Engineer corps says the main encampment must be cleared in nine days because of the onset of winter weather
The US Army has ordered the closure of the main encampment established by activists opposing the Dakota Access pipeline, according to a letter released by the Standing Rock Sioux tribe.
Citing federal regulations governing public lands, Colonel John W. Henderson of the army corps of engineers wrote to Standing Rock Sioux tribal chairman Dave Archambault that he was ordering the closure by 5 December.
The order was 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 from the winter weather.
Henderson added that the corps would establish a free speech zone south of the Cannonball river, but that any individuals found on army land north of the river after 5 December would be considered trespassing and could be prosecuted.
Our tribe is deeply disappointed in this decision by the United States, but our resolve to protect our water is stronger than ever, Archambault said in a statement.
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 added.
The pipeline lacks a final permit to drill under the Missouri river. The army has twice delayed issuing the permit, known as an easement. On 15 November, the pipeline company, Energy Transfer Partners, filed court papers asking a judge to force the army to allow drilling to proceed.
The army did not immediately respond to a request for comment from the Guardian.
The move to evict the main Standing Rock encampment, known as Oceti Sakowin, comes at the end of a tense week for the indigenous and environmental activists opposing the construction of the oil pipeline, which is slated to cross under the Missouri river just north of the Standing Rock Sioux reservation.
On Sunday, local law enforcement deployed tear gas, less-than-lethal munitions, and water cannons on hundreds of peaceful demonstrators amid sub-freezing temperatures.
Twenty-six people were hospitalized, and hundreds more were injured, according to the Standing Rock Medic & Healer Council.
The activists, who refer to themselves as water protectors, have continued to hold demonstrations and prayer ceremonies since Sundays incident.
At least 33 people were arrested Friday after they entered a shopping mall in Bismarck, North Dakota and formed a circle to pray, according to Reuters. More than 500 have been arrested since August.
Members of the Standing Rock Sioux tribe established the first of several spiritual camps, known as Sacred Stone, near the site of the proposed river crossing in April. The tribe fears that the pipeline will contaminate their water and objects to the fact that construction has disturbed sacred burial grounds and is taking place on land they say belongs to them under the 1851 Treaty of Fort Laramie.
The movement to stop the pipeline has drawn thousands of supporters, including members of hundreds of indigenous groups. As more people arrived in North Dakota, new camps were established north of the Cannonball River, on land owned by the Army.
One of those camps was forcibly cleared in late October, with law enforcement in armored vehicles deploying pepper spray and arresting 141 people.
Fridays letter sets the stage for a confrontation over the largest encampment, which is home to as many as thousands of people at any given time.
It is both unfortunate and disrespectful that this announcement comes the day after this country celebrates Thanksgivinga historic exchange of goodwill between Native Americans and the first immigrants from Europe, Archambault said in a statement.
Water protectors at Standing Rock held numerous events Thursday to mark the Thanksgiving holiday, which many consider a day of mourning for the genocide of indigenous peoples by European colonizers.
Although the news is saddening, Archambault added, it is not at all surprising given the last 500 years of the mistreatment of our people.