On the night of November 20, 2016, water protectors were peacefully assembled on Backwater Bridge near the Standing Rock Sioux reservation and within the boundaries of Oceti Sakowin (Seven Council Fires, or Great Sioux Nation) treaty lands in North Dakota.
Thousands of water protectors from different Indigenous nations were camped nearby, seeking to stop the Dakota Access Pipeline, as the Missouri River is sacred to the Great Sioux Nation and a vital water source for Indigenous nations.
As people peacefully protested and prayed, law enforcement fired on the unarmed water protectors with impact munitions, explosive flash-bang grenades, chemical weapons, and blasted them with water from high-pressure firehoses for over eight hours in below freezing temperatures.
At least 200 water protectors were injured, and dozens hospitalized. Plaintiff Vanessa Dundon, a member of the Navajo/Diné Nation, was shot in the eye with a tear gas canister while attempting to help another person amid the siege. She has had several surgeries and will never fully regain her vision.
The Partnership for Civil Justice Fund and its project, the Center for Protest Law & Litigation, joined the Water Protectors Legal Collective (WPLC) in litigating Dundon v. Kirchmeier, a federal class action lawsuit with nine named plaintiffs, on behalf of hundreds of water protectors who were attacked by law enforcement.
In 2021, the United States District Court for the District of North Dakota granted summary judgment to law enforcement accepting law enforcement’s smearing presentation against Water Protectors and improperly adopting their disputed facts as true.
PCJF/CPLL Executive Director Mara Verheyden-Hilliard, Michael Avery with NPAP, PCJF/CPLL Senior Counsel Rachel Lederman, Standing Rock water protector and attorney Wašté Win Young, Co-Counsel Melinda Power, PCJF/CPLL attorney Amanda Eubanks outside the courthouse in St. Louis.
The PCJF and WPLC appealed the case to the United States Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit, where PCJF’s Rachel Lederman delivered the oral argument in September 2023. In November, 2023, the 8th Circuit panel issued its ruling upholding the lower court’s ruling.
PCJF’s Rachel Lederman stated, “This has been a hard-fought struggle by Indigenous-led water protectors to vindicate their constitutional rights, which were so egregiously violated at Standing Rock. It is disappointing to see the federal courts readily absolve law enforcement who brutally pummeled nonviolent, peaceful people with freezing high pressure water and dangerous, maiming munitions for hours on end.”
Dundon et al. v. Kirchmeir et al., United States District Court for the District of North Dakota| Case No. 1:16-cv-406 DLH-CSM
United States Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit | Case No. 22-1246
Courthouse News – Injured Standing Rock protesters press 8th Circuit to revive suit