Since the December 4 decision by the former Obama administration to halt construction of the Dakota Access Pipeline (DAPL) through the Standing Rock Sioux reservation, tensions have eased to a simmer in Cannon Ball, North Dakota. But that calm appears to be over.
Direct actions taken by water protectors January 16-18 at the Backwater Bridge and drill pad where the DAPL is slated to cross the Missouri River resulted in conflicts with police. Rubber bullets and tear gas were used against protestors and close to 40 arrests were made.
These recent actions took place as several bills targeting protestors were discussed in North Dakota’s state legislature. One bill seeks to remove liability from drivers who unintentionally strike or kill a person blocking a public roadway. Another makes the use of a face covering illegal.
Critics say these bills are an overreaction at best, and a violation of the US Constitution at worst.
State Democratic leader Senator Joan Heckaman told the Bismarck Tribune, “I would be hesitant about a bill where you can hit a person and not be charged. I don’t think anybody in North Dakota would be excited about that bill.”
On December 20, the Standing Rock Sioux tribal council voted unanimously to ask the water protectors at the Oceti Sakowin Camp to leave. They did so via an official statement on their Facebook page.
“The Standing Rock Sioux Tribe is grateful to all who have stood with us during our efforts to secure a thorough review of the Dakota Access Pipeline. Because we worked together, the Federal Government will prepare an Environmental Impact Statement. Moving forward, our ultimate objective is best served by our elected officials, navigating strategically through the administrative and legal processes,” read the post.
And while the statement goes on to cite the decision as being guided by concern for protestors and spring flooding, LaDonna Brave Bull Allard disagrees. In a statement posted on Facebook immediately following the council’s decision she wrote, “I can’t believe the corruption of the tribal council.”
Allard, who owns the land on which the Sacred Stone Camp has stood since the beginning of the protest, has stated her camp will remain open despite the council’s formal request.
Other organizations that have been fixtures at the camp, like the Indigenous Environmental Network, stated they would respect the council’s wishes and vacate the lands. However, the group has resolved to focus on resisting the pipeline through the DeFund DAPL intiative, aimed at getting banks and other financial backers of the project to withdraw support.
The Standing Rock Sioux have given the protestors 30 days to leave the grounds, but it’s unclear how the eviction will be enforced. And, given recent developments, whether or not it will take place at all.
Water protectors, who remained at the Oceti Sakowin Camp despite the federal order to seek an alternate route for the pipeline, have done so to ensure the new US president would stay true to that promise. With the stroke of a pen, that pledge was broken January 24.
President Donald Trump, who made election promises to push through oil and gas projects, signed a presidential memorandum on January 24. The order resurrected the long dead Keystone XL pipeline and does its part to essentially green-light Dakota Access.
However, the timeline remains unclear, as the Standing Rock Sioux have stated they will fight the order in court. After signing the memorandum Trump ignored questions regarding protestors. The Standing Rock Sioux have yet to make a comment on the status of the Oceti Sakowin Camp since the signing of the memorandum.
While former president Barack Obama stayed on the sidelines of the conflict in North Dakota, Trump has jumped in headfirst and his allegiances are clear. The victory celebrated in December appears to have been merely symbolic and the fight to kill the Dakota Access Pipeline is just getting started.