News

Officials to Close Standing Rock Protest Campsite


November 26, 2016
By Christopher Mele
New York Times

Citing public safety concerns, federal officials plan to close access to a campsite where demonstrators have protested the construction of a crude oil pipeline near the Standing Rock Sioux Reservation in North Dakota and create a “free speech zone.”

The Army Corps of Engineers, in a letter Friday to the chairman of the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe, Dave Archambault II, said the decision had been made to “protect the general public from the violent confrontations between protesters and law enforcement officials that have occurred in this area.”

Mr. Archambault said in a statement that the tribe was “deeply disappointed” by the decision.

“It is both unfortunate and disrespectful that this announcement comes the day after this country celebrates Thanksgiving — a historic exchange between Native Americans and the first immigrants from Europe,” he said. “Although the news is saddening, it is not all surprising given the last 500 years of mistreatment of our people.”

The authorities will close the area north of the Cannonball River, including the Oceti Sakowin camp, about 40 miles south of Bismarck, where opponents of the 1,170-mile Dakota Access Pipeline have gathered for months.

Native American tribes, led by the Standing Rock Sioux, have been protesting the pipeline project. They fear it would pollute the Missouri River and harm sacred cultural lands and tribal burial grounds. There have been large protests at the Lake Oahe crossing; the Missouri River is the tribe’s primary source of drinking water.

Mr. Archambault said the best way to protect demonstrators during the winter and to reduce conflicts with the police “is to deny the easement for the Oahe crossing and deny it now.”

The letter from the district commander of the Army Corps, Col. John W. Henderson, said the emergency services and facilities needed to protect demonstrators camped north of the Cannonball River during the harsh North Dakota winters could not be provided.

“I do not take this action lightly but have decided that it is required due to the concern for public safety and the fact that much of this land is leased to private persons for grazing and/or haying purposes as part of the corps’ land management practices,” he wrote.

He said anyone found on the land after Dec. 5 could be charged with trespassing.

The project has spurred months of clashes between the police and demonstrators. The most serious injury happened early Monday. An explosion during a protest badly damaged the left arm and hand of woman who grew up in the Bronx, Sophia Wilansky, 21.

Her father, Wayne Wilansky, said that someone from the police lines had thrown a device he described as a grenade; the police suggested that fellow demonstrators had caused the explosion, and said officers did not use concussion or flash grenades at any time.

On Monday, the police confronted hundreds of protesters. Nearly 300 people were treated for injuries resulting from the use of police force, according to the Standing Rock Medic and Healer Council.

The pipeline project was delayed in September when the Obama administration temporarily blocked it from crossing under the Missouri River. President Obama called on both sides to show restraint and revealed that the Army Corps of Engineers was considering an alternative route for the project.

But Kelcy Warren, chief executive of the pipeline company, Energy Transfer Partners, told The Associated Press it would not consider a different route. Though the project has been delayed by legal disputes, the pipeline is nearly complete.

http://www.nytimes.com/2016/11/26/us/dakota-pipeline-protest.html