— Ava DuVernay (@ava) February 22, 2017
Last night there were only a few dozen people remaining at the Oceti Sakowin camp at Standing Rock where water protectors were protesting the $3.8 billion Dakota Access Pipeline.
The state had placed a deadline for an emergency eviction of the camp by February 22nd 2017, citing hazards posed by impending floods along the Cannonball River. Although many have left voluntarily and peacefully to the sound of chanting, singing and drumming, it was due to law enforcement showing up in riot-gear and threatening to arrest the protestors.
During the months that demonstrators have been protesting the pipeline work, there has been widespread criticism of the excessive force used against the water protectors. It has been reported that in total there have been more than 700 arrests.
Since President Donald Trump signed an executive order on the controversial $3.8 billion Dakota Access pipeline, law enforcement have aggressively prosecuted and investigated the remaining demonstrators at the Standing Rock camp. Ten people were arrested on Wednesday during the evacuation.
On Trump’s fourth full day in office, he went against former President Barack Obama’s environmental policies and moved to expand traditional energy infrastructure.
North Dakota Governor Doug Burgum spoke at a press conference on Wednesday evening saying that he expected complete access to the camp by today, Thursday February 23rd.
The eviction of Oceti Sakowin, which was the central camp in Cannon Ball, will be a major blow to the Native Americans and their supporters who have up until now relentlessly attempted to protect the land from construction work for an oil pipeline. They have been protesting the 1,172-mile pipeline project since April 2016 as there is a strong reason to believe that in the future the pipeline could potentially poison the tribe’s, and the surrounding area’s water supply.
Many of the peaceful demonstrators, who call themselves water protectors, have been camped out since April 2016 to oppose construction work of the Dakota Access the 1,172-mile pipeline project that is planned to run through the Missouri River, the Standing Rock Sioux tribe’s main water source.
During the last hours at the camp, as freezing rain and snow fell, some water protectors ceremoniously lit fires where tipis, huts, yurts and shelters have stood for many months including throughout a grueling winter.
Vanessa Castle of the Lower Elwha Klallam tribe who has been at the camp since October explained:
“People have said their last prayers, and offered cedar to the sacred fire and are also burning these structures we have ceremonially built, so they must be ceremonially removed. They cannot be bulldozed, no other hands or malice of bad intentions can touch them.”
A small group of approximately 50 demonstrators currently remain at the camp and are praying and singing as police close in on them. Burgum explained that they will be allowed to leave the camp without arrest, saying:
“You know that our big ask for tomorrow is anyone remaining in the camp, we want to make sure that they know they have an opportunity to voluntarily leave. Take your belongings, remove anything that may be culturally significant and we’ll help you get on your way if you need to do that.”
Stephanie Big Eagle, a member of the Yankton Sioux tribe, explained:
“Some people are trying to do final cleanup, and there are still people there who are going to remain until they are removed. I’m worried for their safety, we all are. We’re praying for them.”
She then gathered with many others at a separate camp nearby.
Another Standing Rock member, Floris White Bull explained how the eviction will effect on water protectors:
“I know for a fact that every single person that’s going to be forcibly removed is going to be traumatized and suffer distress. That’s not easy,” adding, “I think it’s just the beginning of a global awakening. People are becoming more conscious of their choices and their own voice and realizing the power in unity.”
An assistance center has been set up by North Dakota authorities to provide food, water and a medical check to those leaving the camp as well as a voucher for a night at a hotel and a bus ride home.
Governor Burgum told an evening news conference, “We’ve very firm that the camp is now closed.” Following orders from Burgum and U.S. army corps of engineers, extensive blockades and checkpoints have been set up to prevent anyone from getting close to the area of the original camp.
The pipeline is due to be complete and ready for oil by April 1st, according to court documents filed on Tuesday.
Ironically, the land that the tribes are being requested to move from that the army engineer corps now controls 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.
Pipelines are a real and serious concern as oil spills are not rare occurrences. Last year 55,000 gallons were poured into one of the United States’ most endangered rivers in Pennsylvania, threatening the drinking water of up to six million people.
Sunoco Logistics (the pipeline company who owns the pipeline in Gambletown, Pennsylvania) has recorded 200 leaks on their pipes since 2010.
Sunoco’s parent company, Energy Transfer Partners, is the company responsible for constructing the Dakota Access pipeline.
In total there were 3,000 pipeline spills in the U.S. between 2010 and 2015.
Chase Iron Eyes, a Standing Rock Sioux member, explained that despite the closure of the camp the momentum would live on, “You can’t arrest a movement. You can’t arrest a spiritual revolution,” he said.
Author: Alex Myles
Editor: Sara Kärpänen