Police used tear gas, rubber bullets, concussion grenades and water on Dakota Access Pipeline protesters in subfreezing temperatures in Cannon Ball, North Dakota, on Nov. 20 (video below).
Dallas Goldtooth, of the Indigenous Environmental Network, told The Associated Press that 17 people had to be hospitalized for injuries due to the incident, which took place on the Backwater Bridge on Highway 1806.
The protesters are trying to stop the building of a part of the 1,200-mile-long pipeline from affecting water sources or nearby Native American cultural sites.
"Hypothermia, a number of head injuries from being shot with rubber bullets, one individual had a heart attack," Goldtooth stated.
According to Goldtooth, a water cannon was used on protesters, but Morton County Sheriff's spokesman Rob Keller insisted that particular equipment was dousing people with tear gas.
"Water hoses were used to keep distance between officers and criminal agitators and also to put out fires set by those agitators," Keller stated.
Goldtooth said the fires were set to warm people who had been doused by water, so they wouldn't die from hypothermia.
Greenpeace spokeswoman Mary Sweeters said the police use of water on the protesters in the frigid temperatures was "nothing short of horrific," and "put people's lives in danger."
Sierra Club Executive Director Michael Brune called it an "act of brutality," and "nothing short of life-threatening and inhumane."
The Morton County Sheriff's Department said the officers "had rocks thrown at them, burning logs and rocks shot from slingshots," which injured one officer in the head.
Goldtooth said protesters tried to remove some burned-out trucks on the bridge so that officers "can see us face to face, who we are, as peaceful water protectors," but the sheriff's department insisted the demonstrators "engaged in organized tactical movement" that was "very aggressive."
Keller told the The Bismarck Tribune via email that the state's Department of Transportation has not checked the bridge for structural safety because of the protesters, and added that the burned out trucks are staying on the bridge because it's not safe for workers to remove the trucks because of the protesters, who want the vehicles removed.
Goldtooth said law enforcement's barricade on the bridge blocked emergency services from going south to the protesters' camp, and blocked demonstrators from going north to protest the pipeline.
"Folks have a right to be on a public road," Goldtooth told The Bismarck Tribune. "It's absurd that people who've been trying to take down the barricade now have their lives at risk."
Standing Rock Medic and Healer Council doctors and healers demanded "the immediate cessation of use of water cannons" because of hypothermia, notes CNN, and warned about the "potentially lethal use of these confrontational methods against people peacefully assembled."
Tara Houska, a protest organizer, told The Bismarck Tribune that police had actually fortified the burned out trucks blockade with barriers and wire.
"This has been weeks and weeks of those vehicles on the road for no apparent reason, and it's a huge public safety risk," Houska stated. "It's putting enormous pressure on the Standing Rock Sioux community and people who live and work in the area."