Dakota Access pipeline activists have said they will not leave a protest camp after officials ordered them to leave. The standoff threatens to further escalate.
Activists and tribes protesting plans to run the Dakota Access oil pipeline under a lake near the Standing Rock Sioux reservation in North Dakota said Saturday they would not leave the main protest camp after the government issued a directive for them to vacate the site.
The US Army Corp of Engineers, which manages federal lands north of the Cannonball River where the Oceti Sakowin protest camp is located, told tribal leaders in a letter Friday they would close access to the camp by December 5 and protesters should move to a "free speech zone" south of the river.
It said the move was designed in part out of "safety concerns" as winter approaches and to prevent increasingly confrontational incidents between protesters and police. Those who remain at the camp could face prosecution.
Protest organizers said Saturday at a press conference that they plan to stand their ground.
"We are staying here committed to our prayer," said Dallas Goldtooth, a protest organizer with the Indigenous Environmental Network at the site, where some 5,000 people are camped out. "Forced removal and state repression? This is nothing new to us as native people."
Standing Rock Sioux tribal leader Dave Archambault said protesters would continue to exercise their First Amendment right to free speech. "I don't think it will ever be an eviction where forces just come in and push people out," he said, speaking with The Associated Press.
Archambault said the tribe is also working to find a location on reservation land in case protesters decide to move there.
Protesters needed to move: state government
North Dakota Governor Jack Dalrymple said in a statement on Saturday that it was the federal government's responsibility to close the camp because the government had allowed it to grow.
"Our state and local law enforcement agencies continue to do all they can to keep private property and public infrastructure free from unpermitted protest activities, and it's past time that the federal government provides the law enforcement resources ... to enforce their own order to vacate," the Republican said.
Republican Senator John Hoeven and Democratic Senator Heidi Heitkamp also said the protesters needed to move for public safety.
The protest movement against the four-state, $3.8-billion Dakota Access oil pipeline has grown in strength since it began this summer, drawing several hundred tribes, environmentalists and activists from across the country. The main camp has turned into a sprawling village with semi-permanent structures, motor homes and trailers, as preparations are made to hold out over the freezing winter.
Since the protests began in August, more than 400 people have been arrested as tensions rise between protestors and police.
The Dakota Access pipeline would carry Bakken shale oil from North Dakota to Illinois, where it can be moved to US Gulf Coast oil refineries. Most of the 1,886-kilometer long (1,712 miles) pipeline is complete except for a section planned to run under Lake Oahe, a little more than half a kilometer from the Standing Rock reservation.
The government and Texas-based pipeline developer Energy Transfer Partners, which owns the project, argue the pipeline would carry oil more cheaply and safely than already overburdened rail routes.
Protesters say the pipeline is a threat to water resources and Native American sites. The Standing Rock Sioux Tribe says that when those behind the pipeline approved the route, they failed to take into account tribal opposition. They demand the route be diverted away from their ancestral and treaty lands.
In September, the government postponed final approval of the permit to build the pipeline under the lake in order to give federal officials more time to consult with the tribe. Earlier this month, President Barack Obama said the pipeline could be rerouted, but Energy Transfer Partners is opposed to the idea.
cw/cmk (AP, Reuters)