A Deadline Looms for Dakota Protesters to Leave Campsite

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FARGO, N.D. — Activists protesting the Dakota Access oil pipeline remained camped along the banks of the Missouri River as a Wednesday afternoon deadline loomed for them to leave.

The protesters, who believe the almost-completed 1,172-mile pipeline would imperil the drinking water supply on the nearby Standing Rock Sioux Indian Reservation, have for months called for a halt to construction and a full environmental review of the project.

But construction resumed this month with President Trump’s blessing, and the Army Corps of Engineers and North Dakota’s governor have ordered that the largest protest camp — which sits on federal land — be cleared by 2 p.m. local time on Wednesday because of flooding concerns.

“It’s time for protesters to either go home, or move to a legal site where they can peaceably continue their activities without risk of further harm to the environment,” the attorney general, Wayne Stenehjem, said in a statement. Officials said that the trash at the protest camps posed an ecological risk if it was washed downstream by any flooding and that urgent cleanup was needed.

It remained uncertain how many of those still camped out would heed the evacuation order and how the authorities would respond to anyone who refused to leave. But Mike Nowatzki, a spokesman for Gov. Doug Burgum, told The Associated Press that arrests were possible if people refused to leave.

Cleanup has been underway for weeks at the camp, which has become a soupy, muddy mess as the snow melts.

“Some of them are definitely going to stay,” Chase Iron Eyes, a well-known protester, said Tuesday night. What will happen Wednesday afternoon, he said, is uncertain.

“Some people are going to stand in prayer,” he said. “Others may try to engage others in civil disobedience, but nobody’s armed and nobody’s going to aggress the cops or do anything that would cause harm.”

Mr. Iron Eyes, who is facing criminal charges for his actions during an earlier protest, said he planned to honor the Wednesday deadline.

State officials have offered meals, lodging, a medical exam and a bus ticket to anywhere in the 48 contiguous states for protesters who leave by Wednesday afternoon and need help getting home.

The protests started last year as a local affair, but the camps swelled to thousands in the summer and fall, with Native Americans and others from across the country gathering in spirited opposition and setting up a makeshift society in the camps, complete with cooking tents, supply areas and semi-permanent structures.

At times, demonstrators clashed with the police, leading to the activation of the North Dakota National Guard and hundreds of arrests. The police sometimes used tear gas and rubber bullets, and both sides have accused the other of escalating tensions and engaging in violence.

In recent weeks, the scene had calmed somewhat, as the number of demonstrators dwindled during the harsh winter. Dave Archambault II, the chairman of the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe, which has sued seeking to block construction, has urged protesters to go home.

The tribe seemed to score a victory when, in the waning weeks of President Obama’s tenure, the Army Corps announced that it would undertake a full environmental impact study before allowing the pipeline to cross Lake Oahe, the Missouri River reservoir near where protesters have camped.

But President Trump instructed the Army to drop that study, and construction resumed. Barring court intervention, oil from the Bakken fields in western North Dakota could be flowing by this spring through the pipeline to its end point in Illinois.

This article was sourced from http://mlnews4all.com