A protest of the multi-state, $3.8 million oil pipeline turned violent Saturday when members of a Native American tribe in North Dakota and private security forces clashed as construction crews began work on the project.
Morton County Sheriff’s Office spokeswoman Donnell Preskey told reporters four security guards not affiliated with law enforcement and two guard dogs were injured as several hundred protesters living in the Standing Rock Sioux reservation confronted pipeline workers at the site.
One of the security officers was taken to a hospital, while the two guard dogs were taken to veterinary clinic, Preskey said. She said there weren’t any reports of protestors being injured. Tribe spokesman Steve Sitting Bear disagreed, telling reporters that security dogs bit six protesters and a young child. At least 30 people were pepper-sprayed during the altercation, he added.
The confrontation comes as protesters continue to make waves both in Morton County North Dakota, where the oil pipeline is slated to begin, and in Washington, D.C.
Members of the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe met outside the steps of the Washington, D.C., courthouse Aug. 25 to protest the construction of the pipeline, which they say would wreak havoc on their native lands and cause widespread water contamination.
Tribal preservation officer Tim Mentz cited court documents concluding that researchers found burial rock piles called cairns, as well as other areas deemed historically “significant” to Native Americans.
They rallied outside the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia while others clamored inside the court to wage a legal battle over the $3.7 billion project. Hollywood actress Susan Sarandon, as well as anti-fracking documentarian Josh Fox, joined the protestors.
The nearly 1,200-mile pipeline would be the first to shuttle Bakken shale from North Dakota directly to refineries in the U.S. Gulf Coast.
Law-enforcement personnel were not present at the North Dakota site when the incident occurred, Preskey said. Nobody was arrested at the time of the incident, she added.
David Archambault II, the tribe’s chairman, said in a press statement construction crews scraped clear several tons of topsoil over a 150 feet wide area stretching nearly 2 miles.
“This demolition is devastating,” Archambault said. “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.”
Law enforcement officials, however, have a different interpretation of the day’s events.
“Individuals crossed onto private property and accosted private security officers with wooden posts and flagpoles,” Morton County Sheriff Kyle Kirchmeier said in a statement to the press. “Any suggestion that today’s event was a peaceful protest, is false.”
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