ALONG THE CANNONBALL RIVER, North Dakota
The following story is brought to you by the taxpayers of North Dakota.
It was a bitter cold night on the Backwater Bridge when Efrain Montalvo got the desperate call from the front line.
“The medics were screaming for help, because they were overwhelmed,” remembered Montalvo, 25, a member of the International Indigenous Youth Council at Standing Rock. He looked up through white mists of teargas, cut by screams and shouts on the bridge. Native elders stood motionless in front of barricades of razor wire, clutching feathers, burning prayer bundles of sage, holding their ground. They were unarmed, eyes shut tight against the clouds of pepper spray. Others held up plywood shields or the tops of plastic bins against the spray. “Disperse!” shouted police, who then unleashed a fire hose, soaking protestors in the sub-freezing temperatures. Icicles formed on their hair. Their winter jackets crunched.
Montalvo moved swiftly toward the front line, carrying bottles of water and Milk of Magnesia (to relieve the teargas sting) toward the medics. Riot-clad police, ensconced behind concrete barriers and the looping wire, began firing rubber bullets. Montalvo watched an elder fall at his feet, his staff clattering to the pavement of the shut-down state highway. Then police launched a barrage of smoking teargas canisters from grenade launchers.
“That’s when people started panicking,” Montalvo recalled.
A tear gas canister hit Montalvo squarely in the chest. He inhaled its smoke deeply, then wandered aimlessly, hands over his eyes. Two minutes later he could see again. Another canister exploded at his feet. He saw a brilliant white light. Then everything went black and silent.