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Robert Fool Bear

Cannon Ball District Chairman Robert Fool Bear says the district chose to leave it up to the Standing Rock Sioux Tribal Council to make the decision regarding a winter camp. 

The Standing Rock Sioux Tribe has agreed to dedicate a parcel of land near the community of Cannon Ball to a winter camp for people who plan to continue to participate in the anti-Dakota Access Pipeline movement.

Tribal Chairman Dave Archambault II said Tuesday’s 8-5 vote sets the stage for a process to partition the acreage, located on the south side of the paved access road to Cannon Ball about a quarter-mile off North Dakota Highway 1806.

He said the partitioning is required because the tribe doesn’t have a full interest in the land and has to obtain agreement from private individuals who share in it.

Archambault said he hopes that can happen quickly, so that preparations to create shelters for pipeline activists can get underway.

“If people are willing to stay and continue the fight against Dakota Access Pipeline, we have to be more proactive in creating a safe place for people to take shelter,” he said. “The tribe has always been supportive of everyone who’s been supportive of us.”

A working group of camp associates has developed a plan for the winter camp, including some central buildings for gathering, food preparation and dining; an educational facility; dwellings; and access to renewable energy.

Tom Goldtooth, executive director of the Indigenous Environmental Network, said Tuesday’s decision by the Standing Rock Sioux Tribal Council is a very positive step forward.

“It allows us to order materials for the main Mandan earth lodge. Teepees are coming in, and the structures for infrastructure need to start happening,” Goldtooth said.

Archambault said he is not trying to control who lives where this winter, but he is trying to ensure people who come to help have options during extreme winter conditions.

“I don’t dictate, and I don’t control. I work with people, and we’re doing our best to do that,” he said.

The land west of Cannon Ball was one of three possible locations for the camp. All were near the community of about 800 people that is already the gateway community to the original Sacred Stones spirit camp, which now has about 100 people living on the outskirts of town.

The site picked Tuesday is the most easily accessible from Highway 1806. It's about 4 miles from the large overflow encampment that spontaneously formed when the pipeline activism started up in mid-August.

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Goldtooth estimates about 1,000 people are still in the overflow camp and that about 500 people will remain through the winter.

He said he doesn’t know exactly how many would move to a winter camp, but said it would be a good move for three reasons. The first is to move out of the Cannonball River floodplain, where the overflow camp sits now, in case there’s high water in the spring.

The second is that the new camp could be more well-thought-out than one that grew organically as people started coming in by the hundreds and, eventually, by the thousands.

The third reason is the continued uncertainty of being on land owned by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, which is under an extended grazing lease, he said.

“There’s already been feedback that some people want options. Some people will stay in the overflow camp, and some say if there’s a winter camp they want to go there,” Goldtooth said.

He said the winter camp will be completed by volunteers with donated money and materials.

Robert Fool Bear, the Cannon Ball district chairman, said the town has been welcoming to the anti-pipeline activists, though there are some concerns about strangers in town. He said the district did not want to decide if the camp should be set up there, out of the belief that the decision belonged to the tribal council.

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(Reach Lauren Donovan at 701-220-5511 or lauren@westriv.com.)

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