Dakota Access Pipeline protesters who refuse to leave federal lands north of Cannonball River in North Dakota after Dec. 5 will not be forcibly removed, according to the latest statement from US authorities.
The US Army Corps of Engineers said on Sunday that it does not intend to forcibly remove activists protesting plans to run an oil pipeline beneath a lake near the Standing Rock Sioux reservation, following an announcement last week that it plans to close public access to the main protest site north of the Cannonball River on Dec. 5 and a vow from organizers of the 5,000-person protest that they would not move.
Demonstrators – who prefer to be called "water protectors" – remaining past that date will be considered unauthorized and could be prosecuted for trespassing, the agency said in a statement. In addition, emergency services may not be adequately provided to the area.
"The Army Corps of Engineers is seeking a peaceful and orderly transition to a safer location," the statement said. "This will reduce the risk of harm to people in the encampments caused (by) the harsh North Dakota winter conditions."
The announcement came one day after organizers of the demonstration, which has lasted about eight months so far, told reporters at the main protest site that they did not plan to leave the area after the set evacuation date.
"We are staying here committed to our prayer," Dallas Goldtooth, an organizer with the Indigenous Environmental Network, told Reuters. "Forced removal and state oppression? This is nothing new to us as native people."
The protest has marked for native Americans both a reconnection with collective traditions and religion and a transformation into a leading force in the domestic movement on climate change, as Henry Gass reported for The Christian Science Monitor earlier this month:
The $3.8 billion pipeline, which is more than half-built already, would cross four states and carry up to 570,000 barrels of crude oil per day from North Dakota’s Bakken oil patch to Illinois pipelines that feed Gulf Coast refineries. Dallas-based Energy Transfer Partners, the pipeline’s developer, says it will create thousands of local construction jobs and millions in tax revenue. The planned route would bring the pipeline within half a mile of the Standing Rock Sioux reservation, however, and the tribe believes the pipeline has destroyed sacred sites and may pollute the Missouri River, a key water source...
It isn’t clear when construction could finish, but it is clear that the protest has had a profound effect on Indian country. Regardless of the ultimate outcome, the protest is likely to only further build momentum for native activism that has been growing since the Keystone XL protests and the Idle No More movement of earlier this decade.
The project, which spans 1,172 miles, is, for the most part, complete, except for the segment set to run underneath Lake Oahe, which sits less than half a mile away from Standing Rock. In September, the Obama administration postponed final approval of a permit required to move forward with tunneling beneath the lake in an effort to give federal officials extended time to consult with tribal leaders.
Since August, more than 525 people from across the country have been arrested in clashes between water protectors and law enforcement. Last week, at least 17 activists were taken to the hospital after police used tear gas, rubber bullets, and large water hoses on demonstrators in freezing weather.
This report includes material from the Associated Press and Reuters.