The Standing Rock Sioux tribal council accepted $375,000 in donations from wind farm companies as it prepared earlier this year to fight the Dakota Access pipeline, raising questions about whether the green-energy industry is fueling the increasingly violent protests.
The council voted unanimously at its April 5 meeting to accept two $125,000 donations from Consolidated Edison Development, which owns a wind farm in nearby Campbell County, North Dakota, and Fagen Inc., a contractor on the project.
At its March 9 meeting, the council accepted $125,000 from ConEdison for “Oyate/community development,” according to the minutes posted online on the tribe’s website.
The donations came as the tribe girded to beat back the oil pipeline, which runs a half-mile from its reservation. On March 22, the council agreed to retain the environmental law firm Earthjustice “for the tribe’s co-counsel to oppose the Dakota Access pipeline.”
ConEdison did not respond immediately to requests for comment on the donations, first reported Wednesday by the Washington Free Beacon, while a Fagen spokeswoman said the chairman was out of town and could not be reached until next week.
In April, KFYR-TV reported that the funding was intended for a privatized housing development and as a show of thanks for the tribe’s help during construction.
“We wanted to go ahead and build the wind project and be part of the community. The tribe has other important issues that they need to deal with,” Mark Noyes, ConEdison president and CEO told the station. “And you work together to create a win/win for both organizations.”
In light of the monthslong uproar over the pipeline, Rob Port, a talk show host on North Dakota’s WDAY-AM who runs the Say Anything blog, said the companies and council should address the contributions.
“Both the tribe and these companies need to provide the public with a thorough explanation for what occasioned these payments,” said Mr. Port, “because right now they look like companies in an industry which competes with fossil fuels providing monetary aid to the organizers of often unlawful, often violent protests aimed at obstructing the safe, efficient transport of oil.”
Craig Stevens, spokesman for the Midwest Alliance for Infrastructure Now, which supports the pipeline, said the donations call into question the tribe’s motivations.
“If true, it’s disappointing that this protest appears to have never been about indigenous issues, but rather about getting money,” said Mr. Stevens. “What’s even more troubling though is that this threatens the credibility of other Native tribes who may have legitimate concerns in the future.”
The tribe, which did not respond Thursday to a request for comment, has urged the Obama administration to shut down the 1,172-mile, four-state project over concerns about water quality and historic relics.
As many as 3,000 protesters have built six camps on U.S. Army Corps of Engineers land near the pipeline construction site while the agency continues to withhold a previously approved permit on the project’s final 1,100 feet in North Dakota pending further review.
Tribal Chairman David Archambault II has called for supporters to join the “peaceful and prayerful” protest and “stand with Standing Rock,” but the tribe has been unable to control a core group of aggressive activists that has clashed repeatedly with law enforcement.
Local deputies have made about 500 arrests since Aug. 10 involving protesters trespassing and rioting on private property; throwing debris, rocks, Molotov cocktails and feces at officers, and setting vehicles and bridges on fire.
A report released this week on the 143 activists arrested during an Oct. 27 melee showed they have 764 previous citations and charges, including domestic violence, theft and burglary, driving under the influence, and drug-related offenses.
The analysis by the website I Am Netizen said that just 9 percent of those arrested are from North Dakota, while the others are from states such as California, Florida and Vermont.
“It’s been proven that environmental protesters are paid to cause issues, damage equipment and antagonize law enforcement,” said the report. “In fact, according to actual hard numbers, there have been 395 protesters arrested in connection with the riots.”
One woman was charged with attempted murder after firing three shots at deputies at the Oct. 27 protest, all three of which missed.