Sen. John Hoeven (R-North Dakota), the chairman of the Senate Committee on Indian Affairs, and Sen. Heidi Heitkamp (D-North Dakota) are seen at a committee hearing on July 12, 2017. Photo: SCIA

Sen. Heitkamp defends law enforcement's response to #NoDAPL movement

Sen. Heidi Heitkamp (D-North Dakota) is known as an outspoken advocate for Indian Country's most vulnerable, particularly youth, but her efforts don't extend to the #NoDAPL movement.

In a letter to Attorney General Jeff Sessions, Heitkamp defended the way local and state law enforcement responded to the movement. Even though officers repeatedly employed aggressive tactics and relied on assistance from non-licensed security firms, she said they "performed admirably."

"North Dakota law enforcement performed admirably under immense pressure and scrutiny to maintain the peace and protect public property, including federal land," Heitkamp wrote on Monday.

As a result, she believes the state is entitled to $13.85 million in "compensation" from the federal government. She called on the Department of Justice to award a grant under an "emergency" assistance program that excludes tribes.

"Despite the location on federal land and stress to local resources, federal support was extremely limited throughout the engagement," Heitkamp wrote in the letter, which her office released on Tuesday.

The so-called "engagement" lasted from late July / early August 2016 through the middle of February 2017. During that time, the state claims it spent $40 million to keep up with anti-pipeline activities.

Even though the state is flush with billions of dollars in energy production taxes, Gov. Doug Burgum (R) asked President Donald Trump for an emergency disaster declaration in hopes of recovering some of the costs. The request was denied in May.

Peacefully assembled Water Protectors being hit by the water cannon on the front line. Photo by Rob Wilson Photography

Posted by Rob Wilson Photography on Tuesday, November 22, 2016
Rob Wilson Photography on Facebook: 'Peacefully assembled Water Protectors being hit by the water cannon on the front line'

But the state didn't seem to be too bothered because Heitkamp and Sen. John Hoeven (R-North Dakota), the chairman of the Senate Committee on Indian Affairs, secured $15 million for the Emergency Federal Law Enforcement Assistance Program in an appropriations bill that Trump signed into law that same month.

The provision was buried deep in the H.R.244, the Consolidated Appropriations Act. It's found in Section 542, on page 233 of the 1,665-page measure.

To get the money, the two lawmakers had to dig even deeper. They went all the way back to a law passed in 1984 that authorizes states -- but not tribes -- to seek "emergency" assistance from the federal government for law enforcement crises.

The unique provision allows the state to obtain reimbursement for events that occurred in "fiscal years 2016 and 2017," which would basically cover the 233 days that the governor said were spent by law enforcement. The #NoDAPL encampment, parts of which were located on federal land, was officially shut down in February after hosting tens of thousands of people.

According to the Bureau of Justice Assistance, an agency at the Department of Justice, the Emergency Federal Law Enforcement Assistance Program has been used by states to deal with earthquakes, hurricanes, the standoff at Waco, Texas, in 1993 and the Rodney King and Reginald Denny cases in California.

In her letter, Heitkamp said the state spent so much time on the #NoDAPL movement because the Obama administration never made a decision on the final portion of the pipeline in North Dakota. That changed right after Trump took office -- he directed his team to "expedite" the project and it was approved two weeks later over the objections of the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe and the Cheyenne River Sioux Tribe.

A federal judge has since ruled that the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers failed to consider the tribes' concerns about treaty rights, water resources and environmental justice. But the decision came after oil started flowing through the pipeline on June 1.

The tribes are hoping to shut down operations while the case continues. The wealthy backers of the pipeline, with support from the energy industry, is strongly opposing their request.

Judge James Boasberg ordered the Army Corps to conduct a more thorough review of the final portion of the pipeline, which crosses federally-managed land less than a half-mile from Standing Rock. But the Trump team has indicated it will take months before it gets there.

"The Corps is actively evaluating the issues remanded to it by the court and expects to complete its review of those issues by late December 2017," government attorneys wrote in a July 17 brief.

Join the Conversation

Related Stories
North Dakota tribal organization passes on #NoDAPL foe with endorsement (July 28, 2017)
Critic of #NoDAPL movement under consideration for U.S. Attorney post (July 25, 2017)
Former U.S. Attorney urges energy industry to consult tribes in advance (July 20, 2017)
Trump administration officially rescinds pro-treaty rights legal opinion (July 18, 2017)
President Trump doesn't seem to know where Dakota Access Pipeline goes (July 14, 2017)
North Dakota still hoping to secure taxpayer funds for #NoDAPL response (July 14, 2017)
YES! Magazine: Native activists continue to pressure banks on pipelines (July 10, 2017)
Albert Bender: Judge waited for oil to flow through Dakota Access Pipeline (July 6, 2017)
Dakota Access still fighting small fine for disturbance of tribal artifacts (July 5, 2017)
Officials in North Dakota claim ignorance on Dakota Access security firm (June 29, 2017)
Dakota Access security firm was denied license but kept working anyway (June 28, 2017)
Tribes in for long haul as oil continues to flow through Dakota Access Pipeline (June 23, 2017)
Cheyenne River Sioux Tribe welcomes 'victory' in Dakota Access Pipeline case (June 16, 2017)
Mark Trahant: Dakota Access decision offers a chance to return to respect (June 16, 2017)
Jacqueline Keeler: Connecting the Dakota Access Pipeline to history (June 15, 2017)
Indian Country celebrates as judge orders environmental review of Dakota Access Pipeline (June 15, 2017)
Albert Bender: Judge drags his feet in Dakota Access Pipeline case (June 12, 2017)
Dakota Access faces fines for disturbing artifacts in North Dakota (June 8, 2017)
President Trump put wealthy firm first in approving Dakota Access Pipeline (June 7, 2017)