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Indigenous Journalist Faces Trial For Flying Drone To Document DAPL Construction

An indigenous journalist known for his work covering the Standing Rock camps and other Native American-led resistance to the Dakota Access pipeline (DAPL) faces a trial on July 12 in Bismarck, North Dakota.

Myron Dewey was accused by Shannon Eagon, the wife of Doug Eagon, a member of the National Guard, of “stalking.” If convicted of the class A misdemeanor, he faces up to one year in prison and a possible $3,000 fine.

The complaint [PDF], approved by Assistant State’s Attorney Gabrielle Goter, alleges on October 8, 2016, Dewey “harassed, frightened, and/or intimidated security workers on a job site.” It further suggests he targeted “their vehicles, license plates, and/or where they were working, which made them fear for their lives and their families’ lives.”

On October 8, police pulled Dewey over and seized a drone, which he used to document how close the pipeline was getting to water sources and sacred indigenous land. One officer claimed it was used in a crime Dewey was involved in earlier that day. He was subsequently charged and turned himself in to the Morton County Police Department on October 14, when “Democracy Now!” host Amy Goodman was also facing charges levied against her for journalism.

Dewey is Newe-Numah/Paiute-Shoshone from the Walker River Paiute Tribe, Agui Diccutta Band (Trout Eaters) and Temoke Shoshone. He founded Digital Smoke Signals, which was created to “indigenize” media through indigenous voices that could produce representations of their cultural core values.

He recently produced the third part of a feature documentary, “Awake, A Dream From Standing Rock,” to get the perspective of water protectors out to a wide audience. The film premiered at the Tribeca Film Festival.

Multiple recorded Facebook videos, streamed live and archived on Saturday, October 8, call into question the conduct of authorities and suggest this prosecution is a clear act of harassment and intimidation on behalf of Energy Transfer Partners, the corporation behind the pipeline.

Dewey captured video of the entire incident, where his drone was seized. An officer, who cheekily said his name was “Mr. Deputy,” would not show evidence of a warrant to take the drone when police were asked multiple times. He also refused to provide his name or badge number when that information was requested.

About an hour after the drone was seized by police, Dewey, Tom Goldtooth, executive director of the Indigenous Environmental Network (IEN), and others showed up to the Morton County Center to find out more information on why the drone was taken.

Dewey said he was part of a “nonviolent drone direct action” for environmental justice. “Not only was our drone up in the air. There [were] four other drones in the air, several other drones. We put the call out for drones.”

Additionally, Goldtooth indicated IEN and indigenous people depend upon this drone to “balance the information” needed to protect “the sacredness of our water and Mother Earth.” They previously were documenting the Heart River ecosystem and pipeline activity nearby. There were security forces, which came and harassed them for filming the water and sacred sites.

An officer, who did not identify himself, shared several details with Dewey about an hour after the drone was seized. Particularly, he revealed Dewey was accused of committing a crime when he flew his drone over security. That was what gave police “probable cause” to take the drone. (For clarity, the rest of the piece will refer to him as “Nate.”)

Nate stated, “We are not going to sit here and discuss the legalities of how we seized your drone, okay? You need to talk to your attorney about that,” after he said it was possible police made a mistake. He mentioned there was no warrant to view the drone footage yet and that would be obtained from a judge on Monday.

But Nate did not stop talking to Dewey and the others, who paid a visit to the police center.

“How do you know they were security?” Dewey asked. Nate replied, “Because that was reported to us.” He would not tell them whether the two men claiming to be “stalked” were security for DAPL—until he did.

MD: “The video was suspicious with two guys that looked like peeping toms overlooking people…[interrupted by Nate] ”

Nate: “They were on their own property, were they not?”

MD: “I don’t know. You’re not disclosing like who they are. You’re just saying they’re security.”

Nate: “Well, I assume they’re security.”

MD: “Yeah, security for who?”

Nate: “They’re DAPL security. All the security is DAPL security.”

MD: “So that’s DAPL property?”

Nate: “Yes it is.”

MD: “So they also own the airspace there?”

Nate: “Okay, we’re done here.”

The wife of a National Guard member submitted the complaint. However, it is unclear if one or both of the security were part of the National Guard.

Additionally, it seems like Dewey had no idea those individuals were DAPL security or that they were even on property that was owned by DAPL. He noticed them and thought they were some kind of “peeping toms” sitting there watching children, families, and elders from tribal groups involved in prayer and other actions in defense of the land under threat from pipeline construction.

Dewey indicated the drone he flew used GPS to uncover that DAPL was working within a 20-mile zone they were not supposed to be violating, as a case by tribal groups to stop the pipeline was heard by a judge.

Indigenous people flew drones to “even the playing field,” to gather information on DAPL construction in order to help them protect “special cultural resource sites.” Goldtooth said they collected “intelligence” on what was really happening with DAPL and that information could be passed on to tribal groups for legal cases against the pipeline. It would also allow them to counter the narrative of the police and local government officials with the reality of what was happening to their land.

As for accusations of harassing security workers, Goldtooth flatly rejected the notion that indigenous people were targeting any personnel. In fact, during the stream, he maintained it was DAPL personnel, along with police, involved in harassment and intimidation. They were the ones threatened by efforts to protect cultural and sacred indigenous sites from pipeline destruction.

It is important to remember on September 9, the Justice Department, Interior Department, and the Department of the Army requested a halt to DAPL construction near the Lake Oahe river crossing. They planned to further evaluate the impact to the environment and consult with tribal leaders, who they neglected to engage with earlier in the process.

Yet, Energy Transfer Partners told employees it was “committed to completing the project,” especially since the pipeline was “60 percent complete” and the company already spent $1.6 billion so far on equipment, materials and the workforce,” according to Reuters.

The corporation did not want indigenous people to successfully block their pipeline project so it seems highly likely that political cases brought against media professionals like Myron Dewey were a part of the ends-justify-the-means approach to making sure nothing stood in the way.

Shannon Eagon is one of the wives of security officers involved in patrolling the pipeline construction area, who spoke out in defense of the militarization of police and defended the use of tear gas, bean bags, rubber bullets, and flash bang grenades against indigenous people trying to save their land from destruction. She said police used force for their “safety” and not to intimidate them.

“I’ve never seen any of our law enforcement do a tenth of the things they were being accused of and that was kind of hard to read,” Eagon proclaimed.

Dewey goes on trial on Wednesday, July 12. He is one of a number of journalists, who face prosecution, and he launched a fundraiser to ensure he is able to defend himself from prosecution and also document other court cases against indigenous people involved in covering and resisting the pipeline.

Editor’s Note: Kevin Gosztola will be in Bismarck, North Dakota, to cover Dewey’s trial on July 12. All reports on developments will be posted here.

Kevin Gosztola

Kevin Gosztola

Kevin Gosztola is managing editor of Shadowproof. He also produces and co-hosts the weekly podcast, "Unauthorized Disclosure."