For months now the Backwater Bridge just north of the Standing Rock Reservation has been closed down by law enforcement. This has been a big problem for the tribe because the bridge is the easiest way to drive to Standing Rock. Shutting it down has hurt the tribe economically. They’ve lost no small amount of revenue from tourism, particularly visits to the tribe-owned Prairie Knights Casino.
This map shows the location of the bridge relative to the various protest camps and the pipeline route. The Backwater Bridge is the northernmost indicated:
The reason the bridge has been shut down has everything to do with the violent political extremists drawn to the #NoDAPL protests initiated by the tribe. The bridge closed initially after protesters set fires on it. State officials were rightly concerned that the fires may have caused damage to the bridge. Officials were also aware that the bridge was the primary avenue protesters were using to access Dakota Access Pipeline construction sites where, last summer, protesters routinely harassed workers and vandalized equipment.
Closing the bridge was about public safety in more ways than one.
Last month tribal and state leadership came together to find a path forward to re-opening the bridge. The state did an inspection of the bridge and found that only minor repairs would be needed for it to open. Law enforcement also got an agreement from tribal leaders that the protesters would stay off the bridge.
Only, of late, the protesters haven’t been following that agreement (just as they’ve been resisting calls from the tribe to close down their camps and leave). Yesterday we saw yet another violent altercation initiated by the protesters against law enforcement. They marched across frozen water (they don’t need the bridge this frigid winter) and cut through a fence to confront a line of officers protecting the private property on the other side of the fence.
I posted video of the incident yesterday. Below is a press release from Morton County giving a narrative to what happened.
As the press release describes, the protesters also tried to break through the law enforcement blockade on the Backwater Bridge.
Here’s my question: How is this helping the Standing Rock tribe?
The answer is that it is not.
These activists embrace blanket opposition to all oil pipelines and oil production, something the Standing Rock Sioux tribe explicitly does not.
These activists have created an “ecological disaster” at their camp site, one which could become dire when the spring melt off comes. The tribe is telling them to clean up and move on, but so far they aren’t doing it.
But perhaps worse is that these activists, in their refusal to cooperate with state officials, are keeping Standing Rock blocked off from vital commerce.
The national media continues to cover their cause credulously and uncritically, which is unfortunate.
The headline story from the #NoDAPL movement these days is one of belligerent political extremists refusing to listen to those they claim to be helping.