Jack Dalrymple, North Dakota’s governor, issued a statement on Monday, November 28th, stating that the water protectors who have set up a camp, known as Oceti Sakowin, on land north of the Standing Rock Sioux tribe’s reservation must leave immediately and not return.
Dalrymple’s order called for an “emergency evacuation” of the main encampment that is being used by thousands of indigenous people and their supporters to oppose oil pipeline construction work at Standing Rock.
However, despite citing concerns of “harsh winter conditions,” Dalrymple has not yet authorized law enforcement to carry out the order.
The governor has the power to sign this executive action due to the Disaster Act of 1985, which allows him to “direct and compel [evacuations] from any stricken or threatened area” in the event of natural or manmade disasters.
The executive order also states, “Winter conditions have the potential to endanger human life, especially when they are exposed to these conditions without proper shelter, dwellings, or sanitation for prolonged periods of time.”
Many of the peaceful demonstrators have been camped out since April to oppose construction work of a pipeline that is planned to run through the Missouri River, the Standing Rock Sioux tribe’s main water source. There is strong reason to believe that in the future the pipeline could potentially poison the tribes, as well as surrounding areas, the surrounding area’s water supply.
The camp is on what is known as Army Corps land close to the site where the Texas-based Energy Transfer Partners have been hoping to complete the last section of the highly controversial Dakota Access pipeline. If the $3.8 billion project is completed, the pipeline will run from North Dakota to Illinois.
According to the executive order, “Morton County is currently experiencing severe winter weather storm conditions, and it is anticipated harsh winter conditions will continue until next spring.”
This executive order follows an eviction notice issued by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to the Standing Rock Sioux tribe on Friday, November 25th. This order stated that land north of the reservation would be closed to the public as of December 5th and that a “free speech zone” would be set up nearby where people would be free to demonstrate.
The statement also explained, “The Army Corps of Engineers is seeking a peaceful and orderly transition to a safer location, and has no plans for forcible removal.” However, “Those who remain will be considered unauthorized and may be subject to citation under federal, state, or local laws.”
Ironically, the land that the tribes are being requested to move from is original Lakota territory as per the 1851 and 1868 Treaties of Fort Laramie. The Native Americans never formally agreed to the government taking the land, however, the government claimed it regardless.
The corps letter also details that one of the reasons for the eviction is due to a requirement for adequate access for emergency vehicles. However, it was Morton County’s law enforcement team that used vehicles as a blockade on Highway 1806. Backwater Bridge, which is the main road into the camp, was part of the blockade causing emergency access to be blocked as well. When water protectors tried to remove the vehicles they were shot with rubber bullets and sprayed with water cannons in freezing weather conditions.
Adding to this, the request for the camp to relocate at short notice is extremely dangerous, as the water protectors have been working hard for months to adequately prepare the camp so that it is set up for challenging weather conditions.
Closing off sections of the camp and forcing people to attempt to set up camp in a new area in freezing conditions with heavy snow could potentially jeopardize the safety of the water protectors and possibly endanger life.
In response to the eviction order, Dallas Goldtooth, a member of the Indigenous Environmental Network explained, “We stand by our original instructions, as Indigenous Peoples, ready to defend the dreams of our ancestors and protect the sacredness of Mother Earth,” wrote Dallas Goldtooth, an activist with the Indigenous Environmental Network, on Facebook. Goldtooth has been at the Oceti Sakowin camp for months. Hard times may be ahead, but we got this.”
Chairman of the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe, Dave Archambault II responded to the Army Corps letter saying, “Our tribe is deeply disappointed in this decision by the United States, but our resolve to protect our water is stronger than ever.” He continued, “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. We ask that everyone who can appeal to President Obama and the Army Corps of Engineers to consider the future of our people and rescind all permits, and deny the easement to cross the Missouri River just north of our Reservation and straight through our treaty lands.”
Founder of the Sacred Stone camp, LaDonna Brave Bull Allard has said that the governor does not have authority over the land and the water protectors will not be evacuating. She spoke of notice of the recent eviction saying, “We are not leaving. We are standing. Ask every grandma who is standing out there.”
Making clear reference to the amount of times ancient tribes have been forcibly moved from the land they reside on she stated, “This time we are standing. This is taken land. We have a right to be there.” Commenting on claims that the government are is asking the water protectors to leave due to health and safety reasons LaDonna responded, “Winter is a normal thing for us. The people are prepared and ready.”
At this stage it is not clear how the eviction notices are going to be enforced.
Pipeline construction is almost complete in North Dakota, but Energy Transfer Partners still lack the final permit to drill under the river. On Tuesday, November 15th, the company filed papers in court asking to have a judge force the government to allow it to begin drilling immediately.
Energy Transfer Partners and its subsidiary, Sunoco Logistics Partners, announced they are seeking “judgment declaring that Dakota Access Pipeline has the legal right-of-way to build, complete and operate the Dakota Access Pipeline without any further action from the Army Corps of Engineers.”
Pipelines are a real and serious concern as oil spills are not rare occurrences. Sunoco Logistics (Energy Transfer is the parent company of Sunoco and the pipeline company who are responsible for constructing the Dakota Access pipeline) have had a recorded 200 leaks on their pipes since 2010.
In total there were 3,000 pipeline spills in the U.S. between 2010 and 2015.
“If the white man wants to live in peace with the Indian, he can live in peace. Treat all men alike. Give them all the same law. Give them all an even chance to live and grow. All men were made by the same Great Spirit Chief. They are all brothers. The Earth is the mother of all people, and all people should have equal rights upon it. Let me be a free man, free to travel, free to stop, free to work, free to trade. Where I choose my own teachers, free to follow the religion of my fathers, free to think and talk and act for myself, and I will obey every law, or submit to the penalty.” ~ Chief Joseph, Nez Perces
Author: Alex Myles
Editor: Travis May