A coalition of grassroots groups at the Oceti Sakowin camp at Standing Rock indicated it would reject an Army Corps of Engineers eviction notice, “stand united in defiance of the black snake,” and continue to protect water in their ongoing struggle against the Dakota Access pipeline.
On November 25, district commander Colonel John W. Henderson informed Standing Rock Sioux Tribe chairman David Archambault II that the Army Corps planned to close part of the land “north of the Cannonball River” to public use on December 5. He suggested it was 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.”
If this decision is enforced, it will directly impact the indigenous people and allies occupying the Oceti Sakowin camp.
The coalition of groups, including the Camp of Sacred Stones, International Indigenous Youth Council, Indigenous Environmental Network, and Honor the Earth reacted, “It is no coincidence that the Army Corps of Engineers has chosen December 5, General George Armstrong Custer’s birthday, as the date it plans to evict people from the Oceti Sakowin Camp. Custer broke the treaty to dig for gold, the Army Corps is breaking the treaty over oil.”
“The Army Corps has no authority to evict us from these lands. The Oceti Sakowin encampment is located on the ancestral homeland of the Lakota, Mandan, Arikara, and Northern Cheyenne – on territory never ceded to the U.S. government, and affirmed in the 1851 Treaty of Ft. Laramie as sovereign land belonging to the Great Sioux Nation,” the coalition added.
“The encampment is, in many respects, a reclamation of this stolen territory and the right to self-determination guaranteed in the treaties. Our water protectors are not trespassers and can never be trespassers. The Army Corps also has no authority to diminish our right to free speech. Where in the Constitution does it establish zones for the right to free speech? Do corporations now decide whether the Constitution applies? We are not moving, and we will not be silenced.”
The coalition continued, “The Army Corps’s eviction notice is an aggressive threat to indigenous peoples. It further empowers and emboldens a militarized police force that has already injured hundreds of unarmed, peaceful water protectors, and continues to escalate its tactics of brutality against us. It adds fuel to the fire of an ongoing human rights crisis.”
For those wondering what is meant by “black snake,” as Kristin Moe described for Yes! Magazine, “There is an old Lakota prophecy of a black snake, a creature that would rise from the deep, bringing with it great sorrow and great destruction. For many years, the Lakota people have wondered what the prophecy meant and when it would come to pass.” They view oil pipelines as this feared creature.
As noted by the coalition, the Army Corps has a history of violating indigenous land that is supposed to be protected by treaties. “The best of these lands were flooded by the Army Corps in the 1950s and 1960s – countless sacred sites were desecrated, the vast majority of the timber resources and wildlife destroyed, and thousands of people displaced.”
The Washington Post’s Steven Mufson published an overview on U.S. government incursions on tribal lands. Over 150 years, it has taken land from the Lakota and Dakota tribes. The seizures, according to tribal leaders, include “land in the Black Hills of South Dakota after the discovery of gold in the 1870s.” It also includes the construction of dams in the Missouri River, which brought destruction.
“Through the ages, the warring tribes of the Northern Plains lived, hunted and fought across a sprawling expanse of land. Many were migratory, moving with the seasons. Each treaty with the U.S. government, most notably the 1851 and 1868 treaties of Fort Laramie, restricted their movement further, although they left them large areas west of the Missouri River and recognized them as sovereign nations,” Mufson summarized.
The Morton County Sheriff’s Department, Morton County Commission, and North Dakota state government have pressured the federal government to take some kind of action against the water protectors, especially since the police conducted an assault against hundreds of people on November 20 that resulted in more than 300 injuries.
But days after issuing the eviction notice, it is unclear what the Army Corps plans to do to enforce the decision to close off access to the land that the Army Corps apparently has no right to shut down. The Army Corps released a statement that it has no plans for a “forcible removal” of water protectors. It claims the Army Corps seeks a “peaceful and orderly transition to a safer location.”
The Army Corps is currently assessing whether to deny an easement to Energy Transfer Partners , the company behind the Dakota Access pipeline. Even as it frustrates construction plans for the pipeline, it fuels a mendacious narrative, along with officials at all levels of government, that the encampment is not safe. It also fuels the idea that tribal governors may be encouraging or allowing widespread illegal activity.
In the eviction notice, Henderson 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.” And so, to control people, the Army Corps plans to establish a “free speech zone” so it can have more control.
Cheyenne River Sioux Tribal chairman Harold Frazier wrote to Henderson, “I no more control the acts and behaviors of Cheyenne River Sioux Tribal members or non-member water protectors at the Cannonball site than you do, Col. Henderson.”
“As set forth, even if I could control the water protectors, I recognize and respect their rights under the Constitution of the United States to peaceably assemble in prayerful protest against the cultural and environmental atrocity that is the Dakota access pipeline. I would not use my authority, which is based on the consent of my citizens, to curtail their human and constitutional rights.”
While pressure from authorities against water protectors intensifies, about 1,000 military veterans plan 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 $450,000 was raised to support this initiative.
There are also solidarity actions planned throughout December, and on November 27, a massive demonstration in support of the water protectors at Standing Rock took place at the Washington monument. Hours later, a sold-out benefit concert featuring Dave Matthews, Tim Reynolds, Neko Case, Graham Nash, Ledisi, and Lakota Thunder was held at DAR Constitution Hall.
During his presidency, President Barack Obama made overtures to Native Americans that he would be on their side. He has mostly avoided taking any meaningful stance on the issue of the Dakota Access pipeline, even as indigenous people plead with him to stand up for them.
“The extreme escalation of violence by law enforcement in recent weeks demands immediate action from the Obama administration to de-escalate and demilitarize the law enforcement response, not to further criminalize us. As the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe pointed out in its response to the Army Corps, the only way to protect people is to deny the last outstanding easement required for the pipeline to cross the Missouri River. ”
The water protectors demand the White House deny the easement, revoke permits, and remove pipeline construction workers. They also demand a “full environmental impact statement in formal consultation with impacted tribal governments” be ordered.
“In the meantime,” the coalition declared, “we will stand our ground for the water and the unborn generations. Our fight is not just about a pipeline project. It is about 500 years of colonization and oppression. This is our moment, a chance to demand a future for our people and all people. We ask you to join us.”