MORTON COUNTY, N.D. – A tense standoff was under way Sunday between police and around 400 hundred demonstrators against the Dakota Access Pipeline.
A sheriff’s spokeswoman said that about 400 protesters were involved in what she called a riot. Deputies deployed tear gas and fired water cannons toward protesters on the Backwater Bridge Sunday around 6 p.m., according to Donnell Hushka, spokeswoman for the Morton County Sheriff’s Department.
The protesters have been trying to stop the construction of the pipeline since April. It’s near the Standing Rock Sioux reservation in North Dakota, described by the demonstrators as sacred trial lands. They said the project will hurt the environment and destroy some historic sites.
The land is under the jurisdiction of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. Police are attempting to block the protesters from crossing the bridge.
Sunday night’s temperatures dipped to below 30 degrees, according to the Los Angeles Times.
A protester used Facebook to live stream Sunday’s clash. The video showed plumes of tear gas in the distance.
Some decried the use of water on the crowd on a cold night.
The physicians and tribal healers with the Standing Rock Medic and Healer Council called for ” the immediate cessation of use of water cannons” over concerns of hypothermia in the cold weather conditions. They criticized the use of water as “potentially lethal use of these confrontational methods against people peacefully assembled.”
But police say the protesters are not peaceful and that water was used to put out fires as well as to control the crowds.
“There are multiple fires being set by protesters on the bridge and in the area of the bridge,” said Hushka. “We have fire trucks on the scene they are using their fire hoses to put out the fires, wet the land around so fires don’t spread and they are also using water as crowd control.”
According to the sheriff’s spokeswoman, the protesters were trying to move a burned truck, which was burned on October 27.
At least one person has been arrested.
Why protests are happening
Protesters say the Dakota Access Pipeline will threaten the environment and destroy Native American burial sites, prayer sites and culturally significant artifacts. The Standing Rock Sioux Tribe says construction of the pipeline — which is currently slated to run under the Missouri River — could affect its drinking water supply and put communities living downstream “at risk for contamination by crude oil leaks and spills.”
Multiple groups have joined the protests over the months.
Protesters appear to be digging their heels in for the winter by building structures in a protest camp without permit, said the Morton County Sheriff’s Department.
“Their actions are both illegal and likely insufficient to protect them from the elements,” said Morton County Sheriff Kyle Kirchmeier. “We’ve seen that many of these protestors are not from North Dakota and may not be familiar with the harshness of our winters, an we urge them to leave the camps and seek appropriate shelter for their own health and safety.”
Bernie Sanders tweeted that the president “must protect the safety of Native Americans and their supporters who have gathered peacefully to oppose the Dakota Access Pipeline.”
Status of the pipeline
Last week, the Army Corps of Engineers announced it had delayed construction work on the controversial pipeline to hold further “discussion and analysis” with Standing Rock Sioux Tribe. But the companies behind the Dakota Access Pipeline slammed the latest decision as “lacking legal or factual justification.”
Energy Transfer Partners and Sunoco Logistics Partners took legal action, asking a federal court to allow them to complete the pipeline.
Dakota Access is a $3.7-billion project that backers have touted as the safest and most efficient way to transport oil, rather than using rail or trucks.