Many protesters and journalists have been arrested while protesting the Dakota Access Pipeline at the Standing Rock Indian Reservation.
“Law enforcement officers seem to be targeting journalists,” said Emmy Scott, a second-year law student at Michigan State University and a member of the Winnebago tribe in Nebraska. “It’s a clear violation of the First Amendment.”
The ACLU of North Dakota posted an article in August, 2016 stating that the curbing of peaceful protests at the construction site of the pipeline violates the First Amendment.
“As a native law student, it’s really hard to watch from afar because I can see all of the violations going on with the First and possibly the Fourth Amendments,” Scott said. “They’re strip searching these individuals. They’re using dehumanization and intimidation techniques. Law enforcement is using military equipment against these protesters. They’re using excessive force to cease riots.”
Robert Allen, a reporter at the Detroit Free Press, covered the protests in Standing Rock in December. Not once did he have any interaction law enforcement officers because they would have seen his approach as a hostile one.
“For the most part, while I was out there, everything I saw was peaceful,” Allen said. “That wasn’t how it was in the weeks before I got there.”
Allen attributed the peace between protesters and law enforcement to the presence of veterans at the reservation.
“Having the presence of the veterans there probably made a difference as far as the way that the federal government decided to go on this because nobody wants to be seen spraying veterans with freezing cold ice water in the wintertime out in the middle of North Dakota,” Allen said.
Regardless of whether people were protesting at Standing Rock or just tweeting with the hashtag #NoDAPL, they all have their own reasons for protesting.
“It’s beyond just stopping the construction of the pipeline at this point,” Scott said. “It’s become a movement. People see that the choices being made are not only impacting the environment, but they’re impacting people, as well.”
Protestors, who call themselves “water protectors”, are worried about what will happen to the environment during and after the construction of the pipeline.
There have been instances where oil was spilled and ruined entire ecosystems. For example, in 2010 when the BP-operated Macondo Prospect spilled about 5 million barrels of oil into the Gulf of Mexico and killed 11 workers.
“Accidents and leaks happen,” Bob Drost, a professor in the Department of Earth and Environmental Sciences at MSU, said. “Some of the tribes have some particular issues right where the pipeline crosses the Missouri River. It would be devastating if something were to happen.”
The pipeline is not directly on native land, but it crosses the Missouri River, which could be a threat to the tribes who have reservations close to it.
“There are other tribes on the Missouri River.” Scott said. “It goes down to my reservation, the Winnebago in Nebraska, so if there was a leak it would come downstream to us.”
Drost said that the most significant effect on the environment, however, will be during the construction phase of the Pipeline.
“The pipeline isn’t going to be built in four weeks,” Drost said. “It’s going to be disturbed for a long period of time. Seasonal issues can come in place, especially migration and breeding. Once you take one little piece out of an ecosystem, it changes it. Do we have that guarantee that it’s going to be made as it once was?”
Besides environmental issues the pipeline may cause, people are upset because it will affect native land.
“The plans showed that the pipeline was supposed to go north of Bismarck, but the plans moved because the people in the city didn’t want it near them,” Scott said. “It’s clearly environmental racism.”
“Some people think it’s about Standing Rock and stopping Dakota Access, but it’s become way more than that,” Scott said. “Over 180 tribes signed resolutions supporting Standing Rock and it’s because it is a violation of treaty right. The tribes’ input wasn’t taken into account even though the construction takes place so close to their homelands.”