The federal government warned Dakota pipeline protesters Friday to vacate makeshift campsites around the project’s construction sites or risk mass arrests.
Environmental activists and American Indian groups must vacate property near the Cannonball River in North Dakota by Dec. 5 or face arrest, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers wrote in a letter to the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe leader.
“This decision is necessary to protect the general public from the violent confrontation between protesters and law enforcement officials that have occurred in this area, and to prevent death, illness, or serious injury to inhabitants of encampments due to the harsh North Dakota winter conditions,” Col. John Henderson of the Corps wrote.
The Corps warning was issued less than a week after Morton County Sheriff’s Department used tear gas and high-pressured water hoses to disperse 400 “very aggressive” activists.
Nearly 300 people were treated for injuries during a Nov. 22 riot that were a “direct result of excessive force by police,” according to a press statement issued by the Standing Rock Medical and Healer Council.
The uptick in violence was no doubt the last straw for the federal government.
“I do not take this action lightly,” Henderson said, adding: anyone found on the land near Cannonball River after Dec. 5 “will be considered trespassing and may be subject to prosecution under federal, state, and local laws.”
Tribal Chairman Cave Archambault II told reporters in a press statement that the government’s decision was discouraging, but “our resolve to protect our water is stronger than ever.”
“The best way to protect people during the winter, and reduce the risk of conflict between water protectors and militarized police,” he added, “is to deny the easement for the Oahe crossing, and deny it now.”
Standing Rock members spent several months demonstrating against the $3.7 billion project, arguing the pipeline’s construction would trample on tribal lands and destroy artifacts. They also believe it could potentially poison waterways, including rivers such as the Missouri River and Lake Oahe.
Much of the group’s concerns could be rendered moot, especially after the tribe orchestrated a months-long battle against the pipeline due in large part to worries about contamination of their primary water source.
The decision to place a water treatment plant several miles downwind of the pipeline’s location, environmental analysts argue, may dispel concerns associated with the project. The relocation was years in the making.
Standing Rock currently gets its water 20 miles away from the so-called DAPL.