Standing Rock Leaders Tell Dakota Pipeline Protesters to Leave Protest Camp

With opposition tactics shifting to the courts and spring floods coming, Native American leaders want pipeline opponents to vacate the camp, despite its successes.

Native American leaders want the Dakota Access protesters to leave their camp
Native American leaders want the protest camp near Cannon Ball, N.D. cleared so a major highway can re-open. Credit: Getty Images

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This story was updated Jan. 24, 2017, to reflect President Trump’s presidential memorandum to advance construction of the Dakota Access pipeline.

After months of largely peaceful protests by thousands of demonstrators from across the country who congregated at a camp near Cannon Ball, N.D., to help bring the Dakota Access pipeline to a halt, the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe has asked the pipeline opponents to go home.

The tribe said it plans to continue its action against the pipeline in the courts, but the protest camp has run its course. The protesters have until Jan. 30 to depart the main camp, according to a resolution passed by the Standing Rock Sioux Tribal Council in Fort Yates on Friday. It also said the tribe may call on federal law enforcement officials to help them remove protesters from all of the camps and to block their re-entry if they haven’t left in 30 days.

“Moving forward, our ultimate objective is best served by our elected officials, navigating strategically through the administrative and legal processes,” the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe said in a statement. “For this reason, we ask the protectors to vacate the camps and head home with our most heartfelt thanks.”

The plea came a day before the political debate was revived by Donald Trump‘s presidential memorandum on Tuesday calling on the pipeline to be built. Opposition leaders said they had not immediately decided whether to retract their call to clear the camp.

“We are prepared to push back on any reckless decision made by this administration,” Dallas Goldtooth, campaign director for the Indigenous Environmental Network, said Tuesday. “If Trump does not pull back from implementing these orders it will only result in more massive mobilization and civil disobedience on a scale never seen [by] a newly seated president of the United States.” 

The call to clear the camp had also highlighted concerns about spring flooding—the camp lies in a flood zone expected to be inundated by spring snowmelt—and economic hardship suffered by the tribe due to a highway closure caused by the ongoing protests. Several hundred protesters have remained in the camp through the winter, down from the high of nearly 10,000 in early December.

The Standing Rock tribe won a major victory against the builder of the $3.8 billion pipeline, Energy Transfer Partners, on Dec. 4 when the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers called for a more complete environmental analysis. The process could delay construction by a year or more and could involve rerouting the pipeline. It is still unclear what the Trump administration will do.

Following the Army Corps decision, Standing Rock tribal chairman Dave Archambault urged protesters to return home as their opposition shifted to a legal battle and as potentially life-threatening winter storms and sub-zero temperatures set in. The region has since been hit with record snowfalls, increasing the probability that Oceti Sakowin, the main protest camp which sits on a floodplain near the Missouri River, will be underwater as early as March.

Residents of Cannon Ball, the district of the Standing Rock reservation closest to Oceti Sakowin, passed a resolution last week opposing the establishment of any new winter camp within their district. Residents expressed frustration over a highway closure near the camp that significantly increased the driving time to Bismarck, where many residents work, shop and receive medical care. Residents also expressed concern over the Cannon Ball gym, which has been used as an emergency shelter for pipeline opponents. The community uses the gym for sporting events, meetings and funerals, and it is in need of cleaning and repair.

Archambault continued to press the case against the pipeline speaking alongside former Vice President Al Gore and Amy Goodman, a journalist from Democracy Now, at the Sundance Film Festival last Sunday.

When asked about the Dakota Access and Keystone XL pipelines at a press briefing on Monday, Sean Spicer, Trump’s press secretary, said Trump may attempt to overrule the Army Corp’s decision to halt the pipeline.  “I don’t want to get in front of the president’s executive actions,” he said, but the president wants to “maximize our use of natural resources.”