Standing Rock Sioux Tribe officials said this weekend that although they were working with federal authorities to stabilize the situation at the Dakota Access Pipeline protest site, they were not calling on law enforcement to forcibly remove activists there.
After months of protests, both tribal officials and residents in the town of Cannon Ball, N.D., have asked those opposed to completion of the controversial, 1,170-mile pipeline to leave. A few hundred activists remain, both on the Standing Rock Sioux’s reservation and on neighboring land.
Tribal officials and their allies, including environmentalists and many military veterans, argue that the project could cause environmental damage and disturb ancient burial sites. Proponents, including President Trump and many business and labor leaders, say it will spur economic growth in the United States and provide a means of safely transporting heavy crude from western North Dakota to the pipeline networks and refineries in Illinois.
On Friday evening, the acting assistant secretary for Indian affairs, Michael S. Black, said that the agency had sent “enforcement support and would assist” the tribe “in closing the protest camps within the Standing Rock Reservation boundary.”
But tribal officials responded over the weekend that while they wanted people to leave the reservation, they did not want them arrested or ousted by force. On Wednesday, law enforcement authorities arrested 74 protesters who had decamped to land owned by the pipeline’s developer, Energy Transfer Partners.
“We want to stress that we are cleaning the camps, not clearing them,” the tribe posted on Facebook on Saturday. “We do not support or endorse any ‘raids.’ We have not asked for law enforcement to assist in clearing camps and in fact have repeatedly told them there will be no forcible removal.”
Tribal officials have been trying to persuade protesters to leave on their own, although it is unclear whether they will do so. The extended period of encampment has caused soil erosion that could cause significant flooding, depending on future weather.
Trump has instructed Army Corps of Engineers officials — who withheld the final permit needed to complete the pipeline project in December, citing the need for a more extensive environmental review — to expedite its review of Energy Transfer Partners’ application. Officials confirmed last week that they were accelerating their review but had not reached a final decision.
In the Facebook post, the tribe officials emphasized that they would continue to fight any federal permit for the pipeline in court but that opponents had to be sensitive to those living around the reservation.
“One of the key tenets of any movement is being considerate about how we treat the community in which we bring our voices and respect the places where we are visitors,” it said. “The community of Cannonball has every right to choose how it wants people to help them. We are still focused on defeating DAPL on all fronts.”