Screen shot of video feed via Facebook
Water protectors chained themselves to equipment and rallied at several Dakota Access pipeline construction sites on Tuesday and Wednesday, September 13 and 14.

‘Our Ancestors Are Here With Us’: Water Protectors Halt DAPL Construction, Arrests Made

Sarah Sunshine Manning

Early Wednesday morning, September 14, three water protectors—two men and one woman—locked down onto Dakota Access machinery near Interstate 94 at a construction site west of Bismarck. Construction was halted, and police arrived quickly. 

An unidentified number of water protectors were at the construction site, including those locked onto machinery and a handful of others monitoring the construction area. Water protectors not locked down were the first to be arrested. A total of 31 people—23 on Tuesday and eight on Wednesday—were arrested over the two days, according to the Morton County Sheriff’s Department.

In an earlier action, on Tuesday September 13, two water protectors locked down to Dakota Access machinery at another construction site. A busload of police quickly arrived, with officers in full riot gear and armed with semi-automatic weapons. All water protectors were unarmed, and arrests included medics, the legal team and journalists documenting the events.

Arrestees ranged from age 23 to 50 and included people from Minnesota, Vermont, Washington, California, Arizona, Oregon, Texas and New Mexico. Two men and one woman who were locked down to Dakota Access machinery were arrested for felony reckless endangerment. Two more men were arrested for conspiracy to commit reckless endangerment and other misdemeanor charges for assisting others in attaching to equipment. One driver was charged for conspiracy to obstruction of government function, and the vehicle was impounded. Two others were arrested for trespassing at another construction site for conspiracy to commit reckless endangerment, and conspiracy to commit obstruction of a government function. A complete list of charges and arrests made on September 13 can be found here.

These back-to-back direct actions to stop construction came after Dakota Access halted construction only within a 40-mile-wide span near the river, but continued working on the vast majority of the 1,172-mile pipeline.

“This machine that I’m standing on was running before we came here, and we stood before these machines to stop this pipeline,” said Nick Tilsen, Oglala Lakota, as he spoke to an unidentified man who livestreamed the video to Facebook. “[We are here] to protect our water, to stand up in a peaceful way for our people, to stand up for our rights that we have and that we deserve.”

Tilsen is executive director of Thunder Valley CDC, a grassroots community development corporation on the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation in South Dakota working to build energy-efficient homes on 34 acres of land.

“For far too long as indigenous people, our rights, our water, our land, have been taken from us. And we’re not going to stand for it anymore,” said Tilsen.

Thunder Valley CDC recently broke ground on an eco-conscious and regenerative community on the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation. The water supplied to the Pine Ridge Reservation and the regenerative community is supplied via the Mni Wiconi Rural Water System, which comes from the Missouri River.  

“Executive Director Nick Tilsen is peacefully taking part in nonviolent direct actions to protect sacred water,” said Thunder Valley CDC in a statement. “We as an organization firmly oppose any projects that contribute to the continuation of chronically destructive development projects in Native communities and we stand in solidarity with the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe. He is safeguarding the future for the next seven generations and ensuring Thunder Valley’s ability of empowering Lakota youth and families.”

Tilsen said, “This pipeline is a pipeline to the past, and we need to be building sustainable infrastructure for the future, not destructive, unsustainable industries that hurt land, that hurt water, that hurt people. Everything is wrong about this pipeline—all the violations of rights for the tribes and the people. So we’re here, standing in solidarity with millions of people from around the world that are against this pipeline.” 

Tilsen was lauded by President Obama for his commitment to sustainable community development at the 2012 White House Tribal Nations Conference.

Another unidentified water protector explained his purpose while he locked down to machinery.

“I’m here because the Dakota access pipeline is unacceptable,” he said. “It’s a violation of indigenous sovereignty. I’m here to protect the water. I’m here to protect the sacred. Water is life.”

In addition to two men, one unidentified woman locked down to machinery on Wednesday morning. 

“We do this for the water,” she said. “We do this for our future generations. We protect the land and water because that’s our way of life. We all have something in common, and that’s the water. We are here to protect the water.”

“I know our ancestors are here with us, that they want this to happen,” said Tilsen. “To all my brothers and sisters, and children, my family, everybody everywhere, lets stop this pipeline. Together as a people we can accomplish anything that we put our minds to. It’s a new day for indigenous people.” 

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