On December 5, the Army Corps of Engineers intends to shut down access to lands north of the Cannonball River in North Dakota—the location of the Oceti Sakowin Camp, a key area in the Native resistance against the Dakota Access Pipeline. It does not appear, however, that water protectors plan to leave.
The Corps delivered a letter, signed by District Commander Colonel John W. Henderson, to the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe on November 25. “This decision is necessary to protect the general public from the violent confrontations between protestors and law enforcement officials that have occurred in this area. And to prevent death, illness, or serious injury to inhabitants of encampments due to the harsh North Dakota winter conditions,” the colonel writes. The Corps will establish a free speech zone south of the river instead so that water protectors can “peaceably protest” the pipeline project there.
While Standing Rock Sioux Tribe Chairman Dave Archambault II acknowledged the federal department’s safety concerns in an email statement to Colorlines, he also expressed his disappointment. “The best way to protect people during the winter, and reduce the risk of conflict between water protectors and militarized police, is to deny the easement for the Oahe crossing, and deny it now,” he writes. The crossing on Lake Oahe has been a point of litigation between the tribe and the Corps.
The chairman goes on:
It is both unfortunate and disrespectful that this announcement comes the day after this country celebrates Thanksgiving—a historic exchange of goodwill between Native Americans and the first immigrants from Europe. Although the news is saddening, it is not at all surprising given the last 500 years of the mistreatment of our people. The Standing Rock Sioux Tribe stands united with more than 300 tribal nations and the water protectors who are here peacefully protesting the Dakota access pipeline to bolster indigenous people’s rights. We continue to fight for these rights, which continue to be eroded. Although we have suffered much, we still have hope that the President will act on his commitment to close the chapter of broken promises to our people and especially our children.
Groups Honor the Earth and the Indigenous Environmental Network, which have been on the frontlines of the #NoDAPL battle, released a statement on the Sacred Stone Camp website. It emphasized their belief that the Army Corps has no authority to evict them from the land, citing treaty rights, which Colorlines has covered. “Our water protectors are not trespassers and can never be trespassers,” the statement reads.
The Corps letter about shutting off land access comes five days after 21-year-old Sophia Wilansky’s injuries on November 20, when officers with the Morton County Sheriff’s Department allegedly threw a concussion grenade at her, severely injuring her left arm. She now faces up to 20 surgeries, though it is still unclear whether the operations will succeed in saving her arm. The sheriff’s department said in a press release it is not responsible for Wilansky’s injuries.