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Army Corps Of Engineers To Evict Water Protectors Fighting Dakota Access Pipeline

The Standing Rock Sioux Tribe was served with an eviction notice for the Oceti Sakowin camp, one of the main encampments populated by indigenous water protectors and allies fighting construction of the Dakota Access pipeline on tribal land.

“I am closing the portion of the Corps-managed federal property north of the Cannonball River to all public use and access effective December 5, 2016,” district commander Colonel John W. Henderson declared. “This decision is necessary to protect the general public from the violent confrontations between protestors and law enforcement officials that have occurred in this area, and to prevent death, illness, or serious injury to inhabitants of encampments due to the harsh North Dakota winter conditions.”

The announcement was delivered in a letter to Standing Rock Sioux Tribe chairman Dave Archambault II.

Archambault responded, “It is both unfortunate and disrespectful that this announcement comes the day after this country celebrates Thanksgiving, a historic exchange of goodwill between Native Americans and the first immigrants from Europe.”

“Although the news is saddening, it is not at all surprising given the last 500 years of the maltreatment of our people. The Standing Rock Sioux Tribe stands united with more than 300 tribal nations and the water protectors, who are here peacefully protesting the Dakota Access pipeline, to bolster indigenous people’s rights, which continue to be eroded,” Archambault concluded.

This decision comes nearly a week after authorities, primarily the Morton County Sheriff’s Department, unleashed an unprovoked attack on water protectors after they cleared a highway bridge of a charred military vehicle that was left as a barricade. The water protectors viewed it as an obstruction in the way of emergency access to the camp.

Over 300 people were injured, including one twenty-one year-old woman whose arm will likely be amputated because she was hit with a concussion grenade. Police surrounded hundreds of people, aimed a water cannon at water protectors when it was 28 degrees Fahrenheit, set off a volley of tear gas, and threatened protectors with a sound cannon. The actions of police ensured there was violence, which ultimately spurred the Army Corps of Engineers’ decision against the Oceti Sakowin camp.

The district commander’s letter indicated a “free speech zone” was established “south of the Cannonball River for anyone wishing to peacefully protest the Dakota Access pipeline project. In these areas, jurisdiction for police, fire, and medical response is better defined making it a more sustainable area for visitors to endure the harsh North Dakota winter.”

“Any person found to be on the Corps’ lands north of the Cannonball River after December 5, 2016, will be considered trespassing and may be subject to prosecution under federal, state, and local laws. Furthermore, any person who chooses to stay on the Corps’ lands north of the Cannonball River does so at their own risk, and assumes any and all corresponding liabilities for their unlawful presence and occupation of such lands,” Henderson added.

The district commander called attention to “unauthorized structures, fires, improper disposal of water, and camping,” currently taking place, and stated, “Any tribal government that sponsors such illegal activity is assuming the risk for those persons who remain on these lands.”

In response to the eviction letter, Cheyenne River Sioux Tribal chairman Harold Frazier wrote to Henderson, “This decision, coming on the heels of the Thanksgiving holiday, is not only disrespectful but continues the cycle of racism and oppression imposed on our people and our lands throughout history.”

“The area north of the Cannonball River is both the ancestral homeland of the Lakota people and inside the boundaries of the 1851 Fort Laramie Treaty, a treaty that has not been abrogated and law that governs us all,” Frazier also stated. “The best of these lands have already been unjustly taken and flooded by the Corps in the disastrous Pick-Sloane legislation. We will no longer allow our rights as a Tribe or as indigenous people as a whole to continue to be eroded.”

On November 14, the Army Corps of Engineers completed a review of the Dakota Access pipeline. It determined “additional discussion and analysis” was warranted “in light of the history of the Great Sioux Nation’s dispossessions of lands, the importance of Lake Oahe to the Tribe, our government-to-government relationship, and the statute governing easements through government property.”

It requested a halt on construction “on or under Corps land bordering Lake Oahe” until the Army made the “final decision on whether to grant an easement.”

So long as the Army Corps of Engineers refuses to stop Dakota Access from building on the land of indigenous people, there will be water protectors in North Dakota committed to fighting Dakota Access.

“Our Tribe is deeply disappointed in this decision by the United States, but our resolve to protect our water is stronger than ever. We ask that all 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.”

“When Dakota Access pipeline chose this route, they did not consider our strong opposition. Our concerns were clearly articulated directly to them in a meeting on Sept. 30, 2014. We have released that audio recording from our council meeting where [Dakota Access] and the [North Dakota] Public Service Commission came to us with this route,” Archambault stated.

The audio referred to by Archambault was posted on November 17, after Energy Transfer Partners CEO Kelcey Warren dishonestly claimed the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe never made its concerns about the pipeline project known to executives.

About 1,000 military veterans planned to travel to the Standing Rock Indian Reservation on December 4-7 and “defend the water protectors from assault and intimidation at the hands of the militarized police force and [Dakota Access] security.” Over $300,000 was raised to support this initiative. But with this eviction notice, it is clear the Army Corps of Engineers, with the help of law enforcement, will likely disrupt their efforts to protect Native Americans.

There is also a solidarity week of action that kicked off with direct action at several malls and banks in the United States on Black Friday. That week of action will end on December 1 with a global day of action.

Indigenous water protectors and allies from all over the country may choose to stand their ground and defend the Oceti Sakowin camp when police try to raid and demolish the camp, whenever that may happen. On top of that, the notion that the Army Corps of Engineers says water protectors are assuming a level of risk suggests that the next week may see an escalation by police against Native Americans.

Photo by Gage Skidmore
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Kevin Gosztola

Kevin Gosztola

Kevin Gosztola is managing editor of Shadowproof Press. He also produces and co-hosts the weekly podcast, "Unauthorized Disclosure."