North Dakota’s governor has ordered the immediate evacuation of Native American and environmental activists camped out near the construction cite of the controversial Dakota Access Pipeline, which they are protesting.
Governor Jack Dalrymple’s order to protesters follows a November 27 announcement from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, which manages the cite, that set a Dec. 5 deadline for the land to be evacuated. Both authorities have cited the safety of the people camped out in freezing temperatures as the reason for the push for their removal.
The governor said his order was immediately effective, but did not specify how he would enforce it. He did say that he would direct state and local agencies to discontinue emergency assistance and other services to those who remain on the land.
Organizers of the anti-pipeline protests hold a news conference on November 26, 2016.
Protesters remain undeterred
Because the camp is on land managed by the federal government, County and State law enforcement do not have the power to forcibly remove campers. Morton County Commission Chairman Cody Schulz has expressed doubt that the Governor’s and Army Corps’s orders would deter protesters. He said that their recent statements are “self-serving and amounts to them limiting their liability”.
In response to the Governor’s order, the chairman of the local Standing Rock Sioux Tribe Dave Archambault II denounced it as a “menacing action meant to cause fear”. He doubted that authorities had the safety of the campers in mind, noting that police had sprayed protestors with a water cannon in freezing temperatures last week.
Standing Rock Sioux spokesperson Phyllis Young said at a news conference Monday night that the tribe planned to remain at the camp and continue to protest the construction of the oil pipline. The tribe believes the project threatens their source of drinking water and sacred grounds.
“We have lived for generations in this setting. That is our camp. We will continue to provide for our people there,” she said. “This is treaty territory, and no one else has jurisdiction there.”
Police spray protesters with a water cannon at a demonstration on November 20, 2016. Organizers reported that 17 people were taken to the hospital, some of them with hypothermia.
Dallas Goldtooth, an organizer with Indigenous Environmental Network, said that the expulsion of protestors could do more harm than good. “We are in the heart of winter now”, he said. “To even think of a forced removal is terrifying”.
Current temperatures in the region of the camp remain consistently below freezing, and the US National Weather Service has issued a winter storm warning effective through Wednesday.
A controversial project from the beginning
Members of the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe have been protesting the construction of the Dakota Access Pipeline since 2014. Increasing numbers of protesters from around the country have joined them since this summer. Over 525 people have been arrested since August.
The $3.8 billion pipeline project is meant to bring up to 570,000 barrels of crude oil daily from fracking fields in North Dakota to Illinois, passing through territory that historically has belonged to Native Americans.
The local tribe fears that the pipeline would disturb historical burial grounds and could endanger the tribe’s source of water, the Missouri River, under which the pipeline is supposed to pass. The company building the pipeline claims it has taken precautions against this.
ae/kl (Reuters, AP)