Pipeline protesters vow to remain at campsite
Dakota Access oil pipeline protesters will not follow a government directive to leave the federal land where hundreds have camped for months, organizers said Saturday, despite state officials encouraging them to do so.
Standing Rock Sioux tribal leader Dave Archambault and other protest organizers confidently explained that they’ll stay at the Oceti Sakowin camp and continue with nonviolent protests a day after Archambault received a letter from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers that said all federal lands north of the Cannonball River will be closed to public access on Dec. 5 for “safety concerns.”
The Corps cited the oncoming winter and increasingly contentious clashes between protesters, who believe the pipeline could harm drinking water and Native American cultural sites, and police.
“We are wardens of this land. This is our land and they can’t remove us,” said protester Isaac Weston, who is an Oglala Sioux member from South Dakota. “We have every right to be here to protect our land and to protect our water.”
The vast majority of the several hundred people fighting against the four-state, $3.8 billion pipeline have created a self-sustaining community at the sprawling camp, which is on Corps land in southern North Dakota, and have put up semi-permanent structures or brought motor homes and trailers in advance of the harsh winter.
On the unseasonably warm Saturday, people were chopping wood and setting up tents at the encampment, which is more than a mile from a Missouri River reservoir where the final large segment of the pipeline is yet to be completed due to the Corps consulting with the tribe. Authorities had set up a staging area about a mile away on a hill overlooking the site.
Dallas Goldtooth, a protest organizer with the Indigenous Environmental Network, said it is “an atrocious example that colonization has not ended for us here as indigenous people,” and that the government’s request will escalate already rocky tensions.
Representatives from the Army Corps of Engineers didn’t immediately return multiple messages Friday or Saturday seeking comment and verification of the letter.
Last month, the Corps said it would not evict the encampment, which started as overflow from smaller private and permitted protest sites nearby and began growing in August.
President Barack Obama raised the possibility of rerouting the pipeline in that area earlier this month, something Kelcy Warren, CEO of Texas-based pipeline developer Energy Transfer Partners, told The Associated Press is not an option from the company’s standpoint. Obama said his administration is monitoring the “challenging situation” but would “let it play out for several more weeks.”
Some of the protests have resulted in violent confrontations — one woman suffered a serious arm injury last weekend — and more than 500 people have been arrested since August.
The Corps’ letter, according to Archambault, said that those who stay on the land after Dec. 5 may be prosecuted, and that there’ll be a free speech zone south of the river.
Archambault said Saturday that he doesn’t believe the Corps will forcibly evict people from the camp, adding that the tribe is working to provide protesters protection from the elements on its reservation, which is south of the Cannonball River, but offered few details.
Organizers of protests against the construction of the Dakota Access oil pipeline speak at a news conference on Saturday near Cannon Ball, N.D. They said they have a right to remain on land where they have been camped for months.