2017-03-08 / Top News

Water protestors head to Washington

Join Native Nations march on Capitol
By Talli Nauman
Native Sun News Today Health & Environment Editor

MYRON DEWEY MYRON DEWEY MANDAN, N.D. –– With throngs of self-proclaimed water protectors headed to a March 10 rally in Washington, D.C., for indigenous rights and an immediate halt to Dakota Access Pipeline construction across the Missouri River, professional journalist associations received an answer to their plea to drop court claims against colleagues covering the resistance here on the edge of the Standing Rock Sioux Reservation.

“The Native Nations Rise March on Washington is proof that the Standing Rock movement is bigger than one tribe. It has evolved into a powerful global phenomenon highlighting the necessity to respect indigenous nations and their right to protect their homelands, environment and future generations,” the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe said March 3.

Meanwhile the North Dakota court system was busy processing charges the state brought against more than 700 people, including journalists, arrested since August 2016 in relation to Morton County pilgrimages, prayer vigils, and civil disobedience actions supporting the Standing Rock Sioux and other tribes’ federal claims against the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers for permitting the pipeline construction in 1851 Ft. Laramie Treaty territory.

“We at the Committee to Protect Journalists, an independent press freedom advocacy organization, along with the organizations listed below, write to request that the Morton County State’s Attorney’s Office drop the charges against journalists arrested during protests over the Dakota Access Pipeline or justify the arrests of reporters in the course of their work,” said a March 2 letter signed by:

Carlos Lauría, program director and senior program coordinator for the Americas of the Committee to Protect Journalists; Bobby Magill, president of the Society of Environmental Journalists; Bruce D. Brown, executive director of the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press; Bryan Pollard, president of the Native American Journalists Association; Delphine Halgand, North America director for Reporters Without Borders; Lynn Walsh, national president of the Society of Professional Journalists; Melissa Lyttle, president of the National Press Photographers Association; and Trevor Timm, executive director of the Freedom of the Press Foundation.

“We are concerned that the arrests of journalists can have a chilling effect on press freedom and discourage media from covering stories that are in the public interest. In the case of Standing Rock, several journalists told CPJ they have shied away from covering protests or getting too close to police action to avoid being arrested again,” the letter said.

“While we acknowledge that journalists are sometimes temporarily detained in emergency situations, a case where several journalists face criminal charges for simply doing their job is unacceptable,” it said. The Committee to Protect Journalists documented at least 10 colleagues facing charges in relation to the seven-month standoff between water protectors and law enforcement.

Specifically named in the letter were Christopher Schiano and Niko Georgiades, members of the nonprofit media collective Unicorn Riot, which steadfastly covered the resistance from the beginning April 1, 2016, through the North Dakota governor’s militarized police evacuation of spirit camps Feb. 23.

The judge forced the state’s attorney to drop their misdemeanor charges of criminal trespass during a March 2 trial date.

Police arrested them Sept. 13 while Schiano and Georgiades were filming water protectors who had locked themselves to construction equipment. In a video of the arrest, one of the journalists can be heard saying, "I’m press, sir. I’m press."

Among journalists still facing trial at press time were Unicorn Riot’s Lorenzo Serna and Digital Smoke Signals’ Myron Dewey, as well as freelancers

Sara LeFleur-Vetter, Jihan Hafiz, Adam Schrader, Jenifer Stum, and Jenni Monet. Some also have been fending of charges for cover Dakota Access Pipeline resistance in Iowa.

“Most of the journalists facing charges are freelancers or from smaller, independent outlets that lack the resources to pay attorney fees or mount a public defense for the reporters,” the professional associations’ letter said.

“The fact that these journalists do not have the backing of large media companies may make them more vulnerable-- but it does not lessen their First Amendment protected right to report the news,” it said.

At least five of the journalists charged told the Committee to Protect Journalists that they were arrested despite attempting to follow police orders to disperse or remain behind police lines, the associations noted.

Monet said in a column for Columbia Journalism Review that she was arrested while following an officer’s order to leave an area where water protectors were holding an action under armed law enforcement guard.

“Journalists have an important role in documenting incidents in the public interest, including instances of civil disobedience and law enforcement operations,” the letter said. “This role often draws them near to the scene of action. Trespass and rioting laws should require criminal intent, and journalists who are simply doing their job should not face criminal charges.”

The letter was not the first time professional journalist associations spoke out against First Amendment threats in the Standing Rock standoff. For example, the Society of Environmental Journalists contacted North Dakota’s senators, governor and states attorneys in October 2016, saying it “condemns efforts to criminalize news gathering and reporting by prosecuting Amy Goodman of Democracy Now! and other journalists covering protests against the Dakota Access Pipeline.”

At the time, the grassroots membership organization asked state and local prosecutors “to declare publicly and definitively that they will drop all efforts to prosecute journalists for covering the pipeline controversy. Charges against Goodman for her September 2016 coverage were dropped.

The non-profit went on to “ask federal justice officials to investigate this assault on journalists as a civil rights case.”

Speaking for some 1,500 members, it added, “It is in the public’s best interest to understand all the issues surrounding the pipeline, including its construction, environmental effects and the public reaction. Whatever one’s view of the protests and the legal and regulatory issues surrounding them, they are legitimately news, and it is the job of journalists to cover these events.”

In December, the society addressed a letter to the U.S. Secretary of Homeland Security and the U.S. Customs and Border Commissioner “to express grave concerns about the Oct. 1, 2016, detention in Vancouver of photojournalist Ed Ou, who was on his way to cover the pipeline protest at the Standing Rock Sioux reservation in North Dakota. Your agency’s action appears to project indifference to the important American ideal of a free press,” it said.

“We agree with the American Civil Liberties Union that this case ‘raises troubling questions about whether the decision to deny him entry to the United States was either in retaliation for his work as a journalist or intended to prevent him from reporting on protests over planned pipeline construction in North Dakota’,” it continued.

On Feb 28, five press freedom and journalist groups, including the Committee to Protect Journalists, sent a letter to the Morton County State’s Attorney’s office asking that the return of equipment to freelance photographers Tonita Cervantes and Tracie Williams, who were arrested in the last week of February and still face charges.

“We are glad to hear that their equipment was returned to them yesterday,” the March 3 joint letter said. It noted that prosecutors and courts often use discretion to avoid charging journalists arrested at protests.

A recent precedent was the District of Columbia U.S. Attorney withdrawing charges against at least six reporters swept up in arrests on inauguration day in Washington, D.C.

Since that day, Jan. 20, U.S. President Donald Trump has pursued a push to finish the pipeline in an effort that constitutes a reversal of the previous Administration’s posture regarding the project.

Trump is a former shareholder in the project’s lead companies Energy Transfer Partners and Phillips 66, which are building the line with Enbridge Corp., and Marathon Oil Corp. Energy Transfer Partners CEO helped bankroll the Trump presidential campaign and his Energy Secretary Rick Perry’s former presidential bid.

The more than $3.7-billion investment in the pipeline would slurry oil some 1,200 miles from the Bakken fracking fields of Ft. Berthold Indian Reservation, across North and South Dakota through Iowa to Illinois, for eventual shipment to Sunoco Logistics Partners with refining capacity near Texas gulf export facilities.

The Trump Administration’s cancellation of an Environmental Impact Statement process in the Army Corps. permit decision is motivation for the March 10 rally in the U.S. capital city, as is the President’s alleged failure to lend tribal officials the personal attention he spared for the corporate promoters.

“The Standing Rock Sioux Tribe will march with indigenous people and allies to oppose Trump’s continued aggression on tribal nations and stand in solidarity with all native nations to protect their sovereignty,” the tribe said in a March 3 media release.

“Since his inauguration, Trump has worked to force through the Dakota Access Pipeline. He has disregarded the Environmental Impact Statement process, ignored tribal consultation, and acted in clear violation of treaty rights,” the tribe said.

“Members of his administration have even blatantly lied about their communication with the tribe. The tribe is marching to call on the Administration to hear why it’s critical for the U.S. government to respect treaty rights,” it said. The Administration denies the charges.

“They want us to believe the fight is over – but we can still win this. We can unite in peaceful, prayerful resistance against this illegal pipeline,” said Tribal Chair Dave Archambault II. “Now, we are calling on all our Native relatives and allies to rise with us. We must march against injustice. Native nations cannot continue to be pushed aside to benefit corporate interests and government whim.”

Archambault, Minnesota Rep. Peggy Flanagan, and Native American rapper Taboo are among headliners on the program that includes a daytime only legal encampment on the National Mall

The march was set to start at the Army Corps of Engineers Office and culminate in the rally at Lafayette Square.

“For those who cannot march with us, we ask that you take peaceful action at home in your tribal nations, states, cities, towns, villages and provinces,” the Standing Rock Tribe said.

Tribal Chair Harold Frazier, of the Cheyenne River Sioux Tribe, with reservation borders neighboring on Standing Rock’s, extended an invitation for spirit campers to lodge at the tribe’s fairgrounds in Eagle Butte after the evictions of spirt camps near the river on Feb. 22 and 23.

Pipeline foes conducted rallies from coast to coast, divestment in banks supporting the Dakota Access Pipeline" multiplied, and hunger strikes continued. At least one man lost his life to police over the Sabal Trail Pipeline construction.

Sabal Trail Resistance, allied with the Seminole Nation of North Florida against the Spectra project to carrying fracked gas through three states, reported March 3 that police shot and killed James Leroy Marker “after an act of sabotage that disabled a section of Sabal Trail Pipeline construction in Marion County on Feb. 26.”

The Citrus County Sheriff said the 66-year-old Florida man was chased, shot and killed in Citrus County after fleeing the construction area in Marion County where someone claimed to observe an “individual shooting at the Sabal Pipeline equipment and the pipeline itself.”

“While few details of Marker’s life are available publicly, we have learned that he was known by friends as a lover of the Earth and humanity, that he was a military veteran, that he participated in environmental-social advocacy, and that he was a father,” Sabal Trail Resistance said.

(Contact Talli Nauman at

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