FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
March 18, 2021
Michelle Cook, Board Member, Water Protector Legal Collective, firstname.lastname@example.org
Natali Segovia, Staff Attorney, Water Protector Legal Collective, email@example.com
Bismarck, North Dakota - Five years after Standing Rock, the #NoDAPL struggle continues and the fight is not over for the Water Protector Legal Collective (WPLC).
WPLC is an Indigenous-led legal non-profit organization formed in the legal tent at Standing Rock. There, attorneys provided legal support and services to thousands of Water Protectors who had responded to the call from the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe, and were engaged in prayer, peaceful assembly, and protection of the water for future generations. WPLC coordinated free legal defense for more than 840 Water Protectors and successfully defeated the vast majority of charges.
Now, Energy Transfer Partners (ETP), the company behind the Dakota Access Pipeline (DAPL), has served WPLC with a SLAPP subpoena seeking access to confidential records and legal documents that are protected by the First Amendment and attorney-client privilege. WPLC has filed an objection to this subpoena in North Dakota District Court and will continue to fight it.
In 2017, ETP filed a SLAPP (Strategic Lawsuit Against Public Participation) against Greenpeace and other organizations in federal court, alleging, among other things, that they were involved in a “campaign of misinformation” against ETP, that “intended to, and did, incite violence, property destruction, and criminal sabotage designed to stop the construction and operation of DAPL.” When the federal court dismissed the case in 2019, ETP re-packaged its arguments and filed a new SLAPP in state district court; the WPLC subpoena stems from the latter ongoing case.
Corporations that file SLAPPs send a clear message to organizations and activists intended to silence resistance - “if you speak out against us, we’ll take you to court.” SLAPP suits and related subpoenas seeking information, are an abuse of power by extractive industries and large oil companies trying to intimidate those who advocate for justice and the environment.
Despite this, and although Indigenous peoples throughout the world continue to face physical and cultural extinction when their rights are violated for natural resource extraction by multinational companies, they remain steadfast in their commitment to protect the Earth.
Casey Camp-Horinek, a 70-year-old Elder of the Ponca Nation and WPLC board member, recalls: “I was among hundreds who were attacked by a militarized police force and pepper sprayed, zip-tied, had numbers written on our arms, put in dog cages in the freezing basement of Morton County jail along with my son and other relatives. 37 women were crammed into the cage I was in with no food or water, many reeking of pepper spray, sick and injured. All this because we stood in prayer. We have survived over 500 years of these tactics and we will not be silenced. We stand strong together on behalf of our one true Mother, the Earth.”
SLAPPs and related invasive subpoenas are tactics designed to bury organizations in litigation and force organizations to spend precious resources, time, and energy defending against corporations.
“It is clear that through this SLAPP subpoena, ETP is on a fishing expedition for information that could lend credence to their ill-founded notion that nonprofit organizations and Water Protectors seeking to protect human rights and the earth for future generations were allegedly engaged in illicit activity. In reality, it is ETP and large corporations that break the law with impunity. Case in point, to date, despite the DC Circuit Court of Appeals ruling against ETP, the Dakota Access Pipeline continues to operate illegally,” said WPLC Staff Attorney, Natali Segovia.
The requests by ETP are broad, vague, create an unreasonable burden, and seek information from WPLC and the Water Protectors defended by WPLC-associated attorneys in over 800 criminal defense cases. In addition, the subpoena seeks information about sources of funding, in further violation of the nonprofit organization’s First Amendment rights.
“When lawyers and legal organizations that are protecting Indigenous rights and the earth are targeted by a corporation through the legal system and SLAPP tactics, we should all be outraged,” said WPLC Executive Director, Leoyla Cowboy. She adds, resolutely, “Our work on behalf of Water Protectors, the water, and the earth is sacred. It is work we do for future generations. We will not be coerced or intimidated into silence.”
WPLC is represented in North Dakota by Attorney Chad Nodland.
WPLC is an Indigenous-centered legal nonprofit organization born out of the Indigenous-led movement to stop the Dakota Access Pipeline at Standing Rock. WPLC provides legal support and advocacy for Indigenous peoples, the Earth, and climate justice movements.
Please consider supporting WPLC’s work and help WPLC fight back against powerful corporations that seek to silence those that fight for our sacred lands.
WPLC hopes to raise resources for legal defense against ETP and continue their fight for Water Protectors and the land they protect. This is an urgent call to action as our information and privacy is just as sacred as the people and land we protect.
To learn more about the Water Protector Legal Collective visit: www.waterprotectorlegal.org
You can support WPLC by:
Contributing directly to WPLC at www.waterprotectorlegal.org/donate
Tax deductible donation of $100 or more can be made to WPLC through our fiscal sponsor National Lawyers Guild Foundation at: www.nlg.org/donate/waterprotectorlegal/
PayPal directly to WPLC and Cashapp ($WaterProtectorLegal) directly to WPLC
Mail a check payable to: Water Protector Legal Collective, P.O. Box 37065, Albuquerque, N.M. 87176