Former Congressional candidate Chase Iron Eyes was among 76 people arrested Wednesday after Dakota Access Pipeline protesters tried to establish a new camp on private property located on the west side of N.D. Highway 1806 in southern Morton County.
After failed negotiations with leaders of this new camp, law enforcement moved in around 3:30 p.m. and arrested people who refused to leave, according to the Morton County Sheriff's Department. The confrontation continued until about 4 p.m.
The short-lived encampment, known as the "Last Child Camp," was composed of several teepees atop a hill across from the main Oceti Sakowin camp. According to a post from Dallas Goldtooth, a campaign organizer of the Indigenous Environmental Network, police told Oceti Sakowin camp security they would not be raiding that encampment on U.S. Army Corps of Engineers land.
To access the protest site, law enforcement briefly removed part of the barricade on the Backwater Bridge, but they replaced it after the standoff. Police said representatives of the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe collected teepees left after the raid. Bureau of Indian Affairs officers also set up a roadblock at Cannon Ball to keep people from driving north during the raid.
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Joye Braun, a longtime protest organizer affiliated with IEN, said she was not sure exactly of the intentions of the camp. Unlike the "front line" or "treaty camp" from October, this was not atop the pipeline route. She suggested that since many there view the whole area as treaty land, they may have moved atop the hill across the road in the spirit of leaving the flood plain and setting up on higher ground.
Braun, who was not atop the hill, said she believed people had been mostly prayerful there.
Police are characterizing the group on the hill as a rogue faction, but Braun contends that's unlikely, given the number of arrests.
"How can 76 people getting arrested be a faction?" she asked.
Arrestees have been transported to jail across the state, including Morton County, Mercer County, Cass County, Stutsman County and Barnes County.
As recently as Sunday, ongoing dialogue between all parties, including camp leaders from the various protester camps, resulted in agreements to start cleaning up the camps, to have protesters leave the area and for steps by law enforcement to help de-escalate the situation.
“Public safety, including that of residents and protesters alike, is our No. 1 priority,” said Morton County Sheriff Kyle Kirchmeier.
What law enforcement calls an illegal action follows news that the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers is expected to grant the final easement for the Dakota Access Pipeline to cross the Missouri River within the next few days, according to Sen. John Hoeven, R-N.D., and Rep. Kevin Cramer, R-N.D.
“In spite of the actions of this rogue group, we will strive to continue efforts on both sides to move forward and find common ground as steps are taken to ensure public safety and begin healing the relationships that are so important to the region and our state,” Gov. Doug Burgum said.
Meanwhile, activists from Camp of the Sacred Stones, Honor the Earth, the Indigenous Environmental Network and the International Indigenous Youth Council are maintaining that granting the easement would illegally circumvent the environmental impact statement process and allow the company to begin drilling immediately.
The EIS was ordered by Jo-Ellen Darcy, the assistant secretary of the U.S. Army, on Dec. 4. On Jan. 14, the corps filed a notice of intent in the Federal Register to begin the scoping process for the study, for which a public comment period is currently open.
"By attempting to approve this easement, the administration's actions reveal a blatant disregard for the rule of law and a clear interest in lining the pockets of Big Oil," Goldtooth said.
"Now he (Trump) is working even harder to attack sovereign tribal nations and historic treaties. Come what may, we have drawn our line in the dirt. We are here to defend Mother Earth and our inherent rights as the first people of the land," he said.
Bismarck Tribune reporter Caroline Grueskin contributed to this report.