New Yorker: A Murky Legal Mess at Standing Rock

By Colin Moynihan for The New Yorker

Word of the cancellations went out by way of unsigned notices e-mailed to defense lawyers… The e-mails said nothing about new court dates…

In early September, Allisha LaBarge, a member of the Mandan, Hidatsa, and Arikara Nation, travelled from Hibbing, Minnesota, to the Standing Rock Sioux Reservation, in North Dakota, where she began living in a tepee and taking part in protests against the Dakota Access Pipeline, which is meant to transport oil eleven hundred and seventy miles to Illinois. LaBarge, who is thirty-four, joined the protest camps, she said, because she believed that the pipeline, which some Native Americans call “the black snake,” would pollute the Missouri River, violate treaty rights, and harm lands and burial grounds sacred to the Sioux.

In October, LaBarge was arrested during a protest, becoming one of the nearly six hundred people who were taken into custody and charged during the months of prayer ceremonies, marches, and clashes with law enforcement that took place before the Department of the Army announced, in December, that it would not grant an easement that the pipeline needed to cross beneath Lake Oahe, about half a mile from the reservation. The announcement halted the project, at least until the next President is sworn in, and was greeted as a victory by the protesters.

LaBarge pleaded not guilty to trespass and riot charges, and her trial was scheduled to take place January 9th, at the Morton County Courthouse. But it was recently cancelled by North Dakota court officials, along with the trials and final dispositional conferences of about two hundred other pipeline defendants, also scheduled for January. Word of the cancellations went out by way of unsigned notices e-mailed to defense lawyers that stated, “Because of the volume of cases which have been filed in recent months, it is necessary to reschedule trials for the convenience of all parties.” The e-mails said nothing about new court dates.


For LaBarge and the others like her, who had spent weeks anticipating trials and preparing themselves for the possibility of guilty verdicts, the abrupt cancellations were jarring. “I feel like I just went through all that stress and anxiety for nothing,” she said. “If I’m going to have to go to jail, I’d like to get it over with.”

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