The Standing Rock Sioux chairman called Monday for non-tribal activists to leave the protest area now that the Obama administration has blocked the Dakota Access pipeline, but they’re not going anywhere.
Protest leaders vowed Monday to remain at the makeshift camps on federal land, pointing out that Energy Transfer Partners is still determined to complete the project even though the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers on Sunday denied a previously issued easement.
“This is a victory for organizing, and it doesn’t stop now. We are asking our supporters to keep up the pressure, because while President Obama has granted us a victory today, that victory isn’t guaranteed in the next administration,” said Dallas Goldtooth, spokesman for the Indigenous Environmental Network.
About 1,000 activists gathered Monday at the Backwater Bridge on Highway 1806, braving a winter storm that brought blowing snow and subfreezing temperatures to the protest near Cannon Ball, North Dakota.
“More threats are likely in the year to come, and we cannot stop until this pipeline is completely and utterly defeated, and our water and climate are safe,” Mr. Goldtooth said.
The decision to remain comes in defiance of Chairman Dave Archambault II’s call for the demonstrators to leave the camps. He previously has decried the environmental damage from thousands of campers as they burn trash, dig pits for garbage and waste, and scare away wildlife.
SEE ALSO: Dakota Access pipeline: U.S. Army Corps of Engineers denies easement
“I’m asking them to go,” Mr. Archambault told Reuters news agency. “Their presence will only cause the environment to be unsafe.”
He noted that the state’s harsh weather makes construction unlikely for the next few months, and that he plans to speak in the meantime to President-elect Donald Trump.
“Nothing will happen this winter,” Mr. Archambault said.
This isn’t the first time protesters have ignored the tribe. For months, Mr. Archambault and tribal elders have urged activists to remain “peaceful and prayerful,” only to watch a violent faction set fires, damage construction equipment, and throw rocks, feces and Molotov cocktails at police.
The tribal council voted Nov. 1 to ask for the departure of the Red Warrior Camp, seen as the most dangerous of the camps, but its members have stayed put while continuing to raise money online.
The Standing Rock Sioux’s mission also has been largely supplanted by that of the “leave it in the ground” movement, which seeks to stop fossil fuel extraction.
SEE ALSO: Heidi Heitkamp, N.D. senator: Pipeline will be built under Trump; fight to stop it ‘not winnable’
The tribe praised Sunday the administration’s decision to explore alternative routes for the pipeline, which runs about a half-mile from the reservation, over concerns about water quality and historic relics.
But environmentalists want to stop altogether the $3.8 billion project, which is more than 90 percent complete.
“I was asked, ‘When do you consider this pipeline issue to be over?’ I said, ‘When every pipe is out of the ground and the earth is repaired across the United States,’” LaDonna Allard, Sacred Stone Camp director, said Monday in a statement. “I am not negotiating, I am not backing down. I must stand for our grandchildren and for the water.”
Those concerned that the decision to pull the easement will only to last as long as President Obama remains in office have reason to worry.
Sen. Heidi Heitkamp, North Dakota Democrat, said Monday the project would proceed after Mr. Trump is inaugurated Jan. 20, saying the legal fight against the pipeline is “not winnable.”
The 1,172-mile, four-state pipeline, whose route lies almost entirely on private land, only needs federal approval for a 1,100-foot stretch along the Missouri River at Lake Oahe. The Army Corps issued the permit in July before pulling it in response to the protest.
“When you look at it, we know one thing for sure, that when the administration changes, the easement is going to be approved,” Ms. Heitkamp told CNBC’s “Squawk Box.” “I think President-elect Trump said that.”
A moderate Democrat, Ms. Heitkamp is being considered for a position as interior secretary or energy secretary in the Trump administration.
The Trump transition team said Monday that Mr. Trump had sold his interest in Energy Transfer Partners, which had created a potential conflict of interest for the president-elect.
In a Sunday statement, the company blasted the Obama administration’s decision as “just the latest in a series of overt and transparent political actions by an administration which has abandoned the rule of law in favor of currying favor with a narrow and extreme political constituency.”
“As stated all along, ETP and SXL [Sunoco Logistics Partners] are fully committed to ensuring that this vital project is brought to completion and fully expect to complete construction of the pipeline without any additional rerouting in and around Lake Oahe,” said the statement. “Nothing this administration has done today changes that in any way.”
Another protester was arrested Monday and charged with criminal trespass after he refused to heed warnings to return to the protest site in what officers described as an effort to reach the law enforcement operations center.
“This is the kind of stuff that re-escalates things, and then he brings the attitude right along with it,” Cass County Sheriff Paul Laney said in a statement.
That brings the number of arrests to 566 since Aug. 10. Officers have been accused by pipeline foes of unnecessary force by using tear gas, flash bangs, water hoses and rubber bullets in their efforts to herd protesters off private land, highways and streets.
State and local law enforcement have spent about $10 million on costs associated with handling the protests, while the administration has refused to pitch in despite allowing the activists to remain on federal land without a permit.
The corps asked protesters to clear their encampment on federal property north of the Cannonball River by Monday, but said they would not be forcibly removed.
While the snow and cold weather have prompted some activists to leave, others insist they will stay.