Montana to Talk to Tribes Before Sending Police to Protests

The state sent 10 highway patrol troopers to help police the protest

By MATT VOLZ, Associated Press

HELENA — Montana Gov. Steve Bullock said Thursday that he will consult with the state’s Native American leaders before fulfilling any future requests for law-enforcement assistance at the site of an oil pipeline protest near a reservation in North Dakota.

Conditions near the Standing Rock Sioux Reservation have changed since he approved the last request from North Dakota in October as part of a compact between states to assist in emergencies, Bullock said in a statement. Then, the state sent 10 highway patrol troopers to help police the protest, and those troopers are due to return home on Sunday.

The governor added that he supports President Barack Obama’s call for pausing construction of the $3.8 billion pipeline through North Dakota, South Dakota and Iowa to a shipping point in Illinois.

“My thoughts are with the thousands of people, including Montanans, gathered around Standing Rock in North Dakota,” Bullock said. “Working government to government, we look forward to a quick and peaceful resolution”

Bullock spokeswoman Ronja Abel said Bullock released the statement to quell rumors circulating on social media that Montana planned to send additional law-enforcement personnel. “The governor wants to make sure that all parties involved have accurate and appropriate information about the facts regarding the situation at Standing Rock in North Dakota,” she said.

Officials from Montana’s Native American tribes contacted the governor’s office after the state sent its troopers to North Dakota last month. “Our discussions have been varied, and we have appreciated all of them,” Abel said.

Clashes between police and protesters trying to stop construction of the pipeline have resulted in more than 400 arrests since August. Last week, police used pepper spray on dozens of protesters trying to cross a stream to property owned by the pipeline developer and where officers previously cleared a protester encampment.

Gallatin County Sheriff Brian Gootkin had announced plans to take four deputies to the protest, but then canceled them after receiving numerous calls and emails by people urging him not to do so. “I serve the people, and the people have spoken” Gootkin told the Bozeman Daily Chronicle.

Wyoming also has drawn fire from tribal leaders for sending six troopers to the protests last month. Gov. Matt Mead previously said sending the troopers represented only a desire to extend emergency help to another state and didn’t signal that Wyoming had taken a position on the pipeline controversy.

Those troopers returned home on Wednesday.

Capt. Shawn Dickerson, co-commander of the Special Services Squad at the Wyoming Highway Patrol, said the troopers did not use any force against the protesters “beyond normal crowd control movements.”

Wyoming officials said there are no plans to send more troopers.

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