Tension is brewing within the Dakota Access protest as complaints grow about outside activists trashing the camps, mooching donations and treating the anti-pipeline demonstration like a Burning Man-style festival for hippies.
“Need to get something off my chest that I witnessed and found very disturbing in my brief time there that I believe many others have started to speak up about as well. White people colonizing the camps,” Alicia Smith said in a Facebook post.
“They are coming in, taking food, clothing etc and occupying space without any desire to participate in camp maintenance and without respect of tribal protocols,” she wrote. “These people are treating it like it is Burning Man or The Rainbow Gathering and I even witnessed several wandering in and out of camps comparing it to those festivals.”
Her Nov. 14 post, now making the rounds on social media, said outsiders are “literally subsisting entirely off the generosity of native people (AND YOUR DONATIONS if you have been donating) who are fighting to protect their water just because they can.”
A local deputy who asked to remain anonymous told WDAY AM’s Rob Port that most of the protesters are white, and that some have used racial slurs against black, Hispanic and American Indian officers.
Standing Rock Sioux Chairman David Archambault II, who is leading the protest, raised concerns about sanitation in a Nov. 23 interview with Vice, saying activists are “digging pits out there for their human waste.”
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“That’s a flood zone,” said Mr. Archambault, referring to camps on federal land along the Cannonball River. “So when the floodwaters come up, that waste is going to be contaminating the water. We’re no different than the oil company, if we’re fighting for water. What’s going to happen when people leave? Who has to clean it up? Who has to refurbish it? It’s going to be us, the people who live here.”
As many as 3,000 people have moved in and out of the southern North Dakota protest camps since Aug. 10. Some protesters belong to the Standing Rock and other tribes, but many are students, environmental activists and agitators with criminal records who have ignored Mr. Archambault’s repeated calls for peaceful demonstrations.
“Before this entire movement started, that was some of the most beautiful land around,” Mr. Archambault said. “There was a place down there where eagles, over 100 eagles, would come and land. There were game down there — deer, pheasants, elk, geese. Now it’s occupied by people. And when masses of people come to one place, we don’t take care of it.”
The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers has given protesters on federal land north of the Cannonball River until Dec. 5 to clear the area, but leaders of the large Sacred Stone, or Oceti Sakowin, camp have said they will fight eviction.
“We are a coalition of grassroots groups living and working at the encampments, and we will not be moved,” the camp said on its website. “We stand united in defiance of the black snake and are committed to defense of water, our Mother Earth, and our rights as Indigenous people. We call on all people of conscience, from all Nations, to join the encampments and stand with us as we put our bodies on the line.”
A Nov. 3 post on Facebook by Jon Petronzio told would-be protesters to leave drugs and alcohol at home, warning: “This is not burning man or a festival. Do not bring your party at the expense of these people fighting for life and death.”
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He said later that he had made the post in a “bout of anger and frustration at non-natives.”
“The main thing that I want to stress is that these people are NOT the majority and there are many people being wonderful allies and contributing in powerful and humble ways. We still need everyone there,” Mr. Petronzio said in a Nov. 26 post.
Well over $1 million has been donated online to support the protesters, who have called on the Obama administration to stop the 1,172-mile, four-state pipeline, which is about 87 percent complete, citing concerns about water quality and historic relics.
Some people have raised money on crowdfunding sites to cover their travel expenses to the site.
Supporters argue that the $3.8 billion project will run alongside an existing pipeline and has cleared the necessary environmental reviews.
The pipeline runs about a half-mile at its closest point from the Standing Rock reservation. The corps has delayed issuing a previously approved permit for the final 1,100 feet in North Dakota, a move being challenged by the pipeline company in court.