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Standing Rock Protesters Refuse to Budge As Pressure On Obama Administration Builds

Snow is slowing covering the encampment at Standing Rock. It's the first real sign of winter and it comes as North Dakota Gov. Jack Dalrymple has announced that he signed an emergency evacuation order to close down the Dakota Access Pipeline protest camp by Dec 5. But the mostly Native American camp, situated on U.S. Army Corps land, is not budging and there seems to be some confusion about who should be stepping up to enforce the evacuation.

On the surface, this fight is about water. The Dakota Access Pipeline crosses waterways north of the Standing Rock Sioux reservation. Construction of DAPL puts the drinking water for 17 million people downstream at risk. As if this wasn't reason enough for an outpouring of national and global opposition to the project, the 1,172-mile-long pipeline has already ripped through Native grave sites, violating the Fort Laramie Treaty promising land rights for area Natives. The project embodies environmental racism as it is currently carried out in the U.S.

The contentious order issued Monday cites shelter, health and sanitation hazards as justification for removing the water protectors. The governor also cites harsh weather in the area, which "limits emergency vehicle access."

A similarly worded letter came from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, addressed to the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe, on Nov. 25. It mentioned the same hazards and asked that those on the disputed Corps land voluntary leave by Dec. 5. It also limited the Corps' liability for use of the land and formally told local law enforcement that anyone who remains on the land past the date will be considered a trespasser. However, on Nov. 27, the Corps issued a follow-up letter stating it "has no plans for forcible removal."

I have been embedded in the camp for the last two weeks and know, like others here and across the country, that both letters represent yet another opportunity to punish a historically disenfranchised indigenous population, limit the support they receive from allies, and continue America down the well-beaten path of colonialism. It is a clear attempt by the Corps, North Dakota government and regional law enforcement to protect the interests of an oil pipeline over the interests of the population they are employed to serve and protect.

If the governor and Corps were actually concerned with emergency vehicle access, they would have demanded that Morton County Sheriff immediately remove the two dump trucks their associated militarized forces set fire to on Oct. 27. Until the vehicles' removal in recent days, the burned-out blockade stood for over three weeks and was a convenient tool for law enforcement to limit public road access to the DAPL construction site, which is less than a mile north of Oceti Sakowin camp where a majority of water protectors are living.

Backwater Bridge is still impassable and militarized with 30-plus cement barricades and a 10-foot-tall razor wire fence. It adds a 45-minute drive to an already long trip up Highway 1806 to area hospitals in the state capital Bismarck. Why is the blockade here? To keep water protectors from shutting down the illegal pipeline, of course.

Regarding health and sanitation, the camp is taking the same precautions you might see at a farmers market or music festival – and getting better each day as money, supplies and allies from around the world flood to the camp to keep it running despite the snow. Severe weather U.S. military tents and movable wooden tiny house structures number in the hundreds, while more continue to be built.

Commenting on enforcement of the governor's order during a recent radio interview, Morton County Sheriff Kyle Kirchmeier said, "It's a federal issue because it's Army Corps land. And that's not going to change." Kirchmeier said his department will continue to seek federal aid money as well as help from federal agents. When radio show host Scott Hennen asked, in a question that was posted Wednesday to Facebook, "Will you enforce [the order]?", KirchMeier responded that they "have no plans of going down there and clearing the camp."

The sheriff went on to say, "This is not going to get solved by protesters and law enforcement standing across from each other on a line. This needs to be done in a more political manner than North Dakota can do right now."

Moving up the political ladder, White House Press Secretary Josh Ernest was asked Monday about President Obama's position on re-routing the DAPL around the Standing Rock Sioux tribe, and said "I can't speak for the Army Corps in terms of the discussion they are having with the tribes in the area, but I think it's the President's hope that both sides will sit at the table in a constructive spirit and focus on resolving these differences as quickly as possible. In the president's view it's in the interest of the tribes and the Army Corps to resolve these differences as quickly as possible and let the project go forward."

In short, no one is taking responsibility for the fiasco, and no one is firmly stepping forward to resolve it. Thanksgiving has come and gone in North Dakota and locals involved in the conflict are unlikely to sit across a table to do anything.

Many hope the outgoing administration will issue a decision before Obama leaves office, and kill the project the same way he nixed the Keystone XL pipeline last year: with the stroke of a pen. In the statement that shut down the Canada-to-U.S. oil pipeline, the White House wrote, the "Keystone XL Pipeline would not serve the national interest of the United States," and spelled out the reasons for stopping it: 1) it wouldn't make a meaningful long-term contribution to our economy, 2) it wouldn't lower U.S. gas prices, 3) it wouldn't increase America's energy security.

Most importantly, the KXL statement said, "Today, we’re continuing to lead by example. Because ultimately, if we’re going to prevent large parts of this Earth from becoming not only inhospitable but uninhabitable in our lifetimes, we’re going to have to keep some fossil fuels in the ground rather than burn them and release more dangerous pollution into the sky."

Clearly it's time for the president to once more step in. No one else is going to budge. Not the tribes. Not the water protectors. Not Morton County Sheriff, or the Corps, or North Dakota's governor. Inaction on the issue will only lead to escalating attacks on an insubordinate and well-funded citizenry increasingly focused on preserving natural resources for everyone. There will be many more pipelines that activists move to stop once Donald Drumpf assumes office and greenlights the industry. The message coming from those protests, like the one coming now from North Dakota, will be the same: Keep fossil fuels in the ground.

To support the Oceti Sakowin camp in their fight to stay on unceded tribal land, visit: To support the Standing Rock Sioux tribe or the smaller encampment on reservation land, visit: and

Aaron Murphy produces media for and lives at Dancing Rabbit Ecovillage in northeastern Missouri, downstream from the Dakota Access Pipeline.

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