Dakota Access Pipeline (DAPL) protesters say that about 1,000 people are still at the camp despite winter storms and sub-zero temperatures, KFYR-TV reports, and they say that they’ll be there as long as it takes.
After the onset of bitter winter weather and the news that the Army Corps of Engineers denied the easement for the pipeline to cross the Missouri River, many speculated that the DAPL protesters would leave the Oceti Sakowin Camp in Cannon Ball, in North Dakota’s southern Morton County. However, the people at the Dakota Access protest camp, who call themselves water protectors, say they aren’t going anywhere.
They say they’re sticking it out, despite bitterly cold temperatures and challenges of life at the camp, for several reasons, GMA reports. Most of those who remain are Native Americans, and they want to support the fight for the rights of the Standing Rock Sioux, whose land is adjacent to the pipeline. They also worry about what will happen if they leave.
Some water protectors worry that if they leave, Energy Transfer Partners will restart construction of the $3.8 billion pipeline, even though the project has been halted while the tribes and ETP are locked in a court battle. The company asked a federal judge in early December to overrule the government’s decision and grant the easement, which he declined. Both sides are due back in court in February.
President-elect Donald Trump, who according to financial disclosure forms owned stock in ETP through at least mid-2016, could order the Army Corps to grant the permit when he takes office at the end of January. Trump’s choice for U.S. Energy Secretary, former Texas Governor Rick Perry, is also on ETP’s board of directors, which doesn’t bode well for the protesters.
Victor Herrald of the Cheyenne River Sioux Tribe in South Dakota said that he is determined to stay and see things out.
“I’ve seen some of my friends leave but I will be here until the end and will stand up to Trump if he decides to approve the permit,” said Herrald, who has been at the camp since August.
“Nothing’s changed for me. I’m still here, I ain’t going nowhere,” said fellow water protector Oscar Highelk. “I’m here to protect all I can, to help out as much as I can and trying to make things right and keep things right.”
Some of the protesters also travel to the camp during the day from their homes on the nearby Standing Rock reservation, but the majority of the protesters remain at the camp full time.
Governor Jack Dalrymple, who announced on Tuesday that he met with Standing Rock Chairman Dave Archambault to discuss “a path forward,” said the camp’s population was around 300 people. Those at the camp say that number is actually close to 1,000.
Warren Piengkham said that numbers at the protest camp have fluctuated quite a lot, with thousands of water protectors joining the Standing Rock protest in recent times. He said that the core number of about 1,000 at the camp remains, though.
The camp’s numbers swelled to about 10,000 people at the high point of the DAPL protest, including about 4,000 veterans who showed up in early December days before before the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers denied an easement needed to allow the pipeline to run under Lake Oahe.
“There was a Thanksgiving rush, then there were the veterans that were here. But before that, this was about the numbers we had before all those people showed up,” he said.
Most of the larger structures at the protest camp remain, despite harsh winter conditions. That said, the protesters who have stayed face serious challenges. Sub-zero temperatures have made every-day chores serious burdens.
Theron Begay, a Navajo journeyman who is a certified construction worker and heavy machine operator, has been put in charge of winterizing the camp and helping to take care of construction needs for the camp. Begay says he is training volunteers to build structures that can withstand sub-zero temperatures and bitter winds.
Some water protectors have gotten pneumonia and an emergency shelter was also constructed about three miles from the camp for people to escape the cold. They are also building compost toilets since the camp is located on a flood plain and waste from the camp poses risks to the nearby Cannonball River.
To make things more dificult, since Tribal leaders have said the camp may need to move if it wants to remain active, Begay said the structures can be “disassembled like a puzzle in two hours” and re-established in new areas.
Those who remain at the camp say they’ll do what it takes to see this through, though.
“I quit my job, so I don’t got nothing. This is my responsibility, taking care of these people,” says Piengkham.
Those who remain at the camp are still receiving donations of money and supplies from people across the United States and around the world. The camp’s emergency shelter was filled with delivery boxes from Amazon on a recent visit.
Tom Goldtooth, executive director of the Indigenous Environmental Network, said the protest is transitioning “to the next level of our campaign” to continue efforts to stop the pipeline. He said tribal leaders are talking about the next step for the water protectors.
“We will continue to provide infrastructure support to those who stay here,” he said. “We’ll make sure they’re safe and warm.”
[Featured Image by Scott Olson/Getty Images]