The Army Corps of Engineers announced plans on Friday to evict the Oceti Sakowin camp in North Dakota, saying anti-pipeline protestors have until December 5 to leave. The camp is a key site in the ongoing fight against the Dakota Access Pipeline, a controversial $3.8-billion pipeline project that would run through the only water supply for the Standing Rock Sioux Reservation.
The pipeline protestors — who call themselves water protectors — face arrest if they don’t vacate the camp in time, Col. John Henderson of the Corps said in a letter delivered to Tribal Chairman Cave Archambault II on Friday. Citing weather and safety concerns, Henderson claimed the decision was “necessary” to shield the public from “the violent confrontation between protestors and law enforcement officials that have occurred in this area.”
— Ruth H. Hopkins (@RuthHHopkins) November 26, 2016
In a statement issued in response to the letter, Archambault II said that the Tribe was “deeply disappointed” by the decision, but reiterated their commitment to protecting the water supply and opposing the pipeline’s construction, particularly the section that would impact the Oahe Lake. “The best way to protect people during the winter, and reduce the risk of conflict between water protectors and militarized police, is to deny the easement for the Oahe crossing, and deny it now,” he said.
The Dakota Access pipeline is a 1,172 mile project that would move close to half a million barrels of crude oil per day through the Dakotas, Iowa, and Illinois. The project would run under a portion of the Missouri River that sits than a mile from the Standing Rock Sioux reservation. For months, tribal members and Indigenous activists concerned that a spill could devastate the tribe’s sole water supply and destroy sacred sites have been protesting the pipeline’s construction, amid increasing tension between law enforcement officials, who have deployed tear gas and water hoses against hundreds of protestors. According to NBC, a protestor was hospitalized after a grenade nearly blew off her arm.
Meanwhile, more than 30 protestors were arrested at a mall in Bismarck, North Dakota on Black Friday, in a rally planned to coincide with the busiest shopping day of the year. Chaotic video footage captured of the incident shows police arresting dozens of protestors, many chanting “Water is Life.” At one point, they appear to hurl a woman to the ground.
“They just grabbed that woman by the hair, they pulled her down by the hair,” someone says.
Last month, more than 140 people were arrested and dozens injured after law enforcement officials deployed pepper spray and bean bag shots to remove protestors from a camp; earlier this month, police officers pepper sprayed dozens of protestors standing waist-deep in water and shot at least two with rubber bullets.
“My kids get maced every single day,” Eryn Wise of the Indigenous Youth Council told ThinkProgress’ Laurel Raymond. “They tease me and say that the mace doesn’t hurt as bad anymore. I wash it out of their hair, and I’m sick and tired of having to use the water that we’re fighting for to wash the pain off of them.”
Prominent environmental organizations have condemned the aggression, as well as the recent announcement by the Army Corps of Engineers.
“This attempt to dislodge water protectors from their own lands as they stand up for their rights and protect their heritage is a disrespectful and disappointing decision by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers,” the Sierra Club said in a statement following the Army Corps’ announcement. “If anyone should vacate this land, it is Energy Transfer, the company recklessly pushing this pipeline. The Sierra Club continues to stand with our tribal allies as they peacefully organize in this historic effort, and it is clear we are all determined to continue to keep up this fight in the weeks and months to come.”