About 76 Dakota Access protesters were arrested Wednesday after they set up a new camp on private land and then tried to stop law enforcement from reaching the encampment.
The arrests at the impromptu Last Child Camp came as law enforcement and the Standing Rock Sioux coordinated to clear garbage from protest sites located in the floodplain before the spring snow melt.
“Law enforcement showed great restraint, enduring verbal abuse and taunts and protesters resisting arrest but did not make use of any less-than-lethal munitions,” said the Morton County Sheriff’s Department in a Wednesday statement.
Officers met first on the Backwater Bridge with representatives of the hastily constructed camp and asked them to dismantle their tents and teepees, but after multiple warnings, “they did not show signs of starting to leave,” the department said.
“Our law enforcement officers conducted themselves in a safe and responsible manner,” said Morton County Sheriff Kyle Kirchmeier. “Regardless of this incident, it is our desire to continue the dialogue with tribal and camp leaders so that the camps continue to be cleaned and protesters leave prior to the flooding season.”
Among those arrested for trespassing was Chase Iron Eyes, the 2016 Democratic candidate for North Dakota’s lone congressional seat, who lost to Republican Rep. Kevin Cramer.
The Standing Rock Sioux have called for protesters to leave the flood plain over concerns about environmental damage and the looming danger from the spring floods.
Several hundred protesters are braving the harsh winter in an effort to stop approval of the final 1,100-foot easement in North Dakota.
“Representatives from the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe coordinated with law enforcement and came to collect the teepee hides from the campsite to return them to the reservation,” said the department.
The latest round of arrests brings the total to 696 since active protests began in August. Only about 6 percent of those arrested reside in North Dakota, and about a third have a history of previous citations and charges, according to the National Sheriffs’ Association.
Leaders of the Sacred Stone Camp decried the Wednesday arrests, saying on Facebook that “cops are raiding Last Child Camp” and asking for donations.
“Please contribute to our defense fund to take care of our warriors who were arrested today,” said the Sacred Stone Camp.
The $3.8 billion project, located almost entirely on private land, is awaiting approval of an easement from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.
The Standing Rock Sioux has opposed the project, which runs about a half-mile from the reservation, citing the risk to water quality.
“In spite of the actions of this rogue group, we will strive to continue efforts on both sides to move forward and find common ground as steps are taken to ensure public safety and begin healing the relationships that are so important to the region and our state,” said North Dakota Gov. Doug Burgum.