Pipe­line pro­test­ers vow to re­main at camp­site

Daily Freeman (Kingston, NY) - - NATION+WORLD - By James Macpher­son

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.

JAMES MACPHER­SON — THE AS­SO­CI­ATED PRESS

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.

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