Most water protectors left the Oceti Sakowin camp opposing the Dakota Access Pipeline (DAPL) on their own on Wednesday February 22, the deadline given for evacuation before spring flooding. Police standing by arrested about 10 people, with one injury reported but few details available.
About 150 water protectors marched out of camp before the 2pm CST deadline, singing and drumming in a somber ceremonial group. Others stayed behind for a while, debating whether to leave or stay. Some of those felt that being arrested would impede their larger mission, to draw attention to the need for respect of indigenous treaty rights and the environment. They also acknowledged that the fight has moved to the courts and toward efforts to pull funds out of banks that are financing the $3.8 billion, 1,172-mile-long pipeline. Others wanted to be arrested, to make one last statement.
While cleanup has been under way since January, authorities were jittery that it wouldn’t be done before spring flooding. Water protectors claimed that evacuation orders issued on February 15 did not give them enough time to finish clearing the debris on their own. They said they were doing fine without being pushed out, and that the move by newly elected Gov. Doug Burgum misrepresented and undermined the success of their efforts.
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“They’re saying, ‘Give us more time. We’re cleaning up this camp. This is our responsibility,’ ” water protector and Leave It in the Ground organizer Dallas Goldtooth told MSNBC on Wednesday afternoon. “So it’s absurd to kick all those people out who have been working tirelessly all these weeks. We’ve been asking for weeks now to just give us more time to clean up and get the tents out of our space.”
He added that North Dakota officials had used numerous excuses over the months to justify the over-militarization of the police presence, then in trying to push water protectors off the treaty lands. At first it was the expression of concern over the cold winter, and then it was the impending spring floods, Goldtooth said.
“Water protectors have been through three blizzards, and there have been no deaths, no injuries” other than what the military police have inflicted on them, he said. “And now they’re using this flood as a way to get people off the ground.”
Burgum maintained that authorities’ sole goal was environmental protection, cleanup and remediation.
“Our focus is on clearing the flood plain and the Army Corps land,” he told reporters.
Once debris is cleared, U.S. Army Corps of Engineers personnel will move in and do remediation on the site to restore it to its original condition, said Colonel John W. Henderson, U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Commander and District Engineer of the Omaha District.