Here’s how Darrell Dorgan described the events on North Dakota Highway 1806 south of Mandan this afternoon:
“140 years ago, the Sioux took down Custer and the 7th Cavalry. Today, the Sioux took down the North Dakota Highway Patrol. But this time, the Highway Patrol was smart enough to get the hell out of there before anybody got killed.”
I was having a nice quiet Friday, canning tomato juice, when Darrell called and said he was going to take some bottled water down to the protest camp on the Standing Rock Reservation, and would I like to come along? What the heck, a nice drive along the Missouri River on a summer afternoon sounded good to me.
We delivered the water to LaDonna Brave Bull Allard, a tribal elder and historian, on whose land the camp was set up, after running the gauntlet of more than 40 law enforcement vehicles parked on both sides of Highway 1806 at the site of a tribal protest against the construction of the Dakota Access Pipeline. Tribal members are concerned about the giant oil transmission pipeline crossing the Missouri River just upstream of the reservation. Preliminary construction work is underway—roads being built from Highway 1806 to the shore of Lake Oahe along the route the pipeline will be buried.
We asked LaDonna what was happening at the protest site, about three miles from the campsite. She said tribal members are determined to stop the pipeline from being laid under the river. She said there were a bunch of people arrested Thursday, five more this morning, and there were probably going to be more this afternoon. She was expecting several hundred people to join the protest today.
So, apparently, were the law enforcement folks. LaDonna said there were 65 of them on site, protecting the construction workers and keeping the peace.
Well, Darrell and I are old newsmen. We once worked together on a story involving a strange fellow who had been shooting at airplanes he believed were carrying out surveillance over his rural residence down in Adams County, joining local police on a three-day stakeout before he finally surrendered. That was 41 years ago, in 1975. Darrell and I go back a ways. He was a reporter for KDIX TV in Dickinson, and I was a reporter for The Dickinson Press.
So as we drove back through the gauntlet on our way back to Bismarck, we decided to stop and check out the action.
We found some people we knew, got brought up to speed on what was happening, and all of a sudden the lady standing beside us said “They just uncovered human remains. C’mon, we’re going to jail.”
By this time there were indeed several hundred people gathered at an approach where the construction vehicles were entering the construction area. Word spread throughout the crowd and also the law enforcement contingent like wildfire.
The enraged tribal members were going to storm the iron gates where the construction was going on. The cops formed a line across the approach, elbow to elbow. Someone went in and warned the workers, and they began coming through the gates and leaving the site, in about half a dozen vehicles. Then a very large Indian man sat down in the middle of the approach as the last vehicle came through the gates, blocking its path. Officers approached him, and with some difficulty, they handcuffed him. They tried to move him, but he was simply too big, so they let him sit there, directing the last pickup around him. It drove off the edge of the approach and got a little bit stuck, and its path was blocked for a time by the crowd.
By this time, the line of officers and the protesters were nose to nose. Indian drums were beating loudly, the crowd was chanting and doing war whoops, and a group of young men surged behind the officers and climbed onto the iron gates, rocking them until they collapsed. Another group of young men on horses rode through the gates first, then a large number of the protesters followed on foot.
It was all peaceful except for the gates coming down. Tribal members had called their historic preservation officer, who was on his way to examine the human remains. One protester quieted the crowd and said that an officer had accused the crowd of planting the bones there. The crowd roared.
And at that point, a couple of the officers quietly went over and took the handcuffs off the protester who was still sitting in the middle of the approach. One of the officers was heard to say “We’ve lost this one. Let’s go.” And most of the law enforcement officers headed for their vehicles. So did Darrell and I, content to let whatever news media was there tell us the rest of the story later.
That was our Friday afternoon. I’ve attached some photos to this report, although this blog is not really set up for photos. But I thought you might like to see a little bit of what we saw. It was quite something.