Standing Rock protesters defy order to leave
At least 2 dozen arrested at main protest camp blocking Dakota Access pipeline
The Associated Press, Feb 23, 2017
Police in full riot gear began arresting Dakota Access pipeline opponents who remained in a protest camp in North Dakota on Thursday in defiance of orders to leave.
Most protesters left peacefully Wednesday, when authorities closed the camp on Army Corps of Engineers land in advance of spring flooding, but some refused to go.
Eighteen National Guardsmen and dozens of law enforcement officers entered the camp from two directions shortly before midday Thursday, along with several law enforcement and military vehicles. A helicopter and an airplane flew overhead.
Officers checked structures and began arresting people, putting them in vans to take to jail. About two dozen people were arrested in the first half hour of the operation, according to Levi Bachmeier, an adviser to Gov. Doug Burgum.
The operation began shortly after authorities said Army Corps officials had met with camp leaders. They didn’t divulge the outcome of those talks.
The camp — known as Oceti Sakowin — near the Standing Rock Indian Reservation has since August been the main site for demonstrators trying to thwart construction of the final section of the $3.8-billion US pipeline. The Standing Rock Sioux and Cheyenne River Sioux, whose reservation is downstream, say the pipeline threatens their drinking water and cultural sites. Dallas-based pipeline developer Energy Transfer Partners disputes that.
When complete, the pipeline will carry oil through the Dakotas and Iowa to a shipping point in Illinois.
Police also had a SWAT vehicle on hand Thursday in case of what Highway Patrol Lt. Tom Iverson described as a worst-case “SWAT scenario” — an armed person barricading themselves in a structure in the camp.
At its peak, the camp was home to thousands of protesters. Burgum estimated Wednesday night that as many as 50 people remained in the camp. Police early Thursday said an additional 15 crossed a frozen river and entered the camp on foot.
Before authorities moved in, Burgum had said those remaining at the camp still had a chance to leave without facing charges. The state sent a bus to the site on Thursday to transport anyone who wished to Bismarck, N.D., where officials were doling out basic necessities along with hotel and bus vouchers.
No one took advantage of the offer Thursday, Bachmeier said. Only nine people used the centre Wednesday, he said.
Corps Col. John Henderson has said the taxpayer-funded cleanup of the site could take about a month and cost as much as $1.2 million. The Corps had warned that the protesters need to leave the site before the spring melt floods the land and spreads debris from the camp downriver.
Early Wednesday, protesters burned some wooden structures on the site in what they described as a leaving ceremony. Authorities said about 20 fires were set and a seven-year-old boy and a 17-year-old girl were taken to hospitals to be treated for burns.
Shortly before the 2 p.m. deadline to leave, about 150 people marched out of the soggy camp, singing and playing drums as they walked down a highway, carrying an American flag hung upside-down.
New camps popping up
Some of the protesters were focused on moving off federal land and away from the flood plain into other camps. New camps are popping up on private land, including one the Cheyenne River Sioux set up about 1½ kilometres from the main camp.
Nathan Phillips, a member of the Omaha tribe in Nebraska, said he was moving to a new camp in the area because “there’s still work to be done.” He has been in North Dakota since Thanksgiving and said he’s had “four showers since.”
Matthew Bishop, from Ketchikan, Alaska, packed up Wednesday and said he too was headed to a camp on private land.
“We’re going to regroup and see what we can do,” Bishop said.