BISMARCK – Police fired tear gas and water at hundreds of protesters at the Backwater Bridge just north of Cannon Ball, and tried to force their way past authorities. “It is below freezing right now and the Morton County Sheriff’s Department is using a water cannon on our people – that is an excessive and potentially deadly use of force,” said Dallas Goldtooth, a spokesman for the Indigenous Environmental Network, one of the organizations involved in protests.
A joint statement from several activist groups said protesters Sunday were trying to remove burned vehicles blocking Backwater Bridge in order to restore access to the nearby Standing Rock Sioux encampments so emergency services and local traffic can move freely.
Police fired volleys of tear gas at the protesters to prevent them from crossing the bridge. Law enforcement also fired rubber bullets and sprayed protesters with water in temperatures that reached as low as 18 degrees overnight.
The latest standoff began Sunday evening, after protesters attempted to remove a truck that had been on the bridge since late October, police said.
The North Dakota Department of Transportation closed the Backwater Bridge, which crosses Cantapeta Creek north of the Standing Rock Sioux tribe’s camp, after vehicles were burned there last month. The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers had also asked Morton County law enforcement to prevent protesters from trespassing on federal land.
The North Dakota Highway Patrol says the State Capitol is in a” soft lockdown” – as small groups of protesters make their way to the site. Meanwhile, about 75 demonstrators remain on Backwater Bridge, which had been the site of previous clashes and fires and has been closed by the state’s department of transportation. Authorities continued to monitor the situation, as scattered fires smoldered nearby.