North Dakota U.S. District Court Judge Daniel L. Hovland today dissolved a temporary restraining order (TRO) against Standing Rock Sioux Tribal Chairman Dave Archambault II, Councilman Dana Yellowfat, and a number of other water protectors resisting the Dakota Access Pipeline (DAPL), including John and Jane Doe. One of the defendants, Jonathan Edwards, was represented by the The American Civil Liberties Union.
Dakota Access LLP applied for the restraining order on August 15 in an effort to suppress demonstrations that have effectively shut down construction near the Oahe Crossing on the Missouri River in North Dakota. This type of restraining order is also known as Strategic Lawsuit Against Public Participation (SLAPP suit).
The federal court granted the ex parte restraining order immediately, ordering Mr. Archambault and others, including Standing Rock Sioux Tribe members Valerie Wolf Necklace and Clifton Verle Howell, to avoid “unlawfully interfering in any way” with pipeline construction.
Valerie Wolf Necklace and Clifton Verle Hollow, represented by the National Lawyers Guild legal team, argued that the restraining order was a violation of constitutionally protected rights to freedom of speech, assembly, and expression of religion, and that the company’s case was not supported by sufficient evidence. They further argued that Dakota Access does not have standing to prohibit water protectors from praying at and protecting ancestral sacred sites on public or private land. As described in three declarations by archaeologist Tim Mentz filed in support of the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe’s lawsuit for injunctive relief against DAPL, many Lakota/Dakota sacred sites lie within and near the pipeline corridor, including burial sites and other historic sacred sites that are used for prayer and spiritual connection and are vital to the religious life and heritage of the Lakota/Dakota people.
The water protectors deny that they have engaged in any unlawful or violent acts. "I participated in these actions to protect my family's right to hunt, fish, and swim in clean water. I want my kids to be proud that we stood up to protect our source of clean drinking water,” said Clifton Verle Hollow. “I am pleased that the court has dropped its order preventing us from doing what we have traditionally done."
North Dakota District Judge Hovland’s September 16 order dissolves any federal court prohibition on protests against the pipeline and leaves it up to local authorities and the criminal courts to deal with those accused of breaking the law.
Meanwhile, local authorities are now charging non-violent actions as felonies, such as protectors peacefully locking their bodies to stationary equipment. “Although the judge went out of his way to show his disdain for many of the water protectors, he also became aware that this was a political controversy that he likely could not control and the mechanism of an injunction was unwieldy and likely ineffective in light of the determination of those resisting the pipeline construction over sacred sites and threatening the water supply,” said NLG attorney Jeff Haas.