By Glynn Wilson –
A historic confrontation in the war for human rights and social justice on the magnitude of Bloody Sunday in Selma is looming at the confluence of the Cannonball and Missouri rivers in North Dakota on Dec. 5, and the whole world really is watching this time, live on Facebook.
More than 700 tribes and millions of people will be watching to see how local sheriff’s deputies and private security forces handle the job of trying to enforce a federal evacuation order for all land occupied by protestors north of the Cannonball River, west of the Missouri, issued by the Corps of Engineers on the Friday after Thanksgiving.
The land in question includes both the front line camp, which lies on the side of the road along Highway 1806 directly in between the site where the Dakota Access Pipeline was blocked by protestors beginning in the spring and the Missouri River where the pipeline would cross (see map below), and the larger overflow Oceti Sakowin camp, where most of the protestors outside the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe and media have occupied since August. It does not include the original Sacred Stone Camp, south of the Cannonball River on Standing Rock Sioux Reservation land.
Standing Rock Sioux tribal leader Dave Archambault and a panel of other protest organizers held a press conference Saturday on Facebook Hill overlooking the overflow Oceti Sakowin encampment and vowed to continue with nonviolent protests, the day after Archambault received the letter from Corps Col. John Henderson, announcing the closing of the camps due to “safety concerns,” the oncoming winter and increasingly contentious clashes between protestors and police.
Calling themselves “water protectors,” tribal leaders say the pipeline could contaminate drinking water and Native American cultural sites, and there is still an ongoing archeological investigation and negotiation with the federal government over the pipeline’s location.
Henderson’s letter to Archambault, chairman of the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe, said any members of the tribe or the public on the land north of the river will be considered trespassers and could face arrest and charges, which would be a monumental showdown like nothing seen in the Unites States since African Americans marching for the right to vote were confronted by Alabama State Troopers on the Edmund Pettus Bridge in Selma, Alabama, on March 7, 1965, the day now known in civil rights circles as “Bloody Sunday.”
It appears the election of Republican Donald Trump as president, with Trump a major shareholder in the Texas-based Energy Transfer Partners that owns the Dakota Access Pipeline, has complicated the decision for the Obama administration about how to handle the issue. It is noteworthy that this evacuation order, as the tribal leaders are calling it, appears to have been purposely timed for the busy Thanksgiving holiday, when people were traveling and spending time with their families, perhaps not paying close attention to political news.
The Standing Rock Sioux Tribal Council maintains that all the land between the boundaries of the reservation on the south side of the Cannonball River all the way north to the Heart River belongs to the Tribe according to the 1851 Treaty of Ft. Laramie (see map below).
“We are wardens of this land. This is our land and they can’t remove us,” Isaac Weston, an Oglala Sioux member from South Dakota, along with others at the press conference, said on Saturday. “We have every right to be here to protect our land and to protect our water.”
Even as temperatures have dropped below freezing over the past few weeks, several hundred people from many tribes and environmental activists from the 50 states still occupy the Oceti camp, and were recently threatened by local Morton County Sheriff’s deputies for setting up illegal structures when they began to winterize the camp with semi-permanent structures, bails of hay and propane heaters for teepees, as well as RVs, in preparation for the harsh winter on the high plains.
Dallas Goldtooth, a protest organizer with the Indigenous Environmental Network, called the treatment of Native Americans by local police and private security forces “an atrocious example that colonization has not ended for us here as indigenous people.” He said the federal government’s evacuation order will only escalate tensions on the part of protestors and police.
The Army Corps of Engineers is not returning messages or making further comments over the Thanksgiving holiday weekend, even to verify the letter, which was not posted on the agency’s website. The Corps previously indicated it would not evict the occupiers of the camp, since it granted permission for the location, just north of the Cannonball River across from the original Sacred Stone Camp on the reservation. The overflow Oceti Sakowin camp began growing in August as the word got out on the web through social networking sites like Twitter and Facebook.
It is unclear what President Barack Obama may do between now and Dec. 5, since there is no word out of the White House, yet. He could send in the National Guard and protect the water protectors from the local cops, like Attorney General Bobby Kennedy and President Lyndon Johnson did for marchers in Selma.
He could order the Corps to halt the construction and request that the company relocate it, although the company CEO Kelcy Warren of Texas-based pipeline developer Energy Transfer Partners has already said that is not an option for them. A major oil contract expires in January that will be no good unless the pipeline is finished under the river by then.
President Obama had previously said his administration is monitoring the “challenging situation” but would “let it play out for several more weeks.” The final confrontations in this historic battle for life on earth, clean water and Native American rights may be just days away. Much hangs in the balance.
More than 500 people have been arrested so far since August, and some of the protests have resulted in violent confrontations with local police and private security forces. One woman suffered a serious arm injury from the explosion of a concussion grenade last weekend and hundreds of others were also injured in a dramatic Sunday night confrontation on Blackwater Bridge involving water cannon aimed at people in sub-freezing temperatures, tear gas shells lobbed into the crowd, rubber bullets being fired at women and children and old tribal members, one of whom suffered a heart attack.
Some on the panel at the press conference scoffed at the idea of a “free speech zone” south of the river. “The borders of the United States are supposed to be a free speech zone, according to the Constitution,” one said.
Archambault indicated Saturday he doesn’t believe the Corps will forcibly evict people from the camp, since they have no forces of their own. They would have to call on the local police, or the National Guard.
He indicated the tribe is working on a more secure winter camp on the reservation to protect the water protectors from the harsh winter conditions, but he did not reveal the location, even when pressed in questioning.
Mainstream media outlets like the Associated Press are now reporting that the Republican governor of North Dakota, Jack Dalrymple, is saying it’s the federal government’s job to peacefully close the camp because it allowed people to stay there in the first place.
“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 its past time that the federal government provides the law enforcement resources … to enforce their own order to vacate,” the governor said.
Morton County Commission chairman Cody Schulz, who said county and state leaders have been seeking federal law enforcement help for months, also seemed to call for federal troops.
“It’s now time for the federal government to live up to its obligations,” Schulz said in a statement.
North Dakota Senators John Hoeven, a Republican, and Heidi Heitkamp, a Democrat, both said the protesters need to move in the interest of public safety.
“The well-being and property of ranchers, farmers and everyone else living in the region should not be threatened by protesters who are willing to commit acts of violence,” Hoeven said in a statement Friday. He also called on the Obama administration to let work on the pipeline move forward, saying, “this difficult situation has gone on too long and we need to get it resolved.”
Heitkamp said the Corps’ order is “a needed step to support the safety of residents, workers, protesters and law enforcement.”
Meanwhile, a group of more than 1,000 U.S. military veterans is scheduled to “deploy” to join the camp and peacefully support the water protectors’ fight against the controversial pipeline on Dec. 4, the day before the evacuation order is expected to be enforced.
This is shaping up to be one history making confrontation. Many people’s lives are on the line. The future of the planet is on the line, as more oil pipelines just lead to the burning of more fossil fuels, global warming and climate change. And President Obama’s legacy is on the line.
There is little doubt that Donald Trump would crush the opposition after he is inaugurated as president on Friday, January 20, 2017, with any means necessary. How will President Obama respond between now and Dec. 5?
Stay tuned. We will bring you the real news, not the fake news.
© 2016, Glynn Wilson. All rights reserved.