Sophia Wilansky was just 21 years old when she gathered with other Water Protectors on the Backwater bridge north of the Standing Rock encampment in North Dakota. She had come to the Oceti Sakowin camp in solidarity with the indigenous led movement to stop the Dakota Access Pipeline from destroying the Missouri River and exacerbating the human caused climate catastrophe affecting the entire planet. Hundreds of Water Protectors were subjected to cruel and illegal police violence including the use of water cannons in sub-zero temperatures, rubber bullets and other munitions, as well as copious amounts of tear gas, mace and other chemical weapons. In the early morning hours of November 21, 2016, police launched an exploding munition at Wilansky which tore off most of her arm and left her gravely injured. Fellow water protectors rushed her to emergency care and she was subsequently evacuated to a Minneapolis hospital in an attempt to save her arm from amputation.
While Wilansky’s family gathered around her hospital bed, they were besieged by FBI agents who demanded Sophia’s clothing, medical records, cellphones, and even threatened her doctors with intimidation. The FBI also seized the metal fragment that was removed from her arm during surgery. To this date, the FBI has refused to disclose the composition of the fragment nor will they permit her attorneys to have outside forensic analysis performed on the shrapnel in order to determine its origin. Rather than attempt to ascertain which of the many armored police caused Wilansky’s serious injuries, the FBI launched a federal investigation against Wilansky—even issuing a federal grand jury subpoena to the Native American Water Protector who rushed her to medical care on November 21st. Simultaneously, North Dakota law enforcement and private operatives like Tiger Swan initiated a false and defamatory media campaign attempting to blame Sophia Wilansky for blowing herself up on November 21st—including publishing fake photos and other information on the internet. Ever since this incident Wilansky has been subjected to additional security screenings every time she flies and has been extensively detained every time she has entered the U.S. at the Canadian border.
Despite the threat made upon her life by North Dakota law enforcement on November 21st, despite the four surgeries that Wilansky has undergone thus far in order to restore minimal use of her arm, and despite the horrendous pain that she endures every single day as a result of the unconstitutional violations that she and other Water Protectors were subjected to at Standing Rock, Sophia Wilansky has not been deterred from standing up for what she believes is right. Wilansky has spent the last year continuing to support numerous campaigns to stop the ever-expanding oil and gas debacle, including environmental justice battles against pipelines disparately affecting indigenous communities in the U.S. and Canada.
In addition, Wilansky is currently planning to file a federal civil rights action against North Dakota law enforcement and others for violating her constitutional rights by subjecting her to potentially deadly police violence while she stood passively on the bridge, and then trying to cover it up by accusing her of causing her own injuries. Sophia Wilansky will not be deterred from seeking justice—for her and for the thousands of land, water, and climate defenders who continue to fight government and corporate greed in order to preserve a livable planet for all of us.
“The police commit daily acts of violence against Black, Brown, and Indigenous people, murdering Native people at a higher rate than any other group. Extractive industry does the same thing, only more slowly and insidiously. The fact that state actors are willing to assault and maim anyone who stands for the water within an indigenous-led movement only means that each of us must strengthen our resolve to contribute in our own way to the struggle to defend life and end the colonizing institutions that threaten it. No attack on my body or my character will silence me or prevent me from returning to the frontline as soon as I am physically able” said Sophia Wilansky.
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