BIA pledges support in helping Standing Rock Tribe close protest camps
The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers has given an evacuation order to those protesting at the Dakota Access Pipeline camp in Cannon Ball, North Dakota.
The Army Corps is giving protesters until Feb. 22 to leave the Oceti Sakowin Camp for safety reasons, ABC News reported on Friday.
The Corps issued notices of the closure to protesters.
Record snowfall is expected in North Dakota, which could lead to record flooding in the area, according to an Army press release.
“Much of the land where the protest camps are currently located is directly in an area prone to flooding in years with heavy plains snow pack,” the Army said. “While the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers routinely monitors river levels, ice jam flooding can very quickly force water into low-lying areas near the river with little time for reaction, placing anyone in the floodplain at risk for possible injury or death.”
According to NBC News, The Corps said it would close the Oceti Sakowin Camp, which sits on approximately 50 acres of Corps land, due to the “high potential for flooding” in the low-lying area at the confluence of the Missouri and Cannonball Rivers.
The website of the largest protest camp urged protesters to leave.
“As we are caretakers of this land we are familiar with the oncoming flooding of the land of Mni S’os’e (Missouri River) we ask occupants of the Oc’eti Oyate to evacuate as soon as possible for safety reasons,” the Oceti Sakowin camp said in a statement.
The Morton County Sheriff’s Department said that if the protesters do not leave the camp, it will become a “humanitarian mission” to rescue them.
In addition, the Bureau of Indian Affairs (BIA) pledged its support in helping the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe close the protest camps within its reservation boundaries.
The federal government announced Friday that it was dispatching BIA agents to the Standing Rock reservation.
The Corps said oil erosion and pollution — which it attributed to the “unauthorized placement of structures, vehicles, personal property, and fires” on the land over the course of more than six months — could result in contaminated runoff into both rivers.
“As stewards of the public lands and natural resources, we have a responsibility to the public to prevent injuries and loss of life,” said U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Omaha District Commander, Col. John Henderson. “We must also ensure our precious water resources are free from pollution due to human activities and respect for all who rely on this water for their livelihoods.”
A senior U.S. Defense official confirmed to NBC News that members of Congress were notified of the decision Friday.
The decision could be the final, decisive blow for a protest movement that began at the camp in early August with just a few dozen protesters — who call themselves water protectors — from the Standing Rock Sioux tribe and blossomed into a movement captivated the nation with thousands of Native Americans and environmental activists flocking to the remote North Dakota plains to stop the $3.7 billion pipeline.
In late November, North Dakota Gov. Jack Dalrymple issued a similar evacuation order, citing “severe winter conditions.” The order was followed up days later by a U.S. Army Corps deadline of Dec. 5.
The orders drew thousands more to the camp in solidarity, including groups of U.S. military veterans who vowed to act as “human shields” against possible clashes between demonstrators and law enforcement.
On Dec. 4, just hours before that deadline, the Corps turned down a permit for the project in what would be a short-lived victory for the tribe.
Last week, President Donald Trump signed a presidential memo asking for an expedited review of the Dakota Access Pipeline in an effort to get the controversial final portion of the 1,100-mile project moving again.
The Standing Rock Sioux tribe has promised to sue the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers for not conducting the environmental-impact review it said it would conduct.
On Tuesday, North Dakota Sen. Heidi Heitkamp told NBC News that the Corps would grant an easement to Energy Transfer Partners, the Dallas-based company funding the project, to finish the pipeline.
The Standing Rock Sioux Tribe alleges the construction and operation of the pipeline would destroy sacred sites and threatens their drinking water.
Meanwhile, Morton County Sheriff’s arrested Seventy-six protesters on Wednesday after a new camp, with seven tepee frames representing the seven tribes, was erected on a hill Wednesday morning a quarter mile from the original Oceti Sakowin Camp.
American Indian activist and Standing Rock Sioux Tribe member Chase Iron Eyes was charged on Friday with inciting a riot and trespass.
The anti-pipeline protest camp that once occupied by as many as 10,000 people has thinned to fewer than 300 due to harsh winter weather and a plea by Standing Rock Chairman Dave Archambault for the camp to disband before the spring flooding season.