Mary Annette Pember
Water protectors plant a flag on earth dug to create ditch for Dakota Access pipeline near St. Anthony, North Dakota during prayer action.

Water Protectors Rounded Up After Prayers at DAPL Construction Site

Mary Annette Pember

Twenty-one water protectors who answered the call to pray on Wednesday September 28 were arrested as they attempted to leave a Dakota Access pipeline construction site.

According to the Morton County Sheriff's office, as reported by local Fox News station KFYR TV, protectors were charged with resisting arrest, criminal trespass on private property and possession of stolen property. Morton County officials did not respond to phone calls seeking additional information.

In what appeared to be a loosely organized action, about 150 protectors stopped at two pipeline construction sites near the community of St. Anthony. At the first site, they placed prayer ties and tobacco on the earth in and around the empty ditch that will hold pipeline. Helicopters buzzed low overhead, and at one point a crop-dusting plane dropped material uncomfortably close to the crowd.

Crop dusting plane drops load of fertilizer? insecticide? over crowd of Water Protectors during Dakota Access pipeline prayer action. (Photo: Mary Annette Pember)

Valley Live News reported that the Morton County Sheriff’s office determined that the plane was dusting fields. The field appeared to contain dried sunflowers. According to Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) guidelines, crop duster pilots must file preflight reports if they plan to dust over “congested” areas. A congested area, according to the FAA, would include areas with as few as three houses in close proximity. There were no houses in view of the crop-dusting area. The impact, however, of the dusting activity on water protectors gathered there was unnerving.

Two helicopters, a plane and several police vehicles followed the long caravan of cars, horse trailers, vans and pick-up trucks as they made their way to the two locations. At the second site, protectors parked along a roughly graded road and made their way down to the construction site where, according to witnesses, no workers were present. Protectors told Indian Country Today that about 20 police officers were waiting for them when they approached the second site to pray.

Police stop vehicles participating in Dakota Access prayer action against pipeline from leaving road near construction site in St. Anthony, ND. (Photo: Mary Annette Pember)

Public secondary roads in this area of North Dakota are often little more than roughly graded gravel roads. Poorly marked, they seem to merge seamlessly into private land, making it difficult to determine whether one is walking on public or private property.

The road leading directly to the second stopping point for the protectors was such a site. Although there were two signs indicating the land was “posted,” or private, it was unclear whether the roadway was also private. According to police, that was why after their prayers, protectors were met with a large contingent of armored vehicles as well as heavily armed police from various jurisdictions.

Indian Country Today Media Network was ordered to “halt” by a Bismarck police officer. Reporters remained in their vehicle as personnel in the armored vehicle, dressed in full tactical gear and carrying large weapons, looked out over the gathering with binoculars.

Water protector pours water on path of Dakota Access pipeline during prayer action in St. Anthony, ND. (Photo: Mary Annette Pember)

As cars remained stopped on the road, the SWAT vehicle as well as several police cars drove rapidly across the open land back down the hill toward the construction site. According to the Associated Press, Morton County Sheriffs reported that an officer raised his weapon “containing less-lethal ammunition” toward protectors after one person on horseback charged at him. Fox further quoted Morton County Sheriff Kyle Kirchmeier’s office as saying that the situation (at the construction site) presented an imminent threat to the officer.

At least one protector yelled for police to “let us go,” and approached officers. The Bismarck police officer, whose badge indicated he was a lieutenant but did not include a name, appeared to respond in a moderate voice and asked the protector, a young man, to go back to his vehicle. The young man returned, and the situation appeared to deescalate. Indian Country Today informed police that we were press and had not left the roadway. Suddenly the police gave ICTMN and others the signal to leave, but several protectors were later detained and arrested.

There were no reports of injury. Below, some of the action. 

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