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Anger and disbelief: Letters to N.D. governor slam treatment of American Indians at pipeline protest

‘I get that your hands are tied but maybe don’t break the law trying to protect it.’


Dell Cameron


Posted on Sep 21, 2016   Updated on May 25, 2021, 11:12 pm CDT

Violent encounters between oil company security and protesters that surrounded construction of the Dakota Access Pipeline have inspired citizens to flood North Dakota’s governor with condemnation, according to letters of complaint obtained by the Daily Dot.

The federal government has, for now, halted work on the Dakota Access Pipeline (DAPL), which was intended to move an estimated 570,000 barrels of crude oil per day from the Bakken shale of North Dakota, through South Dakota and Iowa, to an oil storage hub in Illinois approximately 1,172 miles away. The completed pipeline would give Dallas-based Energy Transfer Partners access to refineries in the Upper Midwest and U.S. Gulf, and drastically alter the way crude oil is transported across the country.

The Bakken pipeline system has received of flood of investments this year: Marathon Petroleum, which owns refineries in Illinois, Michigan, and Texas, for example, announced a $500 million investment in early August. Canadian pipeline operator Enbridge, Inc.—last week Enbridge announced its acquisition of Spectra Energy, one of Houston’s biggest pipeline infrastructure firms—is now investing $1.5 billion in Dakota Access while abandoning the Bakken-based Sandpiper Pipeline which was supposed to terminate in Superior, Wisconsin.

Demonstrators supporting the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe, whose primary source of water will be crossed by the DAPL, clashed earlier this month with private security guards acting on behalf of the oil companies. Video widely circulated online depict security forces’ use of attack dogs and chemical agents on protesters. Weeks before, North Dakota’s homeland security division ordered the removal of state-owned water tanks and trailers that were providing the protesters, who have established semi-permanent encampments, with drinking water.

In response to the protests, North Dakota Gov. Jack Dalrymple defended the project, assuring those concerned by its potential effects on the Standing Rock people and their land that it was “not in any way unsafe.”

“This is a state-of-the-art pipeline, a very sophisticated project,” Dalrymple told KFGO in late August. “It is not in any way unsafe except for a very, very, very minimal risk, which inevitably, is there for any pipeline.”

Below are comments received by the North Dakota Governor’s Office between Aug. 23 and Sept. 4, concerning DAPL, the preservation of Standing Rock’s water supply, and the use of force against demonstrators. The letters—some of which have been edited for length—were acquired by the Daily Dot under the North Open Records Statute.

  • “Dear Governor Dalrymple, I am writing to express my concern at the overzealous use of police and other law enforcement agencies in response to the protests against the Dakota Access pipeline. Protesters are entitled to express their opposition to the pipeline and their First Amendment rights must be honored.”

  • “I am shocked and saddened to read of your response to a lawful and peaceful protest by American citizens. You are violating their civil and constitutional rights as citizens and if any harm comes to any one of these protesters you will be held responsible, by law, as it is your orders being followed. I hope you are made to answer for your actions in a court of law.”

  • “I am horrified at the attack on the peaceful protest of the Stand Rock Sioux. A little child bit in the face by one of the company’s private security dogs. This unacceptable!”

  • “Hello Governor. I am an Iowa citizen. I just returned from a vacation during which I had the privilege to visit the Standing Rock reservation in your state. I urge you to treat the protesters with compassion and dignity, and to actually listen not what they are saying. A business man like yourself should realize that there needs to be compromise.”

  • “I would like to request that your office make sure that the people protesting the pipeline have water. Obviously, it’s a basic human need. The people who are protesting this are the ones who would be directly affected if the pipeline were to malfunction—which history has shown is common.”

  • “I cannot believe that you would cut off water to people making a peaceful protest. This is the recipe for a riot. Please, reconsider.”

  • “Your actions in pulling water from the protesters tells me all I need to know about you and your state. You will never see one penny of my tourist dollars. This pipeline is a disaster waiting to happen, just like what’s happening in South Dakota right now with the pipeline rupture. Your greed and corruption are the legacy you leave behind and brother yours is a big one.”

  • “What is the legality of the action you have taken to put a blockade on the Standing Rock Sioux Nation? The media and sheriff are now talking possible violence. The pipeline protest is peaceful and the world will be watching to see how instigates any violence. Thanks to social media and mobile phone video we will so who is responsible.”

  • “What the heck are you thinking? Are you trying to incite a riot? And if people deliver water to the protesters are you going to whip up a new rule/law to ban them? What is WRONG with you??!!”

  • “Sir, just what exactly are you allowing to happen in Standing Rock? How can you allow Dakota Access to continue work with a suit pending in U.S. District Court? How can you stand by and let peaceful protesters be attacked by security using mace and attack dogs? Why were there no Police Officers present when the attack occurred when they have been there EVERY other day? Why is there no news coverage? Why are you trying to hide? why are you not listening to the United Nations Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues when they say the Dakota Access oil pipeline’s route was mapped out without adequate consultation and is a threat to security and drinking-water access for not only the Stand Rock Sioux Tribe but also for millions of people living downstream from the Missouri River? This is very suspicious to me. Is this the kind of leader you are? Have you no soul? This most stop immediately. It is unconstitutional and illegal.”

  • “Hey, I get it. You are trying to keep control over protesters. I get that your hands are tied but maybe don’t break the law trying to protect it.”

  • “This is inhumane, and no amount of riches paid to you by the oil company will change your reputation. You cannot buy favorable public opinion. Please act now, on behalf of the people, not the greedy corporations.”

  • “Governor Dalrymple, I’m writing as a registered member of the Choctaw Nation to voice my support for those protesting the construction of the Dakota Access pipeline. I’m writing to ask that you encourage President Obama and the federal government  to rescind its permit to the Army Corps of Engineers for construction of the pipeline. This risk to tribal water safety posed by the pipeline violates riparian right laid out in the 1851 and 1868 treaties.”

  • “What the hell is the matter with you people??? We, all of us, have a right to protest our right to have clean water! You people paid off or something? Cuz that’s the way it’s going to look to the whole world, that you would take away the water they need!”

  • “Is the money really that much more important to you than the water that you drink? Step in and take hold of this situation and stop these drillers now! And maybe I’ll come back to your state one day!”

  • “Dear Governor, We have taken enough from the native people of this country. Let’s allow them to have peaceful protest and let’s listen to their message because it’s based on collective wisdom, not short term profits.”

  • “Dear Governor Dalrymple, I am an Israeli-American living in Boston. I love this country and think that its landscape, multitude of peoples, and its incomparable diversity of cultures is one of the greatest gifts on the planet. As someone who grew up in a land with water scarcity and political turmoil, I find it despicable and unconscionable that you would shut off the water supply for people protesting the irreparable destruction of their land. Please allow the protests to protest, as is their constitutional right, and allow the Congress to listen to their constituents, and the courts to consider tribal autonomy and water rights, so this democratic system we have can function and decide the future of the pipeline.”

  • “Come on, grow some balls and do the right thing. Do you really want to poison the water of 10 million people? Have some respect for those who have the courage that you lack.”

  • “Your actions are being watched by millions. Please taken the humanitarian approach dare i suggest you even get on board with these protesters and halt the pipeline while investigating the risks more deeply on your own.”

  • “Where was law enforcement to protect the civil rights of PEACEFUL protesters? Will there be consequences for the unlawful behavior of DAPL’s actions? Or is your office as corrupt as most of America views politicians?”

  • “I am writing you to let you know that I am appalled by the behavior of the private security company that sprayed tear gas and releases attack dogs on peaceful protesters today. There are reports that children and pregnant women were injured in this attack.”

  • “Dear Governor Dalrymple: I see that you are concerned with the public’s safety during the protest at the Standing Rock Sioux reservation. Thank you. By now, you probably know that some people have been pepper sprayed and bitten by dogs. I look forward to you fulfilling your vow to keep people safe.”

  • “Please be careful on how you deal with the pipeline protest issue. I hope you are not racist. The world is watching.”

  • “Please do not arrest peaceful protesters. The land that they are protecting was given to them under US treaties. The water they are protecting serves all of North and South Dakota cities and townships. If any oil leak happens here, there is no regulations for clean up even at your county mansions.”

  • “As a governor, you should be working to solve the problem, not escalate it! You will be held accountable for your actions by the voters of North Dakota.”

  • “Investigate and put a stop to the unlawful attacks taken on protesters today who are protesting the pipeline. You cannot stay silent on this matter. Justice must be given to those who were attacked. Also, stop the pipeline. Honor the treaties and listen to the voices of your people.”

  • “Governor can’t you do something about the dogs and pepper spray at the Dakota Pipeline site? You are meeting nonviolent protesters with violence; this is totally unacceptable. Blood is being spilled under your watch.”

  • “Dear Governor Dalrymple, I am horrified by the actions of the security team against peaceful protesters today in your state. Whether or not one opposes the DAPL project, this is a barbaric action. The world is watching and we are disappointed. Please take action to ensure the safety of peaceful protest in your state. I will be among many to use social media and other communication channels to make the public ware of the tawdry details of this action.”

  • “You need to allow the Native Americans to protest. This pipeline is a horrible idea. You will be taking THEIR land from them again. White man privilege rears its ugly, racist head. STOP. You, sir, are on the wrong side of history.”

  • “… I have previously held off expressing any opinion on what has been unfolding in your state. When I became aware that Dave Archambault II, the Chairman of the Standing Rock Nation, called for a reconvening of the Seven Council Fires—I realized the historic nature of this event. As my heritage is Mdewakanton, this means something important to me. The Seven Council fires have not convened for more than 100 years…As such, I not feel compelled to consider becoming personally involved…In addition, hopefully you can clarify or give me assurance that cellphone communications are not being disrupted so I can fully exercise my first amendment rights. Finally, can I get an understanding specifically of how you are protecting the rights of the protestors [sic] and allowing them to peacefully assemble?”

  • “The use of mace and attack dogs at the Dakota Pipeline protests severely violated human rights. There are children at the site! The Native People have a right to protest. People are watching all across the country. Stop inciting violence!!! Shame on you for your response.”

  • “I don’t understand why neither you nor the North Dakota congressional delegation won’t sit down and meet with Tribal President and leaders of the Standing Rock Tribal Nation. I live in South Dakota but still can’t believe how far our cultures are still apart. Study our traditions, especially the concept of Wolakota. It refers to peace and harmony but means much more than that. The so called “protesters” as I see them are doing their utmost to conduct themselves under that belief. The mace and release of dogs is a public demonstration of a racist assault, a deliberate provocation and a cowardly and unnecessary act.”

  • “Today it is in the news that protesters against the DAPL pipeline are being attacked with pepper spray and guard dogs. These attacks are apparently mounted by private security employed by DAPL. State forces should be deployed immediately to protect the protectors of the earth.”

  • “Millions of people are watching the events unfold at the DAPL site and the protests of the pipeline. We know the People of Standing Rock have been peaceful and reports of arms and violence are false. It appears it is the Corporation claiming it needs to protect works and equipment. As the oil industry is the top contributor to you, according to the National Institute on Money in State Politics, I am deeply troubled by this connection and recent events.”

  • “While I appreciate that you have a difference of opinion in regards to the pipeline, you need to understand that this isn’t just a North Dakota issue. The protesters are making a legitimate point in regards to this pipeline and it is up to you as an elected leader to listen and consider their perspective. Denying water to anyone is a violation of human rights. Denying the voice of the people in peaceful protest is in violation of the Constitution.”

  • “These people have been subjected to years of land theft, lies, murder, genocide, rape and all kinds of other horrible things. Why are you allowing a greedy corporation to ruin what little bit of land they have left that has not been stolen by the government? You must do the RIGHT thing!”

  • “I hope KARMA bites you on your greedy, money hungry ass. When your waters are all polluted and poison are you planning to drink oil? You should resign.”

  • “Please do everything in your power to insure that the protesters at the Sacred Stones site are treated according to the Constitution of the United States. That is your sworn duty.”

  • “I urge you as a friend and ally of the native people in the US to cancel the state of emergency you have placed upon the attendees of the Dakota Access protests, as well as lifting restrictions on access to water, travel, and any other measures taken to put hardship on these people.”

  • “How do you live with yourself?”

  • “As a young American citizen I want to know that my voice can make change, that is why I am reaching out to you. I also want to know that elected officials can be trusted to do their job. You represent your constituents sir. Stop waging war on our Native American communities and leave office with a legacy that stands up to corporate interest and heeds the voice of democracy.”

  • “It is time for you to formally sit down with members of the Standing Rock Sioux Nation and with the other over 50 tribal nations that are in support of Standing Rock and listen to their concerns. Their plight is real. Their concerns are legitimate and based on treaty law. I don’t see how you can in good conscience let this rightful protest continue without you trying to come to a resolution that honors the treaty rights of a nation. Cutting off their water, setting up a blockade, and then supporting negative biased reporting of violence will not make this rightful protest go away.”

  • “I’ve read what few articles I can find about the protests currently going on in your state. What a sad affair. It’s pathetic that you, as a public servant, are willing to sacrifice the ways of an entire culture to line your own pockets.”

  • “I understand that oil is an important resource; however, so is water, and the pipeline threatens important water sources at the Standing Rock Indian Reservation. Those living on the reservation have a right to control of the land, as well as its water. the pipeline threatens all of this. Please reconsider the pipeline and protest Native American land.”

  • “Attack dogs should never be used on protesters for any reason—what purpose could they serve, other than to maim and terrorize? Disgusting. I will certainly never set foot in your state again.”

  • “Dear Governor, I live in Illinois, am not your constituent, but am nonetheless deeply concerned about the treatment your citizens are receiving as a result of their peaceful protest to protect their sacred lands and the Missouri head lands on their reservation. Your citizens, sir. They have rights, both legal, historical and human rights. It is your job to protect people, sir. I know it’s difficult when interests conflict, but humans should not be denied water and allowed to be attacked by dog. Sir, this is wrong.”  

  • “I am appalled at what you are allowing to happen in your state. If we continue to let the oil and gas companies have their way with our country, none of us will have clean, safe drinking water.”

  • “Please pay attention to the atrocities being committed against peaceful protesters against the NDAPL. They are abusing citizen’s human rights. the whole world is watching and you are being shamed by this lack of of protection of the water and people.”

  • “The Morton County Sheriff’s Dept. has put out blatantly false reports of violence from the Native American protesters that simply did not happen, and should be made to retract the statement AND issue a public apology. All of the protesters have cellphones and there are numerous videos online showing the private security team hired by the pipeline owners as ones being violent and having attack dogs illegally present. Please investigate this!”

  • “Give the protesters of the NDAP access to water immediately! Water is life! You have put them at risk and are causing a health issue.”

  • “I was horrified and deeply saddened to learn of the removal of water to the Standing Rock Sioux tribe now protesting the Dakota Access Pipeline construction. I support this protest and am inspired by their bravery to stand up for life—theirs, yours, all of our lives. At this point in the evolution of our species we need to shift to renewable energy infrastructure, not building up life harming oil infrastructure. These kinds of life affirming protests are the frontiers of necessary change.”

  • “I live in Oxford, England. Given I have no vote I would imagine my views may mean little to you. I am, though, disturbed by the way the DAPL protest appears to be being dealt with. Holding back water supplies will, presumably, be effective from your perspective. This is, however, a legitimate protest which will ultimately find itself on the right side of history. By winning you may not immediate be shooting yourself in the foot. Not so sure what service you are providing for future generations though or for your own legacy.”

  • “Cutting water to the people protesting the Dakota Access Pipeline is a violation of human rights. The pipeline itself violates Native American treaties and is neocolonialism at its worst. Shame on you. The well-being of America’s environment and its Native people comes before a big paycheck.”

  • “Many people have gathered at Standing rock to protest the Dakota Access Pipeline because they care about clean water. They know pipelines fail, and for this reason, an oil pipeline under the Missouri River is a disaster in the making. The protesters are acting on behalf of all human beings by standing up for clean water. Water is life. Please return the water tankers to the people working to protect us all.”

  • “Please consider the damage that is being done in other parts of the country when a pipeline breaks. Big oil has been having big problems taking care that no oil spills occur and have failed. Please consider the spills in our oceans. Why does it seem from news reports you don’t seem to care about future generations and even our own times and our ability to have clean water?”

  • “There was a news report stating that guards would be assisting buses to the school because of the protest. I think the media is blowing this out of proportion and/or the people of Bismarck. This is a peaceful protest. Why would the government blow this out of proportion letting people believe they have to live in fear because the Indians are out there? This is a great injustice to the Indian people.” 

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*First Published: Sep 21, 2016, 1:49 pm CDT