'We're protectors, we're not protesters:' Northerner talks about Dakota arrest

Northern activist Daniel T'seleie was arrested last week for allegedly attaching himself to an excavator to halt pipeline construction. He says his felony charge is part of a broader escalation of state force.

Activist Daniel T'seleie says his arrest is part of an escalation of state force against pipeline opponents

Daniel T'seleie — who has roots in Fort Good Hope and Yellowknife — and two other men were arrested on Sept. 14 and charged with reckless endangerment for attaching themselves to construction equipment with a steel device. (Facebook)

A Northern activist arrested last week while protesting the Dakota Access Pipeline plans to return home later this week, although he'll have to head back south for his court date, he says.

Daniel T'seleie — who has roots in Fort Good Hope and Yellowknife — was arrested on Sept. 14, for allegedly attaching himself to an excavator at a Dakota Access work site.

"I don't want to get into too many details because it still is an open court case and I'm going to have to return here to court. But I was charged with reckless endangerment, which is a felony, and then I was charged with three misdemeanours," said T'seleie, over the phone from New Salem, 110 kilometres northwest of Cannon Ball, N.D.

According to a Morton County peace officer's affidavit, filed with the state of North Dakota, "[T'seleie] used a sleeping dragon device to secure himself," referring to the protest technique in which handcuffs are hidden inside PVC piping, making it very difficult for officials to remove them.

"He refused several orders to release himself, which he was able to do at any time he wished, forcing law enforcement to cut the device off using power tools," the peace officer wrote.

"This is part of a response that we're seeing from the state here, which is trying to scare people from using any type of non-violent direct action tactics that actually stop construction of the pipeline," said T'seleie.

Non-violent direct action

T'seleie sees his felony arrest as part of a broader escalation of state force against the activists who have gathered in solidarity with the Standing Rock Reservation to protest the $3.8 billion pipeline that's supposed to transport oil from the Bakken oilfield near the Canadian border to Illinois.

"They're setting the bail amount at $1,500, and they've also increased the bail amount for other misdemeanors," he said.

"It's kind of as a cash grab for the county but also as a way to prevent people from doing this, because there's only a limited amount of resources right now in terms of legal support and jail support... [and they're trying] to discourage people from undertaking direct action tactics that would actually physically stop construction of the pipeline at specific sites for a whole day or longer."

T'seleie has been in New Salem, teaching just such tactics to fellow activists.

Red Warrior Camp in southern North Dakota in early September. Established to support the Standing Rock Sioux Nation's fight against an oil pipeline, the camp has swelled as thousands show up in support. (Trevor Brine/CBC)

"Primarily what I've been doing here, along with a few other people, is running non-violent direct action training that are geared towards people who don't have a lot of experience with non-violent direct action." 

This means teaching the theory behind non-violent direct action, as well as how to do it safely, he says.

"One thing direct action can be used for, is to stop construction of the pipeline at one worksite for a full day. Because the only thing these companies listen to is money, so if it costs them more money, then they may not get reinvestment on the project."

He's clear, however, that such action shouldn't be classified as protest, nor himself as a protestor.

"We're protectors, we're not protestors. It's not a protest camp, it's a camp and it's a gathering for protectors, for people who are here to protect the land, protect the water, protect the sacred."

Camp prepares for winter

While T'seleie is coming North this week, many others are staying in the camp, which T'seleie describes as being "like a giant Dene Nation Assembly."

"It's a huge camp, with people from all over. People are sharing food, there's a lot of prayer ceremonies, there's a lot of singing. People in different camps are drumming and singing and dancing till one, two, three in the morning sometimes," he said. 

Right now, though, T'seleie says the focus is on preparing the camp for winter.

"The larger camp is situated in a kind of a lowland by the Cannonball River, it's a floodplain, and we've heard that the snow drifts up to like five, 10 feet in the winter. So a lot of people are going to have to move from that location if they're going to stay there for the winter."

"They're going to need shelter that can be kept warm for the kids during the day for the school… There's medics on site, so they also need a good warm place to operate."

T'seleie hopes to return to the area later this year to help winterize the camp. 

With files from Lawrence Nayally