The ongoing standoff between anti-Dakota Access Pipeline activists and law enforcement agencies in North Dakota escalated dangerously on Sunday night, as police trained water cannons and tear gas at protesters in freezing weather. According to Indigenous Environmental Network spokesperson Jade Begay, 167 protesters were injured over the course of the night, seven of whom were hospitalized.
Police claimed that the assault was a response to what one #NoDAPL organizer said was an attempt by a crowd of roughly 400 to breach barricades that law enforcement had set up. Several vehicles were set on fire during the melee, though some observers suggested the fires were caused by incendiary devices launched by police.
As the evening turned into night and temperatures dropped below 30 degrees, police began blasting protesters with water cannons. Concerned about a “real risk of loss of life due to severe hypothermia under these conditions,” the Standing Rock Medic and Healer Council issued an emergency statement demanding authorities “immediately stop the potentially lethal use of these confrontational methods against people peacefully assembled.”
“They were attacked with water cannons,” protest organizer LaDonna Brave Bull Allard explained to The Guardian newspaper. “It is 23 degrees [-5 °C] out there with mace, rubber bullets, pepper spray, etc. They are being trapped and attacked. Pray for my people.”
Morton County Sheriff’s Department spokesperson Donnell Hushka confirmed the use of water cannons during the standoff. “There are multiple fires being set by protesters on the bridge and in the area of the bridge,” Hushka told CNN. “We have fire trucks on the scene they are using their fire hoses to put out the fires, wet the land around so fires don’t spread and they are also using water as crowd control.”
In addition to the risk of hypothermia posed by the water cannons, at least one medic on site states that protesters were attacked with rubber bullets, resulting in serious injuries.
MCSD reported one person was arrested during Sunday night’s confrontation.
The police response to the protests have become more and more violent in recent months, as progress on the pipeline—intended to carry crude oil south from North Dakota through four states—has progressed. Opponents to the DAPL claim it threatens sacred water and land along the Standing Rock Sioux native reservation.
This escalation in violence comes days after a global #NoDAPLDayOfAction, which saw protesters take to the streets in cities around the world in support of those at the standoff site in North Dakota.