Police make arrests at Standing Rock in push to evict remaining activists
Officials have set a Wednesday deadline to evacuate Oceti Sakowin, a key encampment in the fight against the Dakota Access pipeline
Only a few dozen people remained at the Dakota Access pipeline protest encampment on Wednesday night after the state’s eviction deadline saw most of the activists leave voluntarily amid a show of force from law enforcement in riot gear.
Ten activists were arrested on the road near the camp, but police did not enter the camp, according to the North Dakota governor, Doug Burgum, who spoke at a press conference Wednesday evening. Burgum said the eviction had gone “very smoothly” and that he expected the government to have “unfettered access to the camp starting tomorrow”.
The closure of Oceti Sakowin, the central camp in Cannon Ball, North Dakota, by officials in the state marks yet another blow to the movement that attracted indigenous activists and environmentalists from across the globe to demonstrate against the oil pipeline.
Standing Rock: DoJ steps up aggression against those still battling the pipeline
In the final hours, some holdouts set fires to structures at the camp where thousands have built tipis, yurts, huts and massive shelters in recent months.
According to police officials and a witness, an explosion also ignited at the camp during the tense standoff with police. A seven-year-old boy and a 17-year-old girl were taken in an ambulance to a hospital for burns, according to the Morton County sheriff’s office. The 17-year-old was airlifted to Minnesota with “severe” burns, according to Burgum.
The cause of the explosion and severity of the injuries remain unclear. Sean Sullivan, a navy veteran from California, who recently returned to Standing Rock with a group of vets, said he saw the explosion inside a tipi and he helped the two to safety.
“I was 25ft away,” he said by phone. “There was a lot of screaming and panic.”
As the afternoon deadline passed, a group remained at camp, some singing and praying as police closed in. A sheriff’s spokeswoman told the Guardian that police had begun taking activists into custody after 4pm local time and that roughly ten people had been arrested.
“Some people are trying to do final cleanup, and there are still people there who are going to remain until they are removed,” Stephanie Big Eagle, a member of the Yankton Sioux tribe, said Wednesday morning. “I’m worried for their safety, we all are. We’re praying for them.”
After leaving Oceti, she and others gathered on Wednesday morning at Sacred Stone, a separate anti-pipeline camp nearby.
Law enforcement officers set up extensive blockades and checkpoints in the area, following orders from Burgum and US army corps of engineers officials that the camp be evacuated. Dave Archambault II, chairman of the Standing Rock Sioux tribe, which is leading the courtroom fight to block the pipeline, has also supported the evacuation effort, sparking an intense backlash from other activists.
State and tribal officials have claimed that they fear flooding could endanger campers and possibly contaminate the nearby Missouri river, though the activists, who call themselves water protectors, have argued that the government is trying to quash the huge movement against the $3.7bn oil pipeline.
“Just because we’re getting removed from that area doesn’t mean it’s over,” said Big Eagle. “We just have to continue to work together as a whole for this common cause, which is protection of Mother Earth.”
The eviction comes less than a month after Donald Trump ordered an expedited approval of the pipeline, reversing the Obama administration’s last-minute decision to halt the project. The Standing Rock tribe and its supporters have long argued that the pipeline, which is routed upstream of the reservation, threatens its water supply and sacred sites.
Sioux leaders argue that indigenous people have treaty rights to the land where the Oceti camp is located – on property that the army corps now controls.
“People are crying and leaving in their cars,” said Sullivan, describing those he saw who chose to leave before the arrests. “It’s very emotional.”
Law enforcement – which has faced widespread criticism for using excessive force during demonstrations – has begun aggressively prosecuting and investigating the remaining indigenous activists since Trump’s inauguration.
“I’m praying for no loss of life. I’m praying that no one gets hurt,” said Floris White Bull, a 33-year-old Standing Rock member who stayed at her home just south of the camps on Wednesday. “I know for a fact that every single person that’s going to be forcibly removed … is going to be traumatized and suffer distress. That’s not easy.”
North Dakota officials said the government would give hotel and meal vouchers to activists who vacated, along with a bus ticket out of state.
“We’re saving taxpayer dollars any time we can buy a bus ticket and a hotel room rather than put people through the legal system,” Burgum said.
Ernesto Burbank, a member of the Diné tribe in Arizona, who has been at the camps on and off since last August, said many were surprised to see that someone had set a structure on fire. He said he didn’t support people setting fires on sacred grounds, but understood people’s emotions were high.
“These are individual people dealing with PTSD, dealing with sleep deprivation … people constantly being intimidated by officers,” he said by phone from Sacred Stone on Wednesday morning. “They are losing a place that is home. They don’t know how else to channel their frustration.”
Burbank, 35, said he hoped the momentum of Standing Rock, which attracted an unprecedented gathering of indigenous tribes, would not be lost.
“We can defeat the black snake,” he said, referencing the nickname for the pipeline that many use at Standing Rock. “It may not be today or tomorrow, but we can.”
White Bull said she hoped the campaign to push banks to divest from the pipeline would continue even if the Oceti camp was removed.
“I think it’s just the beginning of a global awakening,” she said, noting that similar camps had emerged in other communities to battle pipelines. “People are becoming more conscious of their choices and their own voice ... and realizing the power in unity.”
Sin olvidar el vertido en diciembre de este año pasado de más de 176.000 galones de crudo a menos de 200km de Standing Rock debido a la ruptura de otro oleoducto, contaminando las aguas en kilómetros a la redonda.Police remove last Standing Rock protesters in military-style takeover
Armed occupation brought an anticlimactic and forlorn end to the camp, which had been home to thousands of activists opposing the Dakota Access pipeline
Dozens of national guard and law enforcement officers marched into the Dakota Access pipeline protest encampment on Thursday in a military-style takeover, one day after a deadline for the camp’s eviction.
Police make arrests at Standing Rock in push to evict remaining activists
The armed occupation of the largely abandoned plain brought an anticlimactic and forlorn end to the sprawling Oceti Sakowin camp, which had been home to thousands of indigenous and environmental activists since last August.
The Native American-led movement, which rose up in opposition to the pipeline being built just north of the Standing Rock Sioux reservation, captured the world’s attention and achieved a stunning – if short-lived – victory against the fossil fuel industry. The tribe argued that the pipeline route, which passes under the Missouri river, violated its treaty rights, threatened its water source, and damaged sacred sites.
“I honestly thought the camp would always be there,” said Linda Black Elk, a member of the Catawba Nation who works with the Standing Rock Medic & Healer Council. “I thought that people would be able to make their lives there. We would make a treaty claim and it would be back in the hands of the Lakota people.”
Government officials had imposed the Wednesday deadline for evacuating the camp, citing the danger to the camp’s inhabitants, known as “water protectors”, from the spring thaw and possible flooding.
Most of the remaining protesters at Oceti Sakowin left on Wednesday, as law enforcement agencies surrounded, but did not enter, the camp’s boundaries. Some activists set fires to structures, and 10 were arrested on the road near the camp.
But on Thursday, with a few dozen holdouts still in camp, law enforcement officers moved in from multiple directions. Thirty-three people were arrested as of 1pm local time, according to the Morton County sheriff’s department. It was not known how many more remained within the camp.
At mid-afternoon, the North Dakota department of emergency services tweeted that the camp had been “officially cleared of all protest activity”
Black Elk spoke to the Guardian from Sacred Stone, the original encampment that is within the reservation and has not been evicted.
“I’ve been watching police officers use knives to cut tipis and point their guns inside blindly,” she said. Of the people who had remained in defiance of the eviction, she said, “most of them are Lakota and they are just determined to stay on their own land and not allow the US government to once again remove them from sacred lands.”
A live stream from independent journalist Unicorn Riot showed officers in military fatigues and riot gear marching through camp, some with rifles drawn, while a helicopter hovered overhead and heavy machinery began demolishing remaining structures.
Officers traversed a muddy and debris-filled field that barely resembled the energetic and complex village that celebrated the Obama administration’s last-minute decision to deny a final permit to the pipeline last December. Then, thousands of activists braved blizzard conditions to sleep in tipis and army tents, communal kitchens churned out three meals a day, and tribal elders gathered around the sacred fire to share songs, ceremony and information.
At the time, many feared that the victory against the $3.7bn project would be temporary, noting Donald Trump’s support for the fossil fuel industry. Trump is also an investor in Energy Transfer Partners, the company behind the project, and received more than $100,000 in campaign donations from ETP’s chief executive, Kelcey Warren.
Just four days after taking office, Trump revived the pipeline, ordering the expedited approval of the final permit.
The Standing Rock Sioux tribe is challenging that decision in court, but the tribal council supported the closing of the encampments.
“There’ve been a lot of falsely claimed victories by people who tend to do a lot of talking with the army corps and government agencies, and not the folks who are willing to put their bodies on the line and actually stop [pipeline construction] work,” said Noah Morris, a medic who had been at Oceti Sakowin since August.
Frustration with the tribal council’s leadership has sown division within the movement. A spokesperson for the tribe declined to comment on the eviction Thursday, saying that they were “focused on legal strategy” and a Native Nations march on Washington DC planned for March.
Amid the anger and sadness over the eviction of the camp, however, water protectors expressed determination to keep fighting for indigenous and environmental rights.
“The closing of the camp is not the end of a movement or fight, it is a new beginning,” said Tom Goldtooth, executive director of the Indigenous Environmental Network, in a statement. “They cannot extinguish the fire that Standing Rock started. It burns within each of us.”
For Black Elk, the Standing Rock fight has made indigenous people visible to non-Natives in a powerful and important way.
“People forgot we existed. I even had people tell me, ‘I didn’t know that you guys were still here,’” she said. “Now we’re back. This really is serving to show people that we are still here and we are still strong.”
Electronic monitoring equipment failed to detect a pipeline rupture that spewed more than 176,000 gallons of crude oil into a North Dakota creek, according to the pipeline’s operator, about 150 miles from the site of the Standing Rock protests.
The potential for a pipeline leak that might taint drinking water is at the core of the months-long standoff at the Dakota Access pipeline, where thousands of people have been protesting against its construction. That pipeline would cross the Missouri river.
It’s not yet clear why the monitoring equipment didn’t detect the leak, Wendy Owen, a spokeswoman for Casper, Wyoming-based True Cos, which operates the Belle Fourche pipeline, said.
A landowner discovered the spill near Belfield on 5 December, according to Bill Suess, an environmental scientist with the North Dakota health department.
Suess said the spill migrated about six miles from the spill site along Ash Coulee creek, and it fouled an unknown amount of private and US Forest Service land along the waterway. The creek feeds into the Little Missouri river, but Seuss said it appears no oil got that far and that no drinking water sources were threatened.
He said about 37,000 gallons of oil had been recovered as of Monday.
Owen said the pipeline was shut down immediately after the leak was discovered. The pipeline is buried on a hill near Ash Coulee creek, and the “hillside sloughed”, which may have ruptured the line, she said.
“That is our number one theory but nothing is definitive” Owen said. “We have several working theories and the investigation is ongoing.”
True Cos has a history of oil field-related spills in North Dakota and Montana, including a January 2015 pipeline break into the Yellowstone River. The 32,000-gallon spill temporarily shut down water supplies in the downstream community of Glendive, Montana, after oil was detected in the city’s water treatment system.
The six-inch steel Belle Fourche pipeline is mostly underground but was built above ground where it crosses Ash Coulee creek, Suess said.
Owen said the pipeline was built in the 1980s and is used to gather oil from nearby oil wells to a collection point.
About 60 workers were on site Monday, and crews have been averaging about 100 yards daily in their cleanup efforts, he said. Some of the oil remains trapped beneath the frozen creek.
“It’s going to take some time,” Suess said of the cleanup. “Obviously there will be some component of the cleanup that will go toward spring.”
True Cos operates at least three pipeline companies with a combined 1,648 miles of line in Montana, North Dakota and Wyoming, according to information the companies submitted to federal regulators. Since 2006, the companies have reported 36 spills totaling 320,000 gallons of petroleum products, most of which was never recovered.
Federal pipeline safety regulators initiated 19 enforcement activities against the three True pipeline companies since 2004. Those resulted in $537,500 in proposed penalties, of which the company paid $397,200, according to Department of Transportation records.
Dallas-based pipeline company Energy Transfer Partners says the Dakota Access pipeline would include safeguards such as leak detection equipment and that workers monitoring the pipeline remotely in Texas could close valves within three minutes if a breach were detected.