The Oceti Sakowin camp on federal land in southern North Dakota between the Standing Rock Sioux Reservation and the Dakota Access pipeline route became a second home at times to thousands of protestors last summer. The camp’s population in recent weeks dwindled to several hundred people as the pipeline battle moved primarily into the courts. Most of the remaining protestors left in recent days ahead of the hard deadline of Wednesday, February 22nd, at 2 p.m. CST, set forth on February 15, 2017, in Gov. Doug Burgum’s emergency evacuation order. Dave Archambault II, chairman of the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe, urged protesters to leave peacefully.
On Wednesday afternoon, some defiantly set their tents and teepees ablaze before leaving. Some set off fireworks. On Twitter and Facebook, livestreaming showed more than 50 people leaving the camp in a “prayer walk.” The New York Times reports that 10 “water protectors” were arrested. The Lakota Law Project posted that the “Police have decided who are ‘approved media’, otherwise they are not acknowledging anyone or their credentials.” According to BuzzFeed:
Law enforcement formed a line along Highway 1806 and faced off with the final protesters who had refused to leave. Live video from the scene showed about five police officers detaining a man on the ground.
“They’re trying to play a game right now, but in the end, if they start to arrest, all they’re doing is they’re going to try to scare all of us off,” one protester told BuzzFeed News.
By 5:30 p.m., however, police appeared to be backing away from the camp area even as some demonstrators defied orders to leave. Some were seen building a fire to stay warm and said they planned to stay overnight.
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Authorities provided buses to those who needed assistance and took them to Bismarck, North Dakota’s capital, where they received clothing, food, and hotel vouchers. Some were provided bus fare home. The Army Corps and private contractors worked throughout the day in a continuing effort to remove debris from the camp, which officials say poses a threat because the area is located in a flood plain along the Missouri River.
A January 18th notice published in the Federal Register began the process that finally ended with the evacuation.
This notice advises the public that the Department of the Army (Army), as lead agency, is gathering information necessary to prepare an environmental impact statement (EIS) in connection with Dakota Access, LLC’s request to grant an easement to cross Lake Oahe, which is on the Missouri River and owned by the US Army Corps of Engineers (Corps). This notice opens the public scoping phase and invites interested parties to identify potential issues, concerns, and reasonable alternatives that should be considered in an EIS.
On January 24th, President Trump issued a memorandum directing the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to expedite the review and approval process. In a letter to Congress, Deputy Assistant Secretary of the Army Paul Cramer cited the president’s memorandum, saying that the policy to wait 14 days after Congressional notification before granting an easement would be waived. Then, the governor issued his own executive order, followed by an evacuation order citing spring flooding as an expected safety issue.
The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers granted the easement, allowing the Dakota Access Pipeline to cross under the Missouri River north of the Standing Rock Sioux Reservation and permitting the final 1.5 miles of the nearly 1,172-mile, $3.7 billion pipeline from North Dakota to Illinois to be completed. U.S. District Judge James Boasberg refused to grant a temporary restraining order; however, he did grant a hearing set for February 27th, allowing the Standing Rock Sioux and the Cheyenne River Sioux tribes another attempt to block the pipeline construction across the Missouri River and through sacred land.
The Oceti Sakowin camp was the heart of the protest against the Dakota Access pipeline and for similar movements across the country. This protest was the first time in world history that 350 tribes of indigenous peoples from around the world came together for a common purpose but we can assume that the movement and its many supporters are simply temporarily dispersed.—James Schaffer