During the final months of 2016 into early 2017, a cabal of law enforcement and private military contractors brutalized water protectors protesting the Dakota Access pipeline (DAPL) near Standing Rock, North Dakota. And now, the company behind the pipeline is footing the bill.
On Sept. 28th, Dakota Access LLC “donated” $15 million to the North Dakota Department of Emergency Services, paying a portion of the $43 million loan taken out in response to the DAPL protests this past year. The state also accepted a $10 million grant in August from the U.S. Department of Justice to alleviate some of the debt, which leaves $18 million still to pay off.
In other words, a private oil company is paying for state violence enacted on unarmed Native Americans. This is an act of corporate fascism.
North Dakota Governor Doug Burgum, State Representative Al Carlson, and State Senator Rich Wardner expressed gratitude to DAPL in a Sept. 28 press release, recognizing the protests’ “significant impact” on citizens and law enforcement in the state. Burgum stressed the importance of “the life, health, and safety of everyone involved,” and assured taxpayers would not have to pay such an enormous debt without assistance.
Dakota Access LLC’s transfer of funds to the state of North Dakota does not negate the company’s complicity in the numerous, well-documented human rights violations that occurred on Lakota land. Furthermore, DAPL’s payment does nothing to change the fact that they illegally fast-tracked a pipeline through Oceti Sakowin treaty land, hired a security firm that was not licensed to practice in the state, and reacted violently to unarmed protesters exercising their constitutional rights to religious expression and freedom of assembly.
Similarly, the gargantuan sums of money accumulated in the policing of #NoDAPL is the result of an over-militarized police response and not the fault of the protest itself. While blame is being placed on water protectors for high costs, it’s crucial to note that it was DAPL who hired security firms, colluded with law enforcement, and treated unarmed campers like a threat to national security—stacking up expenditures meant to protect the profits of an oil pipeline.
Along with TigerSwan, law enforcement personnel from multiple states were brought in to suppress water protectors and clear the camps: including ND National Guard, West Dakota SWAT, and Wisconsin State Troopers to name a few. The necessity of their riot gear, 6 Humvees, BearCats, and Long Range Acoustic Devices (LRADs) is certainly questionable when cross-referenced with the majorly nonviolent constitution of the #NoDAPL resistance.
The reimbursement of $15 million from DAPL to the state of North Dakota also sets a worrying precedent, when the National Sheriffs’ Association is using the policing of the #NoDAPL movement as a “proper” model of dealing with anti-pipeline activism. If this gross overstep of corporate power becomes standard, fossil fuel companies could pay for the state violence used against people who oppose their projects—often being communities of color on the front lines of environmental racism.
North Dakota politicians are worried about taxpayers and the reimbursement for astronomically high policing costs, but they fail to acknowledge or even consider the people who are the most affected by the Dakota Access pipeline. Hundreds of people had their constitutional rights violated and were treated as domestic terrorists as a result of the counterterrorism tactics and illegal surveillance employed by the paramilitary security firm TigerSwan. Some water protectors suffer from PTSD, and as of Sept 22nd, there are still 427 open cases awaiting for charges to be dropped.
The Standing Rock Sioux Tribe—existing at the very heart of this issue—now have to live next to a pipeline that can leak at any moment into Lake Oahe and destroy their only source of water, and potentially poison the 17 million people who live downriver. The controversial project leaked three times before becoming operational in June. While these incidents were small enough to not have major environmental consequences, the possibility of a larger leak still lingers. And without a secure backup plan for if and when it leaks, the people of Standing Rock are left to simply hope that it will not break.
The facade of corporate responsibility will never overshadow the wrongdoings of DAPL against Native American rights and environmental protection. The fossil fuel industry’s power to hire, control and pay militarized combatants to suppress any voices of opposition is akin to the fascism outlined in history books, and it threatens a future where indigenous sovereignty and climate justice can be safely upheld.