August 2020

Indigenous Peoples and Human Rights

Friday, May 6, 2022

NCAI Files Amicus Brief in Support of Critically Injured Water Protectors at Standing Rock




Standing Rock Water Protectors Attacked by Law Enforcement. Photo copyright Ryan Vizzions.

The National Congress of American Indians filed a friends of the court brief in federal appeals court, upholding Treaty rights, and the right of free speech, in support of critically injured Water Protectors at Standing Rock.

By Brenda Norrell
Censored News


The National Congress of American Indians filed an amicus brief in federal appeals court in support of Standing Rock Water Protectors who were seriously injured by militarized law enforcement while defending the water from Dakota Access Pipeline.

Upholding Water Protectors' Treaty rights, and right to free speech, NCAI described how the peaceful and prayerful movement was met by serious, life-threatening force by law enforcement, resulting in critical injuries.

NCAI urged the appeals court to uphold Native American rights and said this excessive force should not be allowed to silence Native people exercising their rights.

"If the excessive force used to silence Plaintiffs-Appellants’ protected speech stands, the ability of all NCAI member Tribal Nations to peacefully exercise their First Amendment rights -- without risking injury from life threatening, excessive police force -- will be greatly undermined."

"NCAI therefore has a unique interest in advocating for the affirmance of the constitutional rights of Plaintiffs-Appellants to peacefully speak in support of tribal sovereignty, treaty rights, and the protection of Native American sacred sites and burials.'"

The amicus brief, known as a friend of the court brief, was filed in the Eighth Circuit Court of Appeals, in the case of Vanessa Dundon, et al, versus Morton County Sheriff Kyle Kirchmeier, et all, on April 29, 2022.

NCAI said, "The Native youth at Standing Rock who began the Movement are familiar with the history of violence inflicted on their people, but they began the Movement with hope by taking a peaceful, prayerful 'stand to be the voice for [their] community, for [their] great grandparents, and for Mother Earth.'"

"These Native youth inspired Plaintiffs-Appellants, and thousands of others (Native and non Native) who decided to join them in Cannon Ball, just one mile north of the Standing Rock Sioux Reservation. For six months, they engaged in a peaceful, prayerful protest — all the while demanding that the United States, specifically the Army Corps, uphold the treaty rights of the SRST and refuse to allow a private company, Dakota Access, LLC ('Dakota Access'), to build its pipeline."

Standing Rock 2016. Copyright Ryan Vizzions.


"Appellants and thousands of other peaceful protestors advocated for the SRST’s treaty rights in a clear exercise of their First Amendment rights. In response to this peaceful protest, law enforcement used force."

"The question, of course, is whether that use of force was excessive and whether it violated the rights of Plaintiffs-Appellants.

"It is undisputed that Plaintiffs-Appellees suffered serious bodily harm and injury. Their exercise of their First Amendment rights was, in fact, met with serious force and, in some cases, life-threatening force."

"If the excessive force used to silence Plaintiffs-Appellants’ protected speech stands, the ability of all NCAI member Tribal Nations to peacefully exercise their First Amendment rights—without risking injury from life threatening, excessive police force—will be greatly undermined."

"NCAI therefore has a unique interest in advocating for the affirmance of the constitutional rights of Plaintiffs-Appellants to peacefully speak in support of tribal sovereignty, treaty rights, and the protection of Native American sacred sites and burials.'

'For the following reasons, NCAI respectfully requests that this Court reverse the District Court’s granting of Defendants-Appellees’ Motion for Summary Judgment below."

NCAI told the Appeals Court that the Movement had broad support from Indian Country. In all, 356 separate Tribal Nations sent their flags to fly at the site where the peaceful protestors camped, and nearly 300 Tribal Nations passed resolutions or wrote letters of support for Standing Rock's to protect treaty rights.

"This Movement was a peaceful protest involving nearly all of Indian Country. It was not the radical protest of a fringe group."

NCAI included its prior resolution which proclaimed “that in carrying out this resolution we remain in peace [as] . . . Indian Country’s first concern is for the safety of the peaceful protectors, law enforcement officers, government officials, and workers in Cannon Ball, ND, and any act of violence is unwelcome.”

NCAI said that a joint statement on the Movement from the Department of Justice, the Department of the Army, and the Department of the Interior read: “In recent days, we have seen thousands of demonstrators come together peacefully, with support from scores of sovereign tribal governments, to exercise their First Amendment rights and to voice heartfelt concerns about the environment and historic, sacred sites.”

NCAI stated that it respectfully submits this amicus brief in support of Vanessa Dundon, Crystal Wilson, David Demo, Guy Dullknife, III, Mariah Marie Bruce, and Frank Finan (collectively, “Plaintiffs-Appellants”), and the thousands of other Americans who stood in prayer and objected to the Army Corps’s complete abdication of its treaty and trust duties and responsibilities to protect and preserve the drinking water, sacred sites, and graves of Tribal Nations.

NCAI listed authorities in its brief, including the testimony before the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights in Jamaica in 2019, presented by Seanna Howard, Michelle Cook, Carl Williams and Rachel Lederman: Criminalization of Human Rights Defenders of  Indigenous Peoples Resisting Extractive Industries in the United States, June 24, 2019.

The authorities in NCAI's brief include:

Alleen Brown, Medics Describe How Police Sprayed Standing Rock  Demonstrators with Tear Gas and Water Cannons, THE INTERCEPT (Nov. 21,  2016, 5:52 PM)

Catherine Thorbecke, Officials Defend Use of Alleged ‘Dog Kennel’ Cells in  Dakota Access Pipeline Protest, ABC NEWS (Oct. 31, 2016, 6:32 PM)

Resolution #PHX-16-023, Support for the Standing Rock Sioux to Protect its  Lands, Waters, and Sacred Places, NCAI (Oct. 2016) 

NCAI Resolution Standing Rock


Vanessa Dundon, et al, versus Morton County Sheriff Kyle Kirchmeier, et al lawsuit can be viewed at:

Excerpt from the Dundon lawsuit:



Copyright Brenda Norrell, Censored News.

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