Photo by Rob Wilson
UN Chair for the United Nations Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues Grand Chief Akile Ch'oh Edward John and UN Observer Roberto Borrero conducted the interviews.
On October 27 police raided a camp set up by the Standing Rock Water Protectors to protect sacred burial grounds and to stop the construction of the Bakken Dakota Access Pipeline. Police employed hundreds of officers, two armored vehicles, tear gas, pepper spray, concussive grenades, rubber bullets, tasers, bean bag guns, batons, and LRADs during the melee. Over 100 people were arrested.
According to interviews, after Water Protectors were arrested at the raid, they were given identification numbers. The identification numbers were written on their forearms in permanent marker.
When they arrived to Morton County Jail, they were stripped to one layer of clothing and left in cement floored chain link kennels without blankets for hours. At no point were they read their rights. They were denied a phone call even to their attorney.
Protectors were required to give DNA samples to police.
One Water Protector described seeing a person repeatedly re-injured by their pepper sprayed clothing because they were not allowed to change.
After several hours, they were separated and sent to different jurisdictions, some as far as Cass County – four hours away.
Some Water Protectors were then subjected to another strip search. Each county handled strip searches differently, but in all cases of a second strip search, the detained Protectors were required to remove all of their clothing, bend over or squat, and cough. Searches took place in bathrooms or cells in front of male and female guards.
Serious medical conditions like diabetes and severe anxiety went untreated.
Booking on charges took up to four days.
Arrests before the raid had similar experiences.
“It was dehumanizing,” said Protector Richard Black Crow Smith, who was subjected to conditions in the Morton County Jail.
Water Protectors on horseback, called Spirit Riders, described being shot multiple times with rubber bullets as they tried to get away from helicopters chasing them and flying 15 feet over their heads.
Aircraft surveillance and behavior over the Water Protector’s camps was also a subject of investigation. Low flying planes or helicopters circle over the camps all day and night.
Grand Chief Akile Ch'oh Edward John said after his interviews, “Individuals detained under highly questionable conditions, highly illegal in fact, with no access to council. I am shocked at what I have heard from those who I have spoken with today. The lack of attention to this issue here is astounding.”
Morton County Sheriff’s Office opened the jail to the United Nations investigators. Investigators were able to confirm many of the claims of Water Protectors including the chain link cells.
United Nations representatives traveled to North Dakota to investigate claims of human rights violations perpetrated against Standing Rock Water Protectors on invitation of the Standing Rock Sioux tribe.
Standing Rock Water Protectors are a group of Native Americans and their allies led by the Standing Rock Sioux working to end the construction of the Bakken Dakota Access Pipeline. The pipeline is planned to go under the Missouri River, over the Ogallala Aquifer and through burial grounds sacred to the Standing Rock Sioux. The Missouri River is the primary source of drinking water for the Standing Rock Sioux Reservation. The Ogallala Aquifer provides 30% of the fresh water for agriculture in the country.