For hundreds of environmental activists, fighting to put the Dakota Access pipeline project on ice was only the beginning.
Anywhere from 600 to 800 protesters have refused to heed the Standing Rock Sioux tribal chairman’s call to leave the southern North Dakota camps, braving bitter cold and record snow to build a permanent community as a base from which to fight the fossil fuel industry on a global scale.
Chase Iron Eyes, a camp leader, laid out an ambitious vision for the camps last week before the tribal council, saying the scope of the protest has grown to encompass Native American rights and a “demand for a clean energy economy.”
Another camp organizer, Paula Antoine, said the original drive to protect the tribe’s water supply represents “a movement for the water, for all human beings.”
“Now we have the backing of almost the entire world,” Ms. Antoine told the council at the Jan. 5 meeting. “This movement that began on Standing Rock does not belong to Standing Rock.”
A never-ending occupation wasn’t what tribal Chairman Dave Archambault II had in mind last year when he called for allies to join the tribe’s fight against running a small segment of the pipeline under Lake Oahe, about a half-mile from the reservation.
With the project now on hold, Mr. Archambault repeatedly has called for protesters to go home, citing concerns about human waste, garbage and crime stemming from the camps, as well as the out-of-state activists’ lack of familiarity with the area’s dangerously cold conditions.
“I don’t want that pipeline to go through. I just don’t want anyone to get hurt, I don’t want anyone to die, I don’t want any kids to get abused, I don’t want any elders to get abused, I don’t want any rapes to happen,” Mr. Archambault said in a Jan. 5 interview with the Daily Emerald, the University of Oregon student newspaper. “They don’t want any authority down there.”
For example, an activist from Las Vegas was arrested Jan. 6 for elder abuse after her 82-year-old mother was found in a camp zip-tied to a chair, sitting in her own urine and feces, according to the Morton County Sheriff’s Department.
In addition, Mr. Archambault said there’s no reason for protesters to remain given that the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers agreed Dec. 5 to pull its easement for the pipeline pending another environmental review.
Asked if he “genuinely” wants people to leave the camps, Mr. Archambault replied, “Yeah. There’s no purpose for it. What’s the purpose?”
Certainly LaDonna Allard has a purpose. Her Sacred Stone Camp already has morphed into an environmental juggernaut, partnering with groups on the national scene as it upgrades from a temporary protest enclave into a permanent “total green energy camp.”
The Sacred Stone camp is located on a mix of private and tribal property, which means it’s legal, unlike the makeshift tent-and-tipi cities squatting on federal land. And clearly the Sacred Stone has ample resources.
She told the tribal council that the camp recently bought 40 mobile-housing units, or yurts, and has invested in a cellphone tower, internet service, a modern kitchen, a snowplow and a school that opened Jan. 2. There are plans for an organic farm and three greenhouses.
Those investments came as a surprise to council members. “All this stuff you’re telling me is the first time I’ve heard it,” said Cody Two Bears, who represents the Cannonball district.
Sacred Stone also has emerged as a player on the #DefundDAPL campaign, which encourages protests against banks and other Dakota Access investors as well as tribal-based opposition to pipelines in other states.
In December Sacred Stone and other groups, including Honor the Earth and the Indigenous Environmental Network, announced that they had launched a digital ad in Times Square in New York City calling for pipeline divestment, which is slated to run until March.
In a statement last week, Sacred Stone boasted that the #DefundDAPL campaign has resulted in $40 million being divested in 40 days.
It’s unclear where the camp’s funding comes from: Ms. Allard told the council that Sacred Stone has no PayPal account and that it has closed its GoFundMe page. A FundRazr page for the Sacred Stone Legal Defense Fund has raised $2.7 million, but that money is earmarked for the legal expenses of protesters.
Sacred Stone Camp did not immediately return a request for comment.
At the same time, Ms. Allard said Sacred Stone has registered as a business with the state of North Dakota and filed for 501c3 status, which would allow it to accept tax-deductible charitable contributions without disclosing donors.
“We’re trying to look at all green energy to teach the people how to live on the earth, so I don’t consider Sacred Stone a protest camp. I consider Sacred Stone a cultural camp,” Ms. Allard told the council.
Mr. Archambault and other council members have made it clear they’re uneasy with the flood of outside cash. Thousands of DAPL-related crowdfunding accounts posted by individuals and camps have raised untold millions online, while the tribe has its own PayPal account for DAPL-related donations.
The result has been squabbling between the tribe and protesters, most of whom are not enrolled Standing Rock Sioux members, over how to divvy the bill on expenses such as cleaning up the campsites before the spring flooding.
“What I saw happen was something that was beautiful. Then I saw it just turn to where it’s ugly, where people are fabricating lies and doing whatever they can, and they’re driven by the wrong thing,” Mr. Archambault said. “What purpose does it have to have this camp down there? There are donations coming, so the purpose is the very same purpose for this pipeline: It’s money.”
At the same time, the hunkered-down protesters have gotten plenty of love from celebrities such as Robert Redford, who praised them in a Jan. 5 op-ed as “brave Americans” facing “brutal weather and unnecessary police force to stop a pipeline from being driven through the heart of America.”
Those who refuse to leave North Dakota argue that the battle isn’t over, despite the Obama administration’s reprieve.
The Army Corps has yet to finish its Environmental Impact Statement, although the Justice Department signaled a major shift Monday, when it sided with the Standing Rock Sioux in a motion to dismiss a lawsuit filed by Energy Transfer Partners.
In September the Corps defended its decision to issue the easement after the Sioux filed unsuccessfully to block construction of the $3.8 billion project, insisting federal agents had conducted a thorough review despite a lack of cooperation from the tribe.
The 1,172-mile, four-state pipeline is more than 90 percent complete, with just 1,100 feet remaining in North Dakota.
Another reason activists say they’re braving the elements is that they need to be ready to spring into action after the inauguration of President-elect Donald Trump, who is expected to usher in a more pipeline-friendly mindset when he takes office Jan. 20.
Protesters like the Sacred Stone Camp’s Linda Black Elk fear that the Army will pivot after President Obama leaves the White House.
“[T]he Corps is stalling and hoping we will all just ‘go away’ once Trump takes office, and then they can claim that it is all the administration’s fault,” said Ms. Black Elk in a Facebook post. “No. We can’t leave and we can’t lose sight of the big picture.”