Standing Rock activists dig in ahead of deadline to clear protest camp

Native Americans on the Standing Rock Sioux Reservation in Cannon Ball North Dakota last December.
Helen H. Richardson | The Denver Post | Getty Images
Native Americans on the Standing Rock Sioux Reservation in Cannon Ball North Dakota last December.

Protesters braced for potential clashes with authorities on Wednesday and prepared to carry on their months-long opposition to the Dakota Access pipeline ahead of a deadline to clear a protest camp near the Standing Rock reservation.

Some activists vowed to remain at the Oceti Sakowin camp past the 2 p.m. deadline, while others were shepherding activists to newly built camps nearby. Meanwhile, North Dakota authorities offered temporary lodging and one-way bus tickets to camp residents ready to head home.

The Army Corps of Engineers announced this month it would clear tents and teepees from federal land it manages near the Cannonball River, citing concerns about impending flooding. North Dakota Gov. Doug Burgum last week ordered an emergency evacuation of the area.

Some members of the Sioux tribes who have staged a months-long protest to block completion of the Dakota Access pipeline predicted authorities would use heavy-handed tactics to remove activists unwilling to leave voluntarily.

"It is going to get real dangerous and violent in my opinion come [the deadline], and if people come, they need to know what's in store," Cheyenne River Sioux Tribe Chairman Harold Frazier told reporters in a conference call last week.

Map of Oceti Sakowin, source: ocetisakowincamp.org

Rob Keller, public information officer for the Morton County Sheriff Department, said authorities taking part in the camp clearing, including the Bureau of Indian Affairs, were aiming to avoid the scene painted by Frazier.

"The image that people are looking for to happen probably will not happen unless the rogue protesters do something drastic," he told CNBC.

Local authorities and private security have faced off with protesters in confrontations that have become violent at times. The Morton County Sheriff's Department has used rubber bullets, tear gas and water cannons to disperse crowds. The department says some protesters have thrown projectiles at them.

The Lakota People's Law Project plans to livestream the removal on its Facebook page beginning at 2 p.m. CST.

Hundreds of campers are still occupying the land to protest completion of the Dakota Access pipeline beneath Lake Oahe. The body of water provides drinking water and is considered sacred by Native American Sioux tribes. The crowds reached the thousands before winter set in.

President Donald Trump last month ordered the Corps to grant pipeline builder Energy Transfer Partners the easement it needed to complete the project. The Corps complied this month and dropped plans to conduct an environmental study to identify a new route for the hotly disputed pipeline.

The Standing Rock Sioux tribal council has encouraged campers to leave for safety reasons, but some are refusing to do so.

"There are people in the camp who plan to stay and ceremoniously stand against this unlawful eviction," said Anthony Diggs, communications secretary for Veterans Stand, a veterans group the Cheyenne River Sioux invited to the camps.

Veterans Stand does not plan to take part in direct actions to oppose the closing, but will continue through Wednesday to relocate protesters to a new camp established by the Cheyenne River Sioux in recent weeks.

The new camp will not accept activists who directly confront authorities on Wednesday for fear that law enforcement agents will use their presence as an excuse to conduct raids beyond Oceti, Diggs said.

Vehicles blocked

Authorities in recent days blocked building materials, food and medical supplies from reaching new camps, Diggs said.

Keller confirmed that trucks hauling building supplies had been turned away to prevent new structures being built at Oceti. He said he was not aware of authorities preventing deliveries of food and medical supplies.

Another veterans group, VeteransRespond, last week began resettling campers at a location affiliated with another camp, Sacred Stone.

VeteransRespond originally focused on assisting veteran protesters stranded in North Dakota, but it began building up its location as protesters sought shelter beyond Oceti, low-lying parts of Sacred Stone and other lands with complicated ownership structures that make them legally untenable to inhabit, said Elizabeth Williams, a volunteer with VeteransRespond.

"We're not going to turn them away. That's what veterans are here to do, to serve the people," Williams said.