Benjamin Conrad, 20, only brings out his grandfather’s war bonnet for special occasions. Today was such a day.
Conrad of the Northern Arapaho, Choctaw and Creek tribes joined about 300 water protectors in a peaceful direct action opposing continued construction of the Dakota Access Pipeline under the Missouri River near the Standing Rock Sioux Reservation.
According to Conrad, water protectors visited two pipeline construction sites along County Highways 6 and 134 near the unincorporated community of St. Anthony in Morton County. This is the latest of a series of such actions.
“Protectors prayed, sang and held sacred space at the construction sites,” said Mark K. Tilsen Jr. of the Oglala Lakota tribe, who also participated in the action.
“Although a line of about fifty police officers from various jurisdictions moved toward the protectors, we held our space,” Tilsen said.
After an elder began shaking hands with the police officers and offering them thanks for their service, other protectors followed suit, noted Tilsen.
“We were not shown any aggression. There were no incidents that I’m aware of,” said Lt. Tom Iverson of the North Dakota Highway Patrol in an interview with KFRTV.
According to the Morton County Sheriff’s Department spokesperson Rob Keller, the Department received reports of gunshots being fired at the direct action sites today.
“We are currently investigating these reports,” Keller said.
Tilsen, Conrad and others present are adamant that there were no shots fired during the actions.
Morton County Sheriff Kyle Kirchmeir told the Bismarck Tribune that security officers have reported seeing protectors armed with guns and knives during the actions.
Water protector organizers such as Kandi Mossett of the Indigenous Environmental Network dismissed such claims.
“These are peaceful, prayerful actions,” Mossett said.
Today’s action was a combined effort of water protectors from Oceti Sakowin, Red Warrior, Sacred Stone and other small surrounding camps and supporters, according to Mossett.
Five protectors, however, were arrested for disorderly conduct and obstructing traffic, according to Keller. They are currently being held at the Morton County jail.
Seventy-four people have been arrested so far in connection with protests and actions opposing the pipeline, according to Keller.
“Although I don’t have exact numbers at this moment, I can say that most of those [arrested] were from out of state,” he said.
Construction workers ran away from their worksites when water protectors approached, said Conrad. “They even left behind their coolers and lunch boxes.”
Conrad thrust his arm triumphantly into the air and cheered fellow protectors as they returned to the Oceti Sakowin camp.
Conrad’s mother, who passed away recently, had encouraged him to travel to North Dakota and join opposition to the pipeline.
“She told me, ‘You need to go up there and see the Nations gathered there together fighting for the same thing,’ ” Conrad said. “It was very emotional. I have really felt the power of all the prayers here.”
Conrad and his cousin Jessica Guffey traveled to the Oceti Sakowin camp from Ganado, Arizona, two days ago.
Water protectors claim that Dakota Access LLC is violating the most recent federal appeals court September 16 ruling to stop construction within 20 miles on either side of Lake Oahe, along the Missouri River.
Using footage from a camera drone and information from mapping software, Myron Dewey of Digital Smoke Signals thinks that Dakota Access is actively working on the pipeline 17.3 miles from Lake Oahe.
Media relations spokespeople from Energy Transfer Partners, owners of Dakota Access, did not respond to emailed questions about potential location violations of the company’s construction activities.
“We are winning. We are stopping construction of the pipeline,” Tilsen declared.