A #NoDAPL Legal Update from Mandan and Bismarck
The long, arduous battle has continued in Mandan and Bismarck courts for more than 600 water protectors facing charges for resisting the Dakota Access pipeline. The Freshet Collective has grown from a bail fund to a collective of legal organizers, committed to serving the needs of those who put their lives and liberty on the line to stand up for Indigenous sovereignty and protect the sacred. We support water protectors with open cases through outreach, legal education, attorney coordination, travel arrangements, hospitality, and court solidarity.
Morton County is slowly prosecuting hundreds of DAPL cases that have generally been scheduled chronologically according to arrest date. Arrestees with charges from the mass arrest on October 22, 2016 are only now seeing their cases go before the court and we expect trials from the mass arrest on October 27 to begin in mid-July. Those arrested in early 2017 will not have trials until 2018.
Water protectors face a profoundly biased and at times explicitly racist criminal legal system. A survey by the National Jury Project showed found that 77% of the juror-eligible population in Morton County and 85% of the juror-eligible population in Burleigh County had already decided the defendants were guilty. Despite this, we have seen Morton County continuously fail to prove many of their allegations. Prosecutor Brian Grosinger outwardly admitted to defense attorneys that he did not have evidence to prove the “criminal trespass” and “engaging in a riot” charges from Oct 22. But in an effort to coerce defendants into admitting guilt, he has begun reissuing new charges to water protectors caught up in that mass arrest. Local attorney Erica Shively has called that tactic “a waste of taxpayer money, a waste of time, harassment and again, financial warfare aimed at securing guilty pleas.”
The historic resistance at Standing Rock faces a wave of repression as the state surveils and criminalizes dissent, and seeks to imprison water protectors at the federal level. This December, we learned in between snowstorms that a grand jury had been convened to investigate water protectors. Grand juries operate in secret, and we owe much gratitude to Steve Martinez for his bravery to publicize and fight his subpoena, which was withdrawn in late February. That same Grand Jury issued federal indictments for six water protectors present at the Treaty Camp Raid on October 27, 2016. It is likely the Grand Jury continues to meet, and they may continue targeting water protectors. Our sister Red Fawn, taken into custody the same day, remains a political prisoner with federal charges, despite strong efforts by her legal team to fight for her release. All of these federal cases include the rarely used charge “civil disorder.” Historically, it is only used to suppress social movements, including the American Indian Movement after the occupation of Wounded Knee in 1973. Now, as water protectors face serious prison sentences, we learn through the TigerSwan leaks just how closely all levels of law enforcement worked with corporate paramilitary groups hired by DAPL to suppress the prayerful and non-violent resistance at Standing Rock.
In the face of this repression, the fight for water and Indigenous sovereignty is still very much alive in Morton and Burleigh Counties, and in Bismarck Federal Court. Our legal team works hard to stay in touch with water protectors to keep them updated, as circumstances change at any moment without notice. Overall, we have seen the best outcomes when arrestees stay involved in their cases, and we encourage water protectors to be in touch with us. A total of 93 cases have been dismissed so far, and this past week we saw our first not-guilty verdicts at Prolific the rapper’s bench trial and Chairman Dave Archambault, Alayna Eagleshield, and Dana Yellowfat’s jury trial.
In over 500 years of colonization, settlers have used many tactics to suppress, undermine, divide, and eliminate Indigenous peoples. In this moment of historic uprising and unified resistance, we see the state deploying these tactics through the criminal justice system. We believe in continuing the efforts of Oceti and Sacred Stone to protect the water and we will not be intimidated. With proactive arrestees and a support team behind them, we continue to fight on a different frontline. When we show up to Morton County it sends a message to others protecting the sacred to stay in prayer and solidarity and do what is right. We expect these cases to continue well into 2018 and hope you will stay involved and continue to give what you can as we support those who have taken great risk for all of our future. We are very grateful for your support.
The Freshet Collective