“Meanwhile, the Dakota Access Pipeline itself has confirmed some of the Standing Rock Sioux’s fears: After becoming fully operation on June 1, the pipeline has already leaked at least five times.”
In the year since the last activists were evicted, the crackdown on journalists and activists has only intensified.
By Zoë Carpenter
February 23, 2017: Law-enforcement officers point their weapons at two water protectors praying near the Sacred Fire of the main resistance camp of the Dakota Access Pipeline protests. Both men were arrested, along with the photographer, shortly after this image was taken. (Tracie Williams)
On February 23 of last year, a day when the frozen ground had started to turn to mud, law-enforcement officers rolled into the Oceti Sakowin camp near the Standing Rock Sioux reservation in North Dakota. Donald Trump had been inaugurated a month earlier, and the new president quickly reversed an Obama administration decision to deny Energy Transfer Partners a permit to finish construction of the Dakota Access Pipeline, a $3.78 billion project running directly under the Missouri River. The water protectors, as protesters called themselves, had been fighting the pipeline since the spring of 2016, concerned that the proposed route cut through ancestral land of spiritual significance, and that a pipeline leak could contaminate the primary water supply to the reservation. The small group who had remained through the bitter winter at Oceti Sakowin had been ordered to leave by February 22 or face eviction and arrest. Most did; a few dozen remained the following the day, when Humvees with snipers on their roofs rolled into camp, a helicopter buzzing above them.
Photojournalist Tracie Williams, on assignment for the National Press Photographers’ Association, captured some of what happened next. Officers wearing military fatigues walked through the camp with assault rifles and knives, which they used to slice open the skins of teepees. Rain and fat flakes of snow fell against a backdrop of smoke rising from structures that had been set alight in a ceremonial gesture. Moments after clicking through the last two frames on her memory card—of two men in prayer, weapons aimed at their heads—she was arrested. Williams, who had been documenting life at Oceti Sakowin for three weeks leading up to the raid, told officers she was a journalist—and says she’d previously identified herself as a member of the press to the governor and the Army Corps and let them know that she’d be there, documenting, and obtained a press credential from the Morton County Sheriff—but they confiscated her equipment as evidence and detained her anyway. Williams was later charged with physical obstruction of government function, a Class A misdemeanor that could result in a year in jail and $3,000 in fines. Her trial is scheduled for June.
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