SALT LAKE CITY, Utah, Nov. 2, 2016 (Gephardt Daily) — Salt Lake Mayor Jackie Biskupski is calling North Dakota law enforcement’s response to protests at the Dakota Access Pipeline construction site “tragic,” and says her administration will do all it can to highlight the issue.
Biskupski made the comments during a Tuesday morning ceremony proclaiming November “Native American Heritage Month in Salt Lake City.”
“I think it’s tragic, what’s happening there,” the mayor told Gephardt Daily. “We had our own protest here with hundreds of people in Salt Lake City, but it was managed in a respectful way, and this is how we expect others to manage themselves as well.”
“We’ll continue to do what we can to support the people there and to help them have their voices be heard. Hopefully, we’ll be successful,” Biskupksi said.
Hundreds of demonstrators have been arrested the last few weeks in pointed clashes with both North Dakota law enforcement officers and private security guards.
Standing Rock Sioux tribe members maintain construction of the 1,172-mile oil pipeline project is a direct threat to the environment and desecrates sacred tribal lands — lands they say are protected by treaties signed long ago with the U.S. government.
During the most violent confrontations, dozens of protesters were set upon by guard dogs and baton-wielding highway patrolmen and sheriff’s deputies. Some were hit with pepper spray, while others were shot with rubber bullets.
In September, journalist Amy Goodman of Democracy Now was arrested and charged with criminal trespassing and taking part in a riot. The arrest came after Goodman recorded one of the more violent confrontations on video. A North Dakota judge ultimately ruled the charges were groundless.
The protest movement igniting passions in North Dakota came to downtown Salt Lake City Monday, where a group of 200 demonstrators occupied the lobby of the Wells Fargo Building on Main Street. There, they chanted, sang, and pounded on windows, taking the bank to task for investing hundreds of millions of dollars in the disputed pipeline project.
Nine protesters were ultimately arrested after chaining themselves together inside the Wells Fargo building. They were removed without incident.
“We must recognize the connection all tribes share with one another, and respect the significance all Native Americans place on ancestral territory, even when they are thousands of miles away,” Biskupski said. “Members of Native American tribes in Salt Lake City are rightfully concerned about the Dakota Pipeline’s impact … as well as climate-change issues caused by a new project devoted to more burning of fossil fuels.”
Joining Biskupski outside her office Tuesday were several prominent members of Utah’s Native American community. They shared the mayor’s concern over the pipeline’s potential impact on sacred cultural sites, as well as the threat posed to the Sioux tribe’s water supply.
They also applauded the proclamation of “Native Heritage Month,” saying it would foster respect for Native American sovereignty and the many contributions made by indigenous people across North America.
“I am a direct descendant of this country’s first native people and my ancestors fought hard and died for this land,” said Native American activist Cassandra Begay. “My ancestors had a deep connection and respect for the Earth, the animals, the plants and the importance of freedom. I stand here today in observation of the world, heartbroken,” she said, fighting back tears.
But Begay was not without hope.
“Salt Lake City doesn’t stand for any violation of any human rights,” she said. “Salt Lake City cares about their Native Americans.”
Similar sentiments were on display at Salt Lake’s City Council meeting Tuesday night. More than 200 people packed council chambers and overflow viewing areas while a steady stream of speakers rose in support of the Standing Rock Sioux.
The City Council will consider a resolution at its Nov. 15 meeting to formally express its support for the Standing Rock Sioux and their opposition to the pipeline.