Law | National

Bureau of Indian Affairs role in #NoDAPL 'task force' in doubt

A September 3, 2016, confrontation involving private security guards working for the Dakota Access Pipeline has resulted in charges but only against #NoDAPL resisters. Photo from Morton County Sheriff's Department

The Obama administration isn't saying whether or not the Bureau of Indian Affairs is participating in a "task force" that is looking into a #NoDAPL confrontation.

In an announcement on Tuesday, the sheriff in Morton County, North Dakota, said the BIA agreed to help review the September 3 incident that drew widespread condemnation. Private security guards working for the Dakota Access Pipeline unleashed dogs and used mace against #NoDAPL resisters, causing injuries to several people, including a pregnant woman and a young girl.

But when asked to confirm its participation, a BIA spokesperson in Washington, D.C., wasn't able to comment and instead referred questions to the Interior Department, the BIA's parent agency.

The Interior Department, however, did not say whether the BIA is indeed involved. Instead, a spokesperson offered a more general statement on Wednesday about the #NoDAPL movement that has drawn thousands to North Dakota and inspired solidarity across the nation and the world.

"We fully support the rights of all Americans to assemble and speak freely. We urge everyone involved in protest or pipeline activities to adhere to the principles of nonviolence," the Interior Department statement read. "This situation highlights the need for a serious discussion on whether there should be nationwide reform with respect to considering tribes’ views on these types of infrastructure projects."

In announcing the task force, Sheriff Kyle Kirchmeier said it would include officials from his department, where Native people lack significant representation, the sheriff's department in another county where even fewer Native people live, the state Bureau of Criminal Investigation and the BIA.

“It is important we give this incident a thorough examination," Kirchmeier said in the statement. "Law enforcement was not present on the scene during the confrontation and there have been allegations on both sides of this issue."

The incident was the subject of a widely-seen Democracy Now! report that helped draw more attention to the #NoDAPL movement. So far, it has resulted in criminal trespass charges against several people, including journalist Amy Goodman.

None of the security guards have been charged so far for their use of dogs or the mace on the #NoDAPL resisters. And while Kirchmeier promised to look into their actions, he has repeatedly painted them as victims in posts on his department's Facebook page. On September 5, he used the phrase "security officer" to describe them even though none were working as law enforcement officers.

The confrontation occurred on private property and all of the cases are being handled in the state justice system. It's not clear why the BIA, as a federal agency with no jurisdiction over the area in question, would be involved in reviewing the incident.

Morton County is overwhelmingly non-Indian despite its presence near the home of the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe. According to the U.S. Census Bureau, only 4.1 percent of the population is Native American or Alaska Native.

The elected leadership is non-Indian as well. Rather than welcome or offer services to the #NoDAPL encampment, the county commission declared an "emergency" last month and its chairman, Cody Schulz, told resisters to leave after a federal judge thousands of miles away issued a ruling that allowed construction on the pipeline to continue.

The D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals, however, has since ordered a halt to construction on both side of Lake Oahe in North Dakota. A hearing will take place in D.C. on October 5 to help a panel of three judges determine whether a more permanent injunction is warranted, if at all.

D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals #NoDAPL Documents:
Injunction Blocking Construction of Dakota Access Pipeline (September 16, 2016)
Order Setting October 5 Hearing (September 21, 2016)

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