It’s a small sigh of relief for two UNBC graduate students.
Indigenous health research students, Katriona Auerbach and Nicole Schafenacker who were arrested last month in North Dakota at the Dakota Access Pipeline Project have each had their criminal felony charges dropped.
The student’s supervisor, Dr. Sarah de Leeuw says all 141 people at the Dakota protest faced that felony charge which has now been lifted for everyone. “That charge has been dropped, so that was a criminal felony charge and it carried with it a prison sentence of up to five to seven years.”
Dr. de Leeuw is optimistic about the news, but said the pair is still not in the clear. “Both women are still facing the potential of two misdemeanor charges which carry up to one year prison sentences,” she said. “As people who are trying to participate with civic democracy, they are tasked with thinking through in a scholarly and educational fashion so we need to support them.”
Now back in Canada, Auerbach called CKPG News from Fort Langley, BC Monday where she was heading back down to North Dakota for a court appearance. She told us briefly about what the scene on the ground was like the day she was arrested at the Standing Rock Indian Reservation. “The police and the national guard and all the guys behind the guns and the tanks and the airplanes were hovering over us the whole time so it was really a life changing experience.”
Auerbach says she will continue to be an advocate alongside Schafenacker of Indigenous rights. “We’re talking about problems with the pipeline and indigenous injustices and the treaties and the way they’ve been treated for so long and speaking about it not with hate or with anger, but in a good way, it’s about change,” she said. “The way people are coming together, they’re coming out of their living rooms and they’re standing up for what they know in their heart is right and the more of us that can do that, the more we can make the world a better place.”
The pair will not have to make an appearance in a North Dakota courtroom December 5th in relation to the criminal felony charge. The misdemeanor charges will require both students to be present in North Dakota court. Auerbach said she expects that court date to be set for February or March of 2017.