A disagreement over an oil pipeline led to a standoff between members of South Dakota's Sioux tribe and security officers from a Dallas-based energy company, with the security staffers reportedly threatening protesters with dogs and using pepper spray to get them to back off (video below).
The protesters, a large group including Native Americans, their supporters and environmentalists, are upset over plans to build an oil pipeline that runs near reservation land.
Opponents claim the pipeline, which officials say will carry 500,000 barrels of crude oil from North Dakota to Illinois each day, could contaminate local drinking water and disrupt sacred sites in the remote prairie where it will run underground, according to NPR.
Protesters were able to successfully halt construction in late August, federal officials said. The Standing Rock tribe, which inhabits the lands bordering the pipeline's planned trajectory, has asked a federal judge for a preliminary injunction, which would halt construction indefinitely until legal issues are resolved in court.
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North Dakota Gov. Jack Dalrymple, a Republican, declared a state of emergency in the area, and NPR said several protesters have been arrested during demonstrations.
A video of the protests, shot on Sept. 3, shows environmentalists shouting "Criminals!" at construction workers clearing a trench through the prairie. Some of them held signs with slogans like "Water Is Life," standing just a few feet away from workers as they continued to clear the land.
The video, shot by Democracy Now, captured the chaotic scene as fist fights broke out between protesters and security officers. One man was tackled by a security officer, while several others backed down after another security officer hit them with a pepper spray type device.
"What are you spraying people with?" Democracy Now's Amy Goodman asked one security officer, who was wearing a hard hat and holding a spray can.
"I haven't sprayed anything, ma'am," the man said.
"This guy maced me in the face," one of the protesters said. "Look, it's all over my sunglasses."
Others were filmed backing off as they rubbed irritated eyes after confrontations with security staff from Energy Transfer Partners, a Dallas-based natural gas and propane company.
On Sept. 6, a federal judge ordered a temporary halt to construction west of North Dakota Highway 1806, based on the tribe's complaints that it wasn't consulted on plans to build the pipeline so close to its land, according to KFYR.
Jan Hassleman, an attorney for the Standing Rock Sioux tribe, told the station the proposed pipeline runs through a burial ground where at least 27 graves are marked.
"We saw things happening out at Standing Rock, dogs being put on protesters that haven't been seen in America for 40 or 50 years," Hassleman said. "Temperatures are too hot out there right now. We asked the court to get everybody to stand down."
Energy Transfer Partners denied its workers were damaging tribal lands or burial grounds.
"We were legally on private property that we have an easement on and have all the proper permits and approvals," the company wrote in a statement, reports KFYR. "We were constructing according to our plans. Additionally, there has been nothing destroyed as claimed."
WARNING: Contains strong language.