| CANNON BALL, N.D.
CANNON BALL, N.D. Dec 18 Two weeks after a
victory in their fight against the Dakota Access Pipeline, most
protesters have cleared out of the main protest camp in North
Dakota - but about 1,000 are still there, and plan to remain
through the winter.
These folks say they are dug in at the Oceti Sakowin Camp in
Cannon Ball, North Dakota, despite the cold, for a few reasons.
Most are Native Americans, and want to support the tribal
sovereignty effort forcefully argued by the Standing Rock Sioux,
whose land is adjacent to the pipeline being built.
Others say they worry that Energy Transfer Partners LP
, the company building the $3.8 billion project, will
resume construction without people on the ground, even though
the tribes and the company are currently locked in a court
Future decisions on the 1,172-mile (1,885-km) pipeline are
likely to come through discussions with the incoming
administration of Donald Trump, or in courtrooms.
"I've seen some of my friends leave but I will be here until
the end and will stand up to Trump if he decides to approve the
permit," said Victor Herrald, of the Cheyenne River Sioux Tribe
in South Dakota, who has been at the camp since August.
At one point the camp had about 10,000 people, including
about 4,000 veterans who showed up in early December - just
before the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers denied a key easement
needed to allow the Dakota Access Pipeline to run under Lake
Oahe, a reservoir formed by a dam on the Missouri River.
After the Corps decision, Standing Rock chairman Dave
Archambault asked protesters to go home. The camp's
population now runs from 700 to 1,000, depending on the day, and
many come from the nearby Standing Rock reservation where they
Those left say they are there to "show our strengths," as
Bucky Harjo, 63, of the Paiute tribe, from Reno, Nevada, put it,
while the tribe deals with the legal battle.
Logistics are key for those still at the camp, located on
federal land. Theron Begay, a Navajo journeyman who is a
certified construction worker and heavy machine operator, has
been put in charge of winterizing the camp. He is training
volunteers to build structures that can withstand sub-zero
temperatures and bitter winds, as well as compost toilets.
Some people at the camp have gotten pneumonia, and they and
others went to an emergency shelter that was built three miles
away to escape the cold.
Because the Oceti Sakowin camp is located on a flood plain,
waste from the camp poses risks to the nearby Cannonball River.
Tribal leaders have said the camp may need to move if it wants
to remain active. Begay said the structures can be "disassembled
like a puzzle in two hours" and re-established on drier ground.
North Dakota's Governor Jack Dalrymple said in a Tuesday
statement that he and Archambault recently met to discuss
reducing tensions between the tribe and law enforcement. They
are discussing reopening the nearby Backwater Bridge on state
highway 1806, which has been blockaded since Oct. 27, when
activists set vehicles on fire.
Harjo said he will leave "when I see the drill pad removed
and DAPL out of here, and when they reopen 1806 and when we are
free to go at our own will and not be targeted on the highway."
Tom Goldtooth, executive director of the Indigenous
Environmental Network, and a constant presence in the camp, said
the protest is transitioning "to the next level of our campaign"
to stop the pipeline.
Some still at the camp worry that if they leave, Energy
Transfer Partners will restart construction. ETP asked a federal
judge on Dec. 9 to overrule the government's decision and grant
the easement. The judge declined that request; the parties are
due back in court in February. The Army Corps is considering
alternatives, which could take months.
Trump, who owned ETP stock through at least mid-2016,
according to financial disclosure forms, could order the Army
Corps to grant the permit. His choice for U.S. Energy Secretary,
former Texas Governor Rick Perry, is on ETP's board. Standing
Rock Sioux representatives met with members of Trump's
transition team this week to urge the incoming president to deny
Protesters who remain at the camp are still receiving
donations of money and supplies from people across the United
States. On a recent visit to the camp's emergency shelter it was
filled with boxes delivered via Amazon.com.
Goldtooth said tribal leaders are talking about an exit plan
for the camp. "We will continue to provide infrastructure
support to those who stay here," he said. "We'll make sure
they're safe and warm."
(Reporting By Valerie Volcovici in Cannon Ball, N.D.,
additional reporting by Andrew Cullen and Ernest Scheyder;
Writing by David Gaffen; Editing by Andrew Hay)