Two years after Oklahomans joined thousands of others in protesting the Dakota Access oil pipeline in North Dakota, one of the American Indian activists has reached a plea deal on charges of inciting a riot.
Chase Iron Eyes will avoid jail time after the plea deal resulted in the charge being reduced to disorderly conduct. Even then, he was still defiant on the pipeline and what he and thousands of others did over a nearly two-year period.
“The world should know that it’s legally impossible for me and other Native people to trespass on treaty land, and I never started a riot,” Iron Eyes said Tuesday. “I and the water protectors are not terrorists.”
A judge still has to sign off on the deal which will put Iron Eyes on one year of probation and result in $1,850 in fines and fees. His attorneys called it a “major victory” while prosecutors didn’t comment.
“Now I can be with my family and continue defending the sovereignty of my people,” said Iron Eyes, an attorney with the Lakota People’s Law Project. “This will allow me to keep working nonstop to protect First Amendment, human and Native rights.”
Iron Eyes could have faced five years in prison if convicted of the felony riot charge filed after a February 2017 incident in which he and 73 others were arrested after erecting teepees on disputed land. Authorities said the land was owned by Texas-based pipeline developer Energy Transfer Partners. Protesters said they were peacefully assembling on land they believe rightfully belongs to American Indians under old treaties.
“Water protectors” is what members of the Standing Rock Sioux and others dubbed themselves as they opposed the $3.8 billion pipeline to move North Dakota oil under the tribe’s Missouri River water supply and through South Dakota and Iowa to a shipping point in Illinois.
Thousands of opponents who worried about environmental harm gathered in encampments near the Standing Rock Reservation in 2016 and early 2017 to protest the pipeline that ETP maintains is safe. Some of them clashed with police, resulting in 761 arrests in a six-month span. The pipeline began operating in June 2017, but Standing Rock and three other tribes are still fighting in federal court to try to shut it down.