Oil Industry Unleashes Attack Dogs and Pepper Spray on Native American Protestors

*The following is an opinion column by R Muse*

For the second time in as many weeks, Americans are learning that their 1st Amendment right to free expression, including freely expressing themselves by peaceably assembling to protest and petition for a redress of their grievances, is being assailed as first, unpatriotic and now, “unlawful.” Actually, it was North Dakota’s Lt. Governor Drew Wrigley, a Republican, who labeled Native Americans, environmentalists, and private property owners’ protests against a Keystone-like oil pipeline “unlawful” and ‘increasingly dangerous” due to the number of protestors growing to “as many as 4,000 people.

One isn’t entirely certain if the right to assemble is “unlawful” because there are many non-Aryan Americans involved, or because the protest is against the oil industry, but it is likely a combination of the two. Of course the protest is finally garnering some mainstream media coverage, but only because an oil company hired a private security firm to unleash attack dogs and pepper spray on Native Americans. The Native Americans, particularly with the Standing Rock tribe, are “fighting to stop the construction and installation of the pipeline on their sovereign nation reservation bordering North and South Dakota.

The Native Americans have taken their complaint to court and are awaiting a ruling that should be founded on the Army Corps of Engineers “incorrectly” applying unilateral “fast track” processing giving the company building the Dakota Access Pipeline, Energy Transfer, free rein to build, pollute, and desecrate sacred Native American burial sites. Over the weekend, that “free rein” informed Energy Transfer they could legally hire private security to turn attack dogs loose on and use pepper spray on men, women, children and horses. It is noteworthy that North Dakota’s Republican lieutenant governor didn’t say it was unlawful for a private security company to use attack dogs or mace on protestors because they are in the employ of the oil industry.

Protestors complained that besides legitimate concerns over the environmental hazards of leak-prone pipelines traversing their water supply, “construction crews have already destroyed American Indian burial and cultural sites on private land” according to the Associated Press. According to the chairman of the Standing Rock Sioux tribe, David Archambault:

This demolition is devastating. These grounds are the resting places of our ancestors. The ancient cairns and stone prayer rings there cannot be replaced. In one day, our sacred land has been turned into hollow ground.”

Obviously neither the oil industry nor North Dakota Republicans care because this is America, after all, and oil industry profits supersede everything.

The Native Americans have a very valid claim, exclusive of the “existential threat to the tribe’s culture and way of life,” in protesting the pipeline’s construction. The Army Corps of Engineers that granted a “standing permit” apparent to have violated several federal laws in applying a fast-track process to enrich big oil without any kind of review whatsoever or any public input as required by law.

The permit conflicts with “federal trust responsibilities” that are guaranteed in two separate treaties between the United States government and Native Americans dating back over a century-and-a-half; the 1851 and 1868 treaties with the Lakota, Dakota, and Nakota tribes. The Army Corps’ permits granted under its Nationwide Permit 12 allowing the oil industry to “build numerous oil and gas pipelines, including on private property without any environmental review or public input process” is likely why the oil company had little reservations in unleashing attack dogs and pepper spray on the protestors with veritable impunity.

As the Sierra Club noted in its letter to President Obama appealing for a halt to construction, the permits also violate the “Clean Water Act, the National environmental Policy Act, the National Historic Preservation Act and the Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act.” Of special note is the Army Corps’ “unlawful” permitting without review according to the Clean Water Act’s “general permit program” that demands any projects have ‘truly minimal’ environmental impact on water sources.

This particular project does not meet that requirement because the pipeline will be constructed without review to convey crude oil directly under the Missouri River, a primary drinking water source for a large number of Americans in the immediate vicinity and far downstream. As noted in the Sierra Club’s letter to the President, the recent spate of pipeline spills in California’s Central Valley and Ventura, as well as 2010s still active disaster in Kalamazoo Michigan, should inform even an oil-friendly person that pipelines in and around drinking water sources, much less under a river, are catastrophes waiting to happen and a horrible idea.

It is relatively certain that the Native Americans protesting yet another pipeline still remember the 2013 Tesoro Logistics pipeline rupture in North Dakota  that spilled 865,000 gallons of oil even while the industry claims pipelines and the water supply are safe and to just go home, trust they are not lying or face attack dogs and mace.

One understands that the oil industry is not accustomed to Americans protesting anything that may interfere with their profits, or being challenged after destroying sacred sites; they have been given free rein and special privileges for far too long. However, it is beyond reasonable that an oil company, any oil company, would hire a private security force to attack protestors exercising their 1st Amendment rights to protest; a right that is becoming more perilous every day and one Republicans appear ready to abolish given the chance