Pipeline protesters vow to stay camped on federal land

AP PHOTO
Organizers of protests against construction of the Dakota Access oil pipeline speak at a news conference on Saturday, near Cannon Ball, N.D. They said they have a right to remain on land where they have been camped for months. They made the statement a day after tribal leaders received a letter from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, telling them the land would be closed to the public on Dec. 5.

AP PHOTO Organizers of protests against construction of the Dakota Access oil pipeline speak at a news conference on Saturday, near Cannon Ball, N.D. They said they have a right to remain on land where they have been camped for months. They made the statement a day after tribal leaders received a letter from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, telling them the land would be closed to the public on Dec. 5.

CANNON BALL, N.D. — Dakota Access oil pipeline protesters will not follow a government directive to leave the federal land where hundreds have camped for months, organizers said Saturday, despite state officials encouraging them to do so.

Standing Rock Sioux tribal leader Dave Archambault and other protest organizers confidently explained that they’ll stay at the Oceti Sakowin camp and continue with nonviolent protests a day after Archambault received a letter from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers that said all federal lands north of the Cannonball River will be closed to public access Dec. 5 for “safety concerns.”

The Corps cited the oncoming winter and increasingly contentious clashes between protesters, who believe the pipeline could harm drinking water and Native American cultural sites, and police.

Standing Rock tribal members believe the land in which the encampment is on is owned by the Sioux through a more than century-old treaty with the U.S. government.

“We are wardens of this land. This is our land and they can’t remove us,” said protester Isaac Weston, who is an Oglala Sioux member from South Dakota. “We have every right to be here to protect our land and to protect our water.”

The vast majority of the several hundred people fighting against the four-state, $3.8 billion pipeline have created a self-sustaining community at the sprawling camp, which is on Corps land in southern North Dakota, and have put up semi-permanent structures or brought motor homes and trailers in advance of the harsh winter.

On the unseasonably warm Saturday, people were chopping wood and setting up tents at the encampment, which is more than a mile from a Missouri River reservoir where the final large segment of the pipeline is yet to be completed due to the Corps consulting with the tribe.

Dallas Goldtooth, a protest organizer with the Indigenous Environmental Network, said it is “an atrocious example that colonization has not ended for us here as indigenous people,” and that the government’s request will escalate already rocky tensions.

Representatives from the Army Corps of Engineers didn’t immediately return multiple messages Friday or Saturday seeking comment and verification of the letter. Last month, the Corps said it would not evict the encampment, which started as overflow from smaller private and permitted protest sites nearby and began growing in August.

President Barack Obama raised the possibility of rerouting the pipeline in that area earlier this month, something Kelcy Warren, CEO of Texas-based pipeline developer Energy Transfer Partners, told The Associated Press is not an option from the company’s standpoint. Obama said his administration is monitoring the “challenging situation” but would “let it play out for several more weeks.”