The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers has set a deadline of Dec. 5 for those living in the Oceti Sakowin protest camp to vacate the corps-owned land. Anyone remaining after that date will be subject to trespassing charges.
In an email sent Friday to Standing Rock Sioux Chairman Dave Archambault II, Col. John Henderson, Omaha district commander, said the corps is establishing a free speech zone on the south side of the Cannonball River; but the main overflow camp on the north side must be disbanded.
"Our tribe is deeply disappointed in this decision by the United States, but our resolve to protect our water is stronger than ever," said Archambault, who is asking pipeline opponents to continue to fight the pipeline's permitting process.
Dallas Goldtooth, an organizer with the Indigenous Environmental Network, said about 5,000 to 7,000 people are in the camp. That's a substantial increase since Sunday, when a confrontation between protesters and law enforcement led to many being treated for hypothermia after being sprayed with fire hoses. Others sought emergency hospital care, including a woman who suffered a serious arm injury and now is reportedly in satisfactory condition at a Minneapolis hospital.
The overflow camp was established in August, after the Dakota Access Pipeline crew moved toward its Missouri River/Lake Oahe crossing site just north of the reservation. The tribe is in federal court, claiming the corps failed to follow federal law and properly consult the tribe amid concerns the 570,000-barrel capacity pipeline could break and pollute a primary source of drinking water.
Goldtooth said there’s not enough land on the south side of the river where many are already camping; and a planned winter camp on 50 acres of reservation land near Cannon Ball is not yet ready, with groundbreaking set for next week.
“There’s no other space that can take people right now. This is a stupid, foolish act by the corps. I’m fairly sure that law enforcement would be just as concerned,” Goldtooth said.
People in the camp are living without electricity or running water in an array of teepees, tents, yurts and other structures.
Goldtooth said the eviction deadline is the day after more than 2,000 American war veterans are scheduled to arrive at the camp to stand in solidarity with Standing Rock.
Henderson said the decision was necessary to protect the general public from confrontations between protesters and law enforcement, and to prevent death or serious injuries to the protesters. He said the Oceti Sakowin camp is also on land leased for grazing.
“To be clear, this means that no member of the general public, to include Dakota Access Pipeline protesters, can be on these lands," said Henderson, who urged Archambault to encourage tribal members and supporters to move to the free speech zone or a more sustainable location for the winter.
“I am genuinely concerned for the safety and well-being of both the members of your tribe and the general public located at these encampments,” Henderson told the chairman.
The corps has been under pressure from state officials to move the protesters off its land.
Goldtooth said if the corps wants to “wash its hands” of the issue, it would be better to deny the easement for Dakota Access that’s currently preventing the company from boring underneath the Missouri River/Lake Oahe to connect the pipeline that’s mostly completed otherwise.
“They should deny the easement and look at the facts and order a full environmental impact statement. It’s ridiculous to order the eviction of 5,000 to 7,000 people who have moral and treaty rights to be there,” Goldtooth said.
The Associated Press contributed to this article.