogs back on Labor Day. But I wasn’t able to be there. Our people said they were kind of disappointed a little bit, because when they met with the DOJ representative, the FBI was there and he was just asking for names of individuals versus listening to the stories. That’s something that’s really going on, the local media is really characterizing the protectors as violent people, thieves, which is not true at all. I’ve been to, you know, in the evenings, and everyone’s praying, singing and it’s a real good atmosphere. So, I do know the local media in North Dakota is really blowing things way out of proportion.

Chairman Frazier, videos recorded during interactions between protesters and police reveal scenes that are reminiscent of the civil rights battles of the 1960s. Your thoughts?

Well, I don’t think the people in North Dakota’s attitudes have changed. For the last 100 years, they’ve really shown that they’re still there, the hatred’s still there towards Indian people. I visited with the U.S. Attorney’s Office here, about two or three weeks ago, and I asked him point blank, I said, “How can a non-Indian physically assault an Indian and get away with it?” And I was referring to when the DAPL security — I’ve seen videos where they threw people down and they turned the dogs loose. And his response was, “Well, that’s on state lines.” So I said, “Oh, so does that mean if a non-Indian comes to an Indian on Indian land, the Indian could do it back?” “Oh no,” he said, “You’d go to jail.” So my conclusion was that, only in America, where a non-Indian can physically assault an Indian person and get away with it. And that’s really a shame on our country.

Members of the Standing Rock Sioux have now set up another camp, this one on land they say is rightfully theirs under the 1851 Laramie Treaty — and directly in the path of the pipeline. What’s the status?

Yes, they’re still there. I think with the recent treatment by the police officers escalated the people at the camp to take such a stance. I mean, they’re getting tired of being physically assaulted, mistreated. I say it like this: our grandfathers didn’t need a piece of paper to determine where they live. And I think that I admire their courage, their bravery. You know, it is getting attention, so hopefully we will get more positive looking at, to show the commitment that they have in protecting clean water. Because we definitely need more people to wake up and see.

Finally, what else do you want our listeners to understand about the resistance to the Dakota Access pipeline?

I think it’s important for everyone to know that it’s just not an Indian issue, it’s an issue that involves all of us. It doesn’t matter where you come from, the race, because at some point we’re all drinking the same water. And that water is life, and you need to have it to be healthy and to live a long life. I’ve been saying that it is a human issue, not just an Indian issue, and it’s sad that back home, locally, that’s what it’s being portrayed as, that if you’re an Indian you’re against oil, and if you’re not, you’re for oil. That’s really not the case. I just want to emphasize that it is a human issue.