We go to North Dakota for an update on the ongoing Standoff at Standing Rock, where thousands of Native Americans representing more than 200 tribes from across the Americas are resisting the construction of the $3.8 billion Dakota Access pipeline, which is slated to carry oil from North Dakota’s Bakken oilfields through South Dakota, Iowa and into Illinois. On Saturday, over 100 people, who call themselves protectors, not protesters, were arrested at a peaceful march after they were confronted by police in riot gear, carrying assault rifles. They say police pepper-sprayed them and then arrested them en masse, and discharged rubber bullets to shoot down drones the water protectors were using to document the police activity. We are joined by Sacheen Seitcham, media activist with West Coast Women Warriors Media Cooperative who was arrested Saturday along with more than 80 other protesters and journalists at a construction site for the Dakota Access pipeline in North Dakota.
AMY GOODMAN: We begin today’s show in North Dakota with the ongoing Standoff at Standing Rock, where thousands of Native Americans, representing more than 200 tribes from across the Americas, are resisting the construction of the $3.8 billion Dakota Access pipeline, which is slated to carry oil from North Dakota’s Bakken oilfields through South Dakota, Iowa and into Illinois. On Saturday, over a hundred people, who call themselves protectors, not protesters, were arrested on a peaceful march after they were confronted by police in riot gear carrying assault rifles. They say police pepper-sprayed them, then arrested them en masse. This is footage from the Sacred Stone Camp.
POLICE OFFICER 1: You’re all under arrest!
WATER PROTECTOR 1: Hey!
POLICE OFFICER 1: Back off!
POLICE OFFICER 2: You’re all under arrest!
WATER PROTECTOR 1: Stay together! Stay together! Do not be afraid! Stand your prayer!
WATER PROTECTOR 2: Hey!
AMY GOODMAN: Organizers also say police discharged rubber bullets to shoot down drones the water protectors were using to document the police activity. In response to Saturday’s protest, Morton County Sheriff Kyle Kirchmeier said, quote, “Today’s situation clearly illustrates what we have been saying for weeks, that this protest is not peaceful or lawful. … This protest was intentionally coordinated and planned by agitators with the specific intent to engage in illegal activities,” Kirchmeier said. Those arrested face charges including riot, reckless endangerment, criminal trespass, assaulting an officer and resisting arrest.
On Sunday, hundreds of water protectors erected a new frontline camp of several structures and tipis directly on the proposed path of the Dakota Access pipeline. The new frontline camp is just to the east of North Dakota State Highway 1806 across from the site where on September 3rd, over Labor Day weekend, Dakota Access security guards unleashed pepper spray and dogs against Native Americans trying to protect a sacred ground from destruction. The water protectors also erected three road blockades that stopped traffic for hours on Highway 1806 Saturday to the north and south of the main resistance camp and along County Road 134. The group cited an 1851 treaty, which they say makes the entire area unceded sovereign land under the control of the Sioux. The blockades were dismantled late Sunday.
For more, we’re joined by two guests. Sacheen Seitcham is an activist and journalist with West Coast Women Warriors Media Cooperative. She was arrested Saturday along with more than a hundred water protectors and journalists at a construction site for the Dakota Access pipeline. And Tara Houska, national campaigns director for Honor the Earth, she’s Ojibwe from Couchiching First Nation.
We welcome you both to Democracy Now! OK, let’s first go to Sacheen. You were arrested Saturday. Can you take us through this day? What happened on Saturday?
SACHEEN SEITCHAM: What happened on Saturday was completely uncalled for, out of — out of the realm of any understanding of people who exist in this world who are trying to do something good and right. Basically, we had come to a lockdown that was trying to reach — we were trying to stop the construction of the DAPL pipeline that day. And our objective was to go walk with them in prayer and meet with them and to lift them up, to be with them as they were locked down. While we walked, we encountered quite a few police. And basically, they had little ATVs, where they were like dune buggies. They were following us. And then more and more police cars came. We actually had to avoid them by running down a hill into a gully and crossing a small river to go and reach the worksite. And at this point, there had been at least six to eight [inaudible] police cars and many officers on the opposite side of the fence from us. And so, we kept walking so that we could go and meet our objective, be at this worksite and to, you know, really prevent the pipeline from being built on sacred ground, on ancient burial sites where the ancestors are laying and should not be disturbed.
AMY GOODMAN: Sacheen?
SACHEEN SEITCHAM: Sorry. At this point, there had been about two — maybe roughly 200 of us. And we’re walking to the field with banners, singing. There was a lot of ceremony and prayer songs. There was a lot of smudging going on with people with sweetgrass and sage and tobacco. And this police vehicle rolled up beside us and basically said, “You’re all trespassing. You’re all under arrest.” So we kept going, because at this point we knew — too important what we’re doing. We can’t be intimidated or fearful. Regardless of what they do to us, we must continue and do what we are going to do to protect the sacred water, to protect the sacred ground. So we kept walking.
They kept massing more people of their — their cop riot gear. They had their lethal assault weapons, holding them. And, you know, they’re rubber bullets, but, as we know, rubber bullets can also be fatal. They had their batons out and were openly carrying around cans of mace in a threatening manner. And they eventually, as we walked, cut open the fence to come at us. And they started yelling and running towards us and yelling and inducing fear in people. And we were trying to create a sense of, you know, organization, where we were asking people, “Please, stay calm. Everybody, group together.” At this point, they just started being snatch-happy. They were just grabbing people, out of pocket, just, you know, throwing them off to the side. They threw a young woman who was trying to protect a child in the march. They smacked her in the ribs with a baton and, you know, broke it. That’s how forceful they were.
AMY GOODMAN: Sacheen, how were you arrested?
SACHEEN SEITCHAM: I was arrested — basically, the cops tried to tell us to go, and I was arrested, because we were walking away. So, we said, “OK, we’re going to leave. You’ve asked us to leave. You told us we’re trespassing.” And so, we all started walking away. And as we walked, the police came through to the front, and then they surrounded us at the back, creating a circle. They kettled us in. We were arrested for engaging in a riot and criminal trespass.
AMY GOODMAN: How many people, do you believe, have been arrested so far? We see the estimates between 87, around there, that the Sheriff’s Office is saying, to upwards of — CNN is reporting 127. The camp is reporting 140.
SACHEEN SEITCHAM: I’m going to go with the camp’s estimate. While I was being processed in the — we were all in the garage. They had no idea what to do with us. They were completely disorganized. The Sheriff’s Office had us all penned up in the garage for roughly two hours. And there was upwards of more than a hundred people down there.
AMY GOODMAN: What were you charged with?
SACHEEN SEITCHAM: I was charged with criminal trespass and engaging in a riot at DAPL worksite 127.
AMY GOODMAN: Were you ever brought to the Mandan jail?
SACHEEN SEITCHAM: Yes. Yes, I was.
AMY GOODMAN: And were you strip-searched?
SACHEEN SEITCHAM: Yes, I was made to disrobe. At this point, they were very disorganized, and I wasn’t treated, basically, the way other women were. I wasn’t forced to squat or cough. They just basically made me disrobe and then put my clothes back on. But, you know, at that point, there was a lot of other women who shared their stories with me that they were strip-searched, they were forced to squat, they were forced to cough and be treated in that manner.
AMY GOODMAN: And how long were you held?
SACHEEN SEITCHAM: I got to the jail, I would say, roughly around maybe 2:00 in the afternoon, and I was released at 7:00 a.m. yesterday morning.
AMY GOODMAN: Well, Sacheen Seitcham, I want to thank you for being with us. Sacheen is a member of the West Coast Women Warriors Media Cooperative. She was arrested Saturday along with scores of other people, both protesters, or, as they call themselves, protectors, as well as journalists, at the construction site for the Dakota Access pipeline in North Dakota. When we come back, we’ll speak to Tara Houska about the overall plan. We called Dakota Access pipeline but weren’t able to get them on. The plan right now — is the pipeline accelerating construction? And then we’ll speak with Shailene Woodley. Shailene Woodley, the actress, who went to the Dakota Access pipeline protests, she was arrested. She was strip-searched, like so many others. Stay with us.