11/28/2016: Response to US Army Corps of Engineers re Oceti Sakowin Camp

November 28th, 2016, 9:00PM CST


RE:  Urgent request for Lieutenant General Todd Semonite (US Army Corps of Engineers), Secretary Robert A. McDonald (US Department of Veteran Affairs) and Secretary Sylvia Mathews Burwell (US Department of Health and Human Services) to immediately rescind the December 5th, 2016 eviction notice given to the Oceti Sakowin camp by the Army Corps of Engineers as well as a removal of the blockade on Highway 1806 in order to prevent unnecessary further morbidity and mortality

The Standing Rock Medic Healer’s Council (SRM&HC) is a council of traditional Indigenous healers, physicians, nurses, paramedics, midwives, and medics who have provided continuous medical care at the camp since August, in response to poor healthcare access and escalating use of violence by Morton County Sheriff’s department and Dakota Access Pipeline security upon unarmed people who are peacefully assembled to protest a pipeline going through the source of drinking water for 16 million people.

We have been active in assessing the health needs and have been keeping people safe in what US veterans have described as “war-like conditions”—with surveillance aircraft, police checkpoints and the constant threat of violence from local law enforcement. We have also been providing daily no-cost care for acute and chronic conditions to thousands of people assembled peacefully to exercise their first amendment rights.

The vast majority of cases we have witnessed and treated — in patients ranging from the young to elderly — have been the direct result of the following:

  • Blunt force trauma, including but not limited to near amputation, retinal detachment, and multiple fractures, concussions, lacerations, and contusions as a result of rubber bullets, battery with batons, and concussion grenades,
  • Bites from attack dogs
  • Exposure to chemical weapons.
  • Hypothermia as a result of water cannons power blasting individuals in freezing temperatures.

Since October, the Morton County Sheriff’s department has blocked the northbound highway 1806, currently with razor wire, military vehicles and concrete blocks. This is in violation of the Geneva Convention, Article 18, first paragraph, of the 1949 Geneva Convention II which provides that “[a]fter each engagement, Parties to the conflict shall, without delay, take all possible measures … to ensure … adequate care of the shipwrecked, wounded and sick.” The blockade makes quick and expeditious travel by emergency services to the nearest level two trauma center in Bismarck impossible. What should be a 35 minute ambulance ride in an emergency becomes over an hour due to this blockade and checkpoints. This has been and continues to be a major threat to public health that has been not been addressed by local health agencies.  We urge you to address it immediately.

Of greatest concern is the previously mentioned December 5th eviction notice by the Army Corps of Engineers upon the Oceti Sakowin camp. Based upon all evidence to date we have good reason to believe that excessive, violent force will be used against unarmed people in winter conditions that threaten life simply through hypothermia. In our professional opinion, the Oceti Sakowin community composed of several thousand women (many of whom are pregnant) men, children, elderly, are firmly committed to remaining upon the land that was clearly outlined by Treaty laws belonging to the Lakota and Dakota peoples. We affirm that during the entire term of our service we have never seen any evidence of weapons, whether in the form of firearms or incendiary devices.  Given the urgency and immediacy of the care we provide, such evidence would be impossible to conceal. If the goal is to protect health and well being, that purpose will best be served by allowing the Oceti Sakowin to remain, unmolested, in full exercise of their constitutionally protected First Amendment rights.

We want to make clear that the SRM&HC is committed to fulfilling the spirit of the Geneva Convention by providing medical services to Oceti Sakowin regardless of the decisions and conditions imposed by state agencies. This decision occurs despite clear observations that designated and labeled medics are being unethically and illegally targeted by law enforcement — once again in violation of the Geneva Conventions (Rule 25. Medical personnel exclusively assigned to medical duties must be respected and protected in all circumstances).

We urge your respective agencies to prevent the alarming threat to loss of life and limb on December 5th. From our assessment as the medical team on the ground, the violence from law enforcement has been the largest threat to public safety. If you are concerned for human health and safety, we call for the following:

  • A rescission of the December 5 eviction notice as it provided a de facto invitation for Governor Jack Dalrymple to order an “emergency” evacuation under the false premise of public health. This in turn provides the Morton County Police Department justification to enter and inflict harm upon the current encampment referred to as Oceti Sakowin
  • Acknowledging that the excessive violence, militarization, and disregard of the well being of the community is the source of violence and public health endangerment, we call for a disarmament of the Morton County Sheriff’s Department.
  • The immediate opening of northbound county highway 1806 to allow expeditious travel by emergency health services.
  • The Army Corps of Engineers has the power to immediately de-escalate the situation by denying the easement and bringing a permanent end to the construction of the DAPL through Lake Oahe.

As health workers, we urge you to recognize this as a public health issue and address it accordingly—with respect for human dignity and the right to clean healthy water which we all know is absolutely crucial for human health.


Standing Rock Medic & Healer Council

Linda Black Elk, PhD, Ethnobotanist, Sitting Bull College

Noah Morris, EMT

Michael Knudsen, MPH candidate

Vanessa Bolin, ALS paramedic

Amelia Massucco, RN

Howard Ehrman MD, MPH, University of Illinois, Chicago

John Andrews, RN

David Kingfisher, MD/JD Wichita State University

Jesse Lopez, MD, Heartland Surgical Care

Kalama O Ka Aina Niheu, MD Aha Aloha Aina

Rupa Marya, MD, University of California, San Francisco, Do No Harm Coalition

Kristina Golden, EMT

Sebastian Rodriguez, RN

Rosemary Fister, RN, MNPHN, DNP candidate
Geeta Maker-Clark, MD, University of Chicago

Elizabeth Friedman, MD


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