Over two thousand Natives have gathered in Standing Rock, North Dakota, in what some are calling the largest Indigenous convergence in more than a century. More than 100 nations are represented at multiple camps, with Natives travelling to Standing Rock from reservations and cities around the country, all with one aim: to thwart construction of the Dakota Access pipeline. If constructed, the Dakota Access pipeline would transport crude oil from the North Dakota Bakken region through South Dakota and Iowa into Illinois -- crossing the Missouri in treaty lands. On Tuesday, Green Party Presidential Candidate Jill Stein also joined protesters on the frontline, speaking alongside Indigenous movement leaders and vandalizing a bulldozer as protesters cheered. Stein spray-painted the words "I approve this message" on a piece of equipment that had been shut down by protesters.
Morton County Sheriff Kyle Kirchmeier said Tuesday that Stein would be charged with trespassing and vandalism.
"This is a human-rights crisis," Stein stated on Twitter.
Since April 1, Natives have encamped and held space along the proposed route of the Dakota Access pipeline. As the legal battles around the pipeline continue to unfold in court, Natives who have converged in Standing Rock are escalating their tactics to stop construction. Last week, a Native man halted pipeline construction for 6.5 hours by locking himself to a piece of construction equipment with a blockade apparatus. Over the weekend, a large group of Natives, including families with children, was attacked by dogs and pepper-sprayed by pipeline security for stepping into a work area.
Native organizers say the site where the dog attacks occurred was targeted for destruction by Dakota Access, in response to a legal attempt by the tribe to have site protected.
"On Saturday, Dakota Access Pipeline and Energy Transfer Partners brazenly used bulldozers to destroy our burial sites, prayer sites and culturally significant artifacts," Tribal Chairman David Archambault II said in a statement. "They did this on a holiday weekend, one day after we filed court papers identifying these sacred sites. The desecration of these ancient places has already caused the Standing Rock Sioux irreparable harm."
As bulldozers tore through a burial ground described in the tribe's motion, a large crowd of Natives took defensive action by stepping onto the worksite, in an effort to halt the machines. They were met with a seemingly amateur security force, apparently hired by the pipeline company. A number of the men held snarling dogs on leashes, and some actively sicced dogs on the protesters.
Jan Hasselman, attorney for the Standing Rock Sioux, denounced the company's attack on the site where the dog attacks occurred. "The Tribe has been seeking to vindicate its rights peacefully through the court," Hasselman said in a statement. "But Dakota Access Pipeline used evidence submitted to the Court as their roadmap for what to bulldoze. That's just wrong."
Direct actions continued on Tuesday, as two Native Water Protectors locked themselves to construction equipment at a Dakota Access worksite.
Jules, a Water Protector from the Oglala Lakota nation, locked herself to construction equipment with a certainty of purpose. "I am locked to send a message that our water is sacred. Our women are sacred. Our children are sacred," Jules told Unicorn Riot, while still attached to the construction equipment.
By the day's end, a federal judge ordered a temporary work stoppage for a particular stretch of the pipeline, where Natives say sacred sites were intentionally destroyed over the weekend. However, this momentary, partial victory isn't likely to slow the escalation of this historic struggle: Solidarity actions are still being planned in cities around the country in the coming days and weeks.