With winter weather moving into North Dakota, indigenous communities and environmental activists protesting the controversial Dakota Access Pipeline face an uncertain future as government and law enforcement threaten to close the protest camp and cut off supply lines.
On Friday, the Army Corps of Engineers announced plans to evict anti-pipeline protesters from the Oceti Sakowin camp in North Dakota. The protesters, who refer to themselves as “water protectors,” have been camping out for months in an effort to stop the construction of the Dakota Access pipeline, which would run through the only water supply for the Standing Rock Sioux Reservation. The Army Corps later said it had no plans to forcibly remove campers from the site.
Late Monday evening, however, North Dakota’s governor added to the uncertainty surrounding the future of the protest camp by ordering the eviction of those situated at the camp, citing threats to health and safety like harsh winter weather and a blizzard.
— Erin Schrode (@ErinSchrode) November 29, 2016
Standing Rock Chairman Dave Archambault II noted the irony in Gov. Jack Dalrymple’s (R) supposed concern for the health of the protesters by pointing out that, less than a week ago, police targeted protesters with water cannons in below-freezing temperatures.
“This state executive order is a menacing action meant to cause fear, and is a blatant attempt by the state and local officials to usurp and circumvent federal authority,” Archambault II said in a statement. “As I have stated previously, the most dangerous thing we can do is force well-situated campers from their shelters and into the cold.”
Oceti Sakowin camp sits on land that is technically owned by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. But the land is within the area of the 1851 Fort Laramie Treaty, which designated land for the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe. The water protectors have long cited the Standing Rock Sioux’s sovereign right to the land, granted by the 1851 treaty, as a primary reason why the pipeline should not be constructed along the proposed route.
As of Tuesday, the governor had yet to authorize law enforcement to begin forcibly removing campers from the protest site. But North Dakota law enforcement did announce that they were beginning a blockade of supplies into the camp, effectively cutting off protesters from supplies like food and building materials. The North Dakota Department of Transportation has also released a no travel advisory for south central parts of the state, citing heavy snow that is causing near zero-visibility in some areas.
Thus far, no campers have been forcibly removed from the Oceti Sakowin camp, and no supply vehicles have been turned back. But Archambault worried that the governor’s order could be used by law enforcement to “enable further human rights violations.”
The Standing Rock Sioux have already asked the Department of Justice to investigate law enforcement tactics being used against protesters. And on Monday, protesters filed a police brutality lawsuit against law enforcement, accusing them of using excessive force to break up a protest on November 20. Throughout the months of protests, heavily-militarized police have allegedly used pepper spray, water cannons, and rubber bullets, among other tactics, against protesters.