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Winter camp options encounter roadblocks

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Town-hall meeting

Standing Rock Sioux tribe councilman Chad Harrison explains financial and political issues regarding the anti-Dakota Access pipeline movement at a town hall-style meeting in Cannon Ball Wednesday night and listens to a woman who’s living in one of the encampments during an open forum.

CANNON BALL — A town hall-style meeting at Cannon Ball Wednesday night to talk about land problems related to a winter camp for anti-Dakota Access pipeline protesters evolved into a long discussion of related problems for the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe.

About 50 residents and people from the protest encampments attended the meeting at which tribal councilman Chad Harrison said the complexities of partitioning tribal land from private ownership on the 70-acre tract southwest of the town could take up to two years to resolve.

He said the council asked the Bureau of Indian Affairs to expedite the survey and paperwork.

“It doesn’t look like it’s going to happen,” he said.

Even if it happened quickly and safely, winterized camp infrastructure would take at least a couple of months to get done.

“It’s November next week, and, by the time it’s built, it would be mid-winter already. If you’re waiting, don’t hang your hat on that,” he said. “Two months is a long time when it’s 5 degrees below zero.”

Harrison outlined other issues, including the reality that many people occupying the main overflow camp have already set up for winter. The overflow camp is on U.S. Army Corps of Engineers land and, while there could be benefits to having it on the reservation, there would also be liabilities. He said the corps wanted the tribe to provide a $5 million liability bond for a camp permit.

“We don’t have that kind of money," he said.

Other land options are slim to none, and no other location has been advanced as a possibility, according to Harrison.

Money, legal issues

The tribe is grateful for all the support from the camps, occupied now by as many as 1,000, and the international platform for highlighting the plight of all tribes, but it has come at a cost, Harrison said.

Legal fees are mounting to defend the tribe’s lawsuit against the corps over the pipeline permit, at the same time expenses and revenue are impacted.

He said the disruption on N.D. Highway 1806 — where roadblocks and barricades have detoured traffic for most of two months — have caused a $1 million drop in anticipated revenue from the Prairie Knights Casino, one of the main revenue drivers for the reservation.

The tribe is spending $60,000 a month on porta-potty services, at the same time only two of hundreds of crowd-funding Internet accounts go directly to the tribe, Harrison said.

On the legal front, at more expense, he said the tribe is “feeling out” its status related to the 1851 land treaty that is referenced now as a reason for a new front-line camp directly on the pipeline route on land recently acquired by Dakota Access Pipeline from owner David Meyer.

“The term 'eminent domain' is not going to be used by the Standing Rock tribe for being on that land. If we do, we could have to give just compensation. Dakota Access bought that for $18 million and, if it was split in half for $9 million, we just don’t have that. We have a toenail hold. Right now, we’re taking steps and it’s crucial that we don’t put the tribes at risk,” he said.

Pipeline pressure

He said there is pressure from law enforcement.

"In two days, they will be knocking on our door," Harrison said.

At the same time, the tribe is pushing back on other fronts. Besides continuing its legal battle in federal court, trying to force the corps to rewind its permit process for a full-blown environmental assessment, Harrison said the tribe is reaching out to investors in the $3.8 billion project.

“We’ve called investors that are backing the project, in hopes they will start divesting and that some of the investors back out. Right now, Dakota Access has not met some of its benchmarks and the longer we can stall it, the better we are,” he said.

The pipeline has said it has contracts to deliver Bakken crude via the pipeline by the end of the year, but without a critical corps’ easement to stage a drill bore at the edge of the Missouri River/Lake Oahe — a project the company says will take months — it’s clear the company will not make those contract deadlines.

It has said in federal court filings that a year’s delay in missed sales and other consequences would cost the company $1.4 billion.

Sharon Two Bears, of Cannon Ball, said she appreciates the camps and all the support while the tribe fights for clean water and sacred sites but said the complexities are growing.

She said the tribe has been told it can’t spend any federal money in support of the protest camps, including Indian Health Services for people who may need medical attention. Two Bears said people in the Cannon Ball district should be allowed to vote on a winter camp before it’s established.

Archie Fool Bear, also of Cannon Ball district, agreed the winter camp land issue could drag out for years.

“I’ve talked to the (overflow) camp people, and many of them say they’re going to stay there. I don’t want to see a little girl come running up and saying that her mother and father are dead of carbon monoxide poisoning or find someone frozen to the ground. There has to be a plan to figure out how they will survive the winter,” Fool Bear said.

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

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