For the last seven months, Standing Rock Sioux tribal members and thousands of tribal and non-tribal allies have been camping at two locations near the Cannonball River. The original camp, called Sacred Stone Camp, is located on the land of the woman who launched the movement against the Dakota Access Pipeline (DAPL): Ladonna Brave Bull Allard. But the second camp—and the much bigger one that formed when thousands of people began showing up to the demonstration in late summer—is located on Army Corps of Engineers land, just down the road from where DAPL bulldozers desecrated a site considered sacred to the Tribe.
That camp is called Oceti Sakowin. And the land where it is located was considered the Standing Rock Sioux's until the US Army Corps seized it by eminent domain to construct the dam that created Lake Oahe.*
On Friday, the Army Corps of Engineers sent a letter to Standing Rock Sioux chairman David Archambault II, saying that the Corps would close the land where Oceti Sakowin is located to "all public use" by December 5. Thousands of people, including families with children, are currently living there. The camps currently have a school, a donations center, an industrial-sized kitchen, a media team, a legal team, and a unit of medics and healers.
"This decision is necessary to protect the general public from the violent confrontations between protesters 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," Colonel John W. Henderson wrote. He then asked Archambault to move activists to a "free speech zone" south of the Cannonball River.
A week ago, the Morton County Sheriff's Department fired rubber bullets at indigenous activists, used water cannons on them in sub-freezing temperatures, and tear-gassed them. One woman, Sophia Wilansky, now risks losing her arm as the result of last Sunday night's violence. The causes of the injuries to her arm are disputed, but witnesses to the incident and the Indigenous Environmental Network say that law enforcement threw a percussion grenade directly at Wilansky. ("Law enforcement accounts suggest that fellow protesters caused the explosion," The New York Times reports. You can donate to her medical fund here.)
For more than two months, the Army Corps of Engineers' word has been one of the few things keeping Oceti Sakowin camp protected from a law enforcement crackdown. On September 9, the Obama administration, including the Army Corps, announced that it would not be issuing permits for pipeline builders to drill under Lake Oahe, the portion of the Missouri River that serves as the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe's source of drinking water, until further consultation with the Tribe.
In response to the Army Corps of Engineers' announcement, tribal chairman David Archambault II did not say he would ask people to move to a free speech zone, but instead again called on the US government to deny permits for the pipeline.
"Our Tribe is deeply disappointed in this decision by the United States, but our resolve to protect our water is stronger than ever," Standing Rock Chairman David Archambault II said in a public statement released yesterday. "The best way to protect people during the winter, and reduce the risk of conflict between water protectors and militarized police, is to deny the easement for the Oahe crossing, and deny it now."
The chairman continued:
Again, we ask that the United States stop the pipeline and move it outside our ancestral and treaty lands.
It is both unfortunate and disrespectful that this announcement comes the day after this country celebrated 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 mistreatment 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. We continue to fight for these rights, which continue to be eroded. Although we have suffered much, we still have hope that the President will act on his commitment to close the chapter of broken promises to our people and especially our children.
*This post has been clarified to reflect the history of land ownership before the Army Corps of Engineers.