Arrests are reportedly happening near the disputed Dakota Access Pipeline as authorities attempt to remove the few remaining protesters standing their ground at Standing Rock. It has been less than a month since Donald Trump signed a controversial executive order allowing the stalled construction on the $3.8 billion, multi-state crude oil pipeline to proceed, and protesters had been given until 2:00 p.m. to vacate Oceti Sakowin, the primary protest camp of the Standing Rock protesters.
Protesters have been demonstrating against the Dakota Access Pipeline since last spring, with many (primarily Native American) protesters actually residing at the protest camps near Cannon Ball, North Dakota. The protests against the pipeline were lead by the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe, who have long argued that the pipeline poses a threat to their clean, fresh water.
The Dakota Access Pipeline is nearly completed, with just a final segment under Lake Oahe needing to be constructed before the oil can begin to flow. According to Energy Transfer Partners, a company behind the pipeline, it’s possible that the construction can be completed and oil transport begun within a few short weeks. That is, if the state, local, and federal government can clear out the remaining protesters standing in the way of the project.
As The Guardian reports, the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe and the rest of the Standing Rock protesters on the ground, dubbed “water protectors” for their efforts, the Standing Rock Sioux have treaty rights over the land where the pipeline construction is to be completed. While not technically part of their reservation, and officially on land belonging to the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, the tribe claims that the project is a violation of said treaty.
At the end of 2016, the Army Corps of Engineers, led by the Obama administration, rescinded a necessary easement required to complete the project. Shortly after Donald Trump was sworn in, the Army Corps of Engineers changed its mind and granted a 30-year easement to Energy Transfer Partners to facilitate the construction and operation of the pipeline. After several failed attempts to block construction through the court system, the Standing Rock Sioux vowed to simply stand their ground and keep fighting what they call an illegal, environmentally dangerous pipeline.
However, despite the efforts of the Standing Rock protesters, plans for the final construction of the pipeline are moving along, and the powers behind the Dakota Access are eager to get the project completed. Following the granting of the disputed easement and the Standing Rock Sioux tribe’s failed attempts to block construction via the legal system, orders were issued to vacate the main Oceti Sakowin encampment.
The eviction order was handed down by North Dakota governor, Doug Burgum, and U.S. army corps of engineers officials, and Standing Rock protesters were told in no uncertain terms that they had until 2:00 p.m. today to vacate. The Standing Rock protest site is now surrounded by heavily armed, militarized law enforcement sporting riot gear, and according to local reports, police aren’t leaving until the camp is empty.
“Today is not going to be one of the proudest days for the state of North Dakota. This is a stain on the history of North Dakota and America. This is the 21st century Trail of Tears.”
Most protesters have already packed up and gone. Even, as The New York Times reports, Standing Rock Sioux tribal chairman Dave Archambault II, who has told protesters to go home and to allow the tribe to handle their efforts via the legal system. However, police estimate that about 100 Standing Rock holdouts still remain at the camp, and according to their fellow protesters, they have no intention of simply packing up and leaving.
“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.”
Law enforcement have encouraged Standing Rock protesters to go home or relocate to other protest camps (such as Sacred Stone), which are not located on the disputed federal land. It has been reported that police are even offering vacating protesters free local hotel rooms and bus tickets to head home (wherever that might be) upon leaving.
That hasn’t stopped some of the most die-hard Standing Rock protesters from risking arrest and even committing arson in protest. According to many reports from the ground, Wednesday saw remaining protesters light at least one structure on fire rather than allowing the authorities to take it from them. Some called the arson “ceremonial,” but most Standing Rock water protectors have publicly disavowed the act.
“It’s an act of defiance. It’s saying: ‘If you are going to make us leave our home, you cannot take our space. We’ll burn it to the ground and let the earth take it back before you take it from us.”
Police are said to be trying to avoid violence, a riot or even mass arrests. However, they are reportedly taking actions to remove the last few Standing Rock protesters from the disputed campsite. North Dakota and federal authorities have cited environmental concerns in wanting protesters out immediately, saying that they want to clean up the campsite before spring floods wash associated pollution into the nearby river.
According to Standing Rock protesters, the authorities don’t care about the environment. Indeed, water protectors argue that if the government was concerned about the environment, they’d be fighting the pipeline, not the protesters.
Either way, local police confirm that “arrests have begun.”
Standing Rock protesters, both those who evacuated and those who have yet to be removed from Oceti Sakowin, have promised to continue to fight against the pipeline and to continue with the movement that has formed alongside the Standing Rock protests.
“Just because we’re getting removed from that area doesn’t mean it’s over. We just have to continue to work together as a whole for this common cause, which is protection of Mother Earth.”
Because, while police confirm that they are making arrests, Standing Rock protesters don’t appear to be afraid, and one lone protester may have encompassed the fight against big oil with a single statement: “You can’t arrest a movement.”
[Featured Image by James MacPherson/AP Images]