Hundreds of Dakota Access Pipeline protesters staged demonstrations on Thanksgiving Day in multiple locations in Mandan and near the main Oceti Sakowin protest camp.
Early Thursday morning, protesters began building a bridge, made of foam board and plywood bound together with rope, across Cantapeta Creek to gain access to a hill known as Turtle Hill, which some protesters have said contained burial sites. Throughout the day protesters said they were there to "reclaim" the hill, which they had attempted to reach earlier this month by building a similar bridge.
About 400 protesters gathered near Turtle Hill, and at one point a group started crossing the makeshift bridge and stood at the bottom of the hill. They didn't attempt to climb the hill, and police warned them to retreat or they would be arrested. Around 4:30 p.m., most had left the hill. No arrests were made.
Avery Lohman hung back after most protesters had returned to camp and watched the few remaining officers on the hill.
"Today's been very peaceful," said Lohman, who traveled to the camp from Kansas.
Some protesters wore rain ponchos to repel water, goggles and gas masks. Before leaving the bottom of the hill, the group formed a large circle near the shoreline. Hand-in-hand, they stood in silence, interspersed with moments of cheering and waiving at the line of officers who stood atop the hill.
A drone quietly flew above the protesters and the officers holding a line on the hill. The sheriff's department said one drone was "flying so low that an officer was able to knock it out of the sky with his hand." The drone is now in evidence, and it will be used to determine possible charges against the operator.
Another demonstration was held at Backwater Bridge on Thursday. A group of protesters gathered around 10:30 a.m. at the bridge, where there was an hour-long confrontation Sunday between protesters and police. On Thursday, protesters had backed a semi-trailer onto the bridge and about 150 to 200 protesters gathered there, according to Rob Keller, a spokesman for the Morton County Sheriff's Department.
A demonstration was also held on busy East Main Street in downtown Mandan. More than 170 vehicles and a school bus arrived around 10 a.m. at the Burger King parking lot and began preparing "materials" for the protest, according to Keller.
Protesters filled the intersection of East Main Street and Mandan Avenue, which had been blocked off from traffic. An alert was sent out to Mandan and Bismarck residents around 10 a.m. to inform them of the protest activity.
Law enforcement had been informed that the protesters were heading to Mandan, Keller said. While some protesters were constructing the bridge to cross to Turtle Hill, they had told officers they were planning to come into town. One protester reportedly told officers he was "ready to die today," and another had said, "Remember '73?" referring to Wounded Knee in 1973.
“We had every option at that time to prepare,” Keller said, also noting that law enforcement took the protesters’ statements seriously.
Pipeline opponents carried signs and banners, one which read "No pilgrims, no pipeline." Some protesters shouted, "Shame on you, North Dakota!"
"They come at us with violence, we come back with prayer," said Jamey Reil, of Virginia, who was referring to the clash between police and protesters Sunday night at Backwater Bridge.
At the center of the intersection, protesters had set up several folding tables with pumpkins and a pig head. They also brought sandwiches and drinks.
Officers formed a line on the street across from the protesters. Around 11:15 a.m., officers told the protesters to leave the area or be arrested, and they began backing the protesters down the street. By 11:30 a.m., most of the protesters had dispersed. Two people were arrested for refusing to leave, according to the sheriff's department.