A pair of UNBC graduate students have now been released after being arrested in North Dakota at the Dakota Access oil pipeline protest on Thursday.
UNBC has confirmed 44 year old Katriona Auerbach and Nicole Schafenacker in her late 20s or early 30s were both arrested at the event in which more than 140 allegedly peaceful protesters were taken into custody. It’s believed both students were released sometime late Saturday afternoon or evening.
Dr. Sarah de Leeuw supervises the indigenous health issue research of both students in the Interdisciplinary Studies program at UNBC and has been in contact with family members to find out more information on the arrests. “We know from Nicole’s mom that they were participating in a prayer circle at the time of their arrest,” de Leeuw said. “I just want to really emphasize these are global students trying to act on their conscience in the best possible way and these were not violent law-breaking students going down to the United States to participate in anything in a knowing way that would lead to their arrests.”
Dr. de Leeuw says no charges have been officially laid, but both are unable to leave the United States at this time. “They were rounded up and held in what was described as cages with up to 35 people in each cage and we now know that the two students were separated and processed in correctional facilities 200 kilometers a part from each other.” Auerbach was processed at the Morton County Correctional Center, while Schafenacker was taken to the Cass County Correctional Facility.
At this point, de Leeuw says charges are pending. “One charge is criminal trespassing I believe and another has to do with conspiracy,” she said. “I believe the conspiracy charge is a larger charge and will severely impact these students for the rest of their lives.” Dr. de Leuww continued, “We don’t know if the students are in touch with each other, we don’t know in other words if Nicole and Katriona have managed to come back together and have managed to figure out what sort of pending circumstances they’re in. Are they able to leave the country if charges are pending come December? We’re really here operating in a landscape of the unknown and a landscape of hope.”
UNBC President Daniel Weeks says he will defend the rights of his students to take a positions and exercise their rights to free speech in a peaceful manner. “The University is an incubator for thought leadership, a facilitator of respectful dialogue and conversation, and a place for scholarly achievement. We empower our community to conduct research, to be advocates for their beliefs, and to participate in public discourse,” he said.
For now, de Lueew says all UNBC can do is stand in solidarity with its students. “I think we all hope the charges against them will simply be dropped, that is a potential that the judicial system will understand their simply isn’t enough evidence to charge the over 140 peaceful protesters that were rounded up on Thursday,” she said. “However, before that happens, they are living with the spectre of formal criminal charges against them.”
Weeks is now working with de Leuuw to continue to monitor the situation with the goal of getting the students back on campus.
The next scheduled court appearance for both UNBC students is set for December.