Standing Rock and Human Rights

injured water protector
Water protector at Camp Oceti displays injuries from police pepper spray. Credit: Greg Harman

The story of Standing Rock’s resistance is one punctured over and again by overwhelming displays of state violence. This week brings perhaps the most vicious, as police and private security forces sprayed water protectors on a sub-freezing night for hours with cold water, pepper-sprayed them, shot rubber bullets in their faces, used sound canons, and hurled tear gas and concussion grenades at them.

One of those concussion grenades hit 21-year-old Sophia Wilansky as she was delivering water to those on the front line. Witnesses say it was the blast that blew the bone out of her arm, leaving it mangled.

Wilansky’s father told Kevin Gilbertt that his daughter, who underwent 8 hours of surgery yesterday, came to Standing Rock because she “wants to have a future with clean water and clean air and clean soil and to actually have an earth to live on for the next few generations.”

When asked to describe what happened, he responded:

“She was hit with a grenade, an actual grenade hit her right on the arm and almost took her arm off,” he said. “One of the radius bones is significantly missing. All of the arteries are gone. The main nerve is missing and 80 percent of the muscle in her forearm is gone.”

It is unclear at this time if she will lose the arm or not. The photos below are being circulated with the approval of her family in order to demonstrate to the world the level of violence being used against unarmed peaceful protestors.

{Wilansky’s GoFundMe page for medical expenses is here:}

Even in the days prior to the assault that so seriously injured protestors in North Dakota, a UN human rights expert had accused the security forces of excessive force.

From the UN Office of the High Commissioner on Human Rights:

“Tensions have escalated in the past two weeks, with local security forces employing an increasingly militarized response to protests and forcibly moving encampments located near the construction site,” the rights expert said.

“This is a troubling response to people who are taking action to protect natural resources and ancestral territory in the face of profit-seeking activity,” he noted. “The excessive use of State security apparatus to suppress protest against corporate activities that are alleged to violate human rights is wrong and contrary to the UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights.”

“People feel that their concerns are being ignored, and it is their right to stage peaceful assemblies so that these concerns can be heard. The authorities have an obligation to actively protect that right. The rights of cultural heritage defenders have to be respected and protected,” he added.

Despite campaigns attempting to get the Obama Administration to intervene, there has been no evidence to date he is preparing to do so.

[You can call or write the White House through this link.]

Meanwhile, water protectors at the Standing Rock Sioux Indian Reservation drawn from hundreds of tribes and nations around the world continue to keep the heat on the Dakota Access Pipeline project with regular direct actions intended to keep the last push of construction from tunneling beneath the Missouri River just upstream of Lake Oahe, the tribe’s primary drinking-water source.

While covering a pipeline action that shut down construction on Veteran’s Day, I had the chance to speak with organizer Kandi Mossett of the Indigenous Environmental Network about the range of human-rights abuses occurring at Standing Rock.

Pipeline opponents hold the line on Veteran's Day, 2016. At the camp, hundreds of Native American veterans marched as close as they could get to the pipeline construction site and prayed. Image Credit: Greg Harman
Pipeline opponents hold the line on Veteran’s Day, 2016. At the camp, hundreds of Native American veterans marched as close as they could get to the pipeline construction site and prayed. Credit: Greg Harman

As the action followed so closely on the heels of the election of Donald Trump as our next president, I asked her what lessons we could all glean from Standing Rock as this new regime comes to power.

Her response was direct and encouraging.

“Use your voice. Don’t back down. One fight. Unity. Stand together. Don’t give up. Everybody told us, ‘What are you doing? This is impossible. You’re not going to stop them.’ Everybody continued to say that to us.

“If we hadn’t been here, if we hadn’t of stood up together, they would have already been done. They would have moved through and oil would have already been flowing beneath the Missouri River, impacting 18 million people’s water downstream. …

“I would just tell everybody don’t be afraid. Use your voice. And stay in prayer. Prayer is very powerful.”

You can see the video from that day below.