February 22 was a sombre day at Standing Rock’s Oceti Sakowin Camp. Family obligations, poor weather and the threat of police eviction saw numbers at the on-reserve resistance site dwindle to “a few dozen people”.
While the Sioux Tribe’s Chairman, Dave Archambault II, had requested the evacuation of the original camp a few weeks earlier, a small group of 200-250 people remained at Oceti Sakowin, firm in their resolve to physically oppose Dakota Access Pipeline construction.
That Wednesday appeared to be the end of the line for civil disobedience and non-violent physical resistance in the fight to prevent Energy Transfers Ltd. from drilling under Lake Oahe, though there are a few secondary camps dispersed throughout the area. The few water protectors who remained within police lines sang songs and prayed while ceremoniously burning the teepees, yurts, huts and other temporary structures that were still standing as cleanup efforts continued and police stood by.
While there was a significant police presence armed and clad in riot gear, authorities did not move directly into the campsite. Instead they assembled on a nearby roadway in a supposed show of force, where 10 activists were arrested shortly after 4 pm.
According to Andrew Kimmel of Buzzfeed News, who broadcasted live from the campsite, water protectors who stayed behind faced felony charges and $5000 fines.
“Some people are trying to do a 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, told The Guardian. “I’m worried for their safety, we all are. We’re praying for them.”
Then she added, “Just because we’re getting removed from that area doesn’t mean it’s over. We just have to continue to work together as a whole for this common cause, which is protection of Mother Earth.”
Following orders from North Dakota governor Doug Burgum and the US Army Corps of Engineers, the camp was scheduled to be evacuated at 2 pm on February 22 and cleaned up the following day. Supposedly the evacuation request was made due to fears of flooding that could put campers’ lives at risk and potentially pollute the Missouri River. A series of checkpoints and blockades were erected in the surrounding area and at a press conference on the evening of February 22, Burgum stated that the government would soon have “unfettered access” to the camp.
While Chairman Archambault’s support of the evacuation was controversial amongst protestors, it seems that the tribal council prefers to move the pipeline battle to the courtroom.
“We plan to move forward to enhance the Tribe’s position, seeking additional support and expertise on technical issues like engineering and hydrology, as well as in the public relations arena. We will also be reaching out to seek allies against Dakota Access,” Chairman Archambault said in a statement released on February 5.
“We will continue to do all we can to protect the Tribe and its members, and all Oceti Sakowin treaty lands and water rights, from the risks and harms of the Dakota Access Pipeline.
“We will continue to fight against an administration that seeks to dismiss not only our treaty rights and status as sovereign nations, but the safe drinking water of millions of Americans.”
A campaign that aims to see municipalities, corporations and individuals remove their money and support from any bank that supports Dakota Access Pipeline infrastructure has been quite successful to date. Most notably, the cities of Seattle, Washington, and Santa Monica, California, have pledged to withdraw billions of dollars of funds from Wells Fargo. At press time, according to www.defunddapl.org, almost $70 billion has been divested from banks investing in the project.
The Cheyenne River Sioux Tribe, who joined the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe’s lawsuit against the pipeline, filed a motion at the US District Court for the District of Columbia on February 9, seeking a temporary restraining order “to halt construction and drilling” under and on either side of the land surrounding Lake Oahe.
As the battle shifts from Sioux land in North Dakota to the American court system, it will be interesting to see if the Standing Rock Sioux and their supporters will be able to prevail against the Trump administration that wholeheartedly supports the pipeline project.
In early February, Trump was asked about his decision to approve the pipeline and replied, “I don’t even think it was controversial,” adding “I think everybody is going to be happy in the end.”