The US Army Corps has published a letter to the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe advising them to move to a “free speech zone” south of the Cannonball River, after months of tension and police violence against unarmed protesters.
— Jordan (@JordanChariton) November 25, 2016
This move comes just days after a night of vicious attacks on the ‘water protectors’ by law enforcement officials, which resulted in over 300 injuries. Notably, one female protester, Sophia Lowanski, lost the use of her left arm after police water cannons horrifically shredded her skin, nerves, arteries and muscles around her elbow. The water coupled with sub-freezing temperatures contributed to many developing symptoms of hypothermia.
In the letter, the Army Corps says the move is to “protect the general public from the violent confrontations between protesters and law enforcement officials”, and due to the “harsh North Dakota winter weather”, although the police clearly didn’t get the memo when spraying unarmed Natives with water in temperatures of just 23F.
The timing of the closure is interesting as it is set to be the day after thousands of veterans arrive to defend the Natives’ sacred land and their water source. Wesley Clark Jr and Michael Wood Jr have raised over $500,000 for their mission to fund travel and gear for veterans wishing to travel. Those making the trip have been ordered to remain unarmed at all times, but the optics of the Army Corps ordering the arrest of veterans defending a water source peacefully could be catastrophic for the law enforcement based there, and those involved in building the pipeline.
A potentially interesting part of the letter is where it is stated that Army Corps’ land is closed to “all public use and access”. We know that it definitely includes the protesters at Standing Rock, but whether this includes DAPL workers or law enforcement remains to be seen. We can assume that law enforcement will get away with trespassing on the land, but will workers of a major corporation be allowed special dispensation to evade the ‘general public’ tag?
Tensions have already reached boiling point after Natives claimed that Energy Transfer Partners had disturbed sacred land and dug up artefacts and burial grounds. Those protesting on the ground also believe that the land claimed by the Army Corps is actually theirs, citing the 1851 Treaty of Fort Laramie and pointing out that Sioux land is unceded land. If this was the case, protesters would not be trespassing and would get a say in whether the pipeline should be built, but the US Government does not recognise the land as being owned by the Standing Rock Tribe.
Further questions are raised when the initial pipeline route’s reason for rejection are analysed. The populous city of Bismarck was set to be near the pipeline, and the route was rejected due to fears of contamination of the city’s water supply. The very fact that people saw sense and realised the pipeline could be detrimental to a population’s health makes it all the more frustrating that the legitimate fears of a community are being ignored and suppressed, often using violent means. The Army Corps has not yet made an official decision on whether to allow the construction of the Dakota Access Pipeline under the Missouri River, but this first step to disperse the people sounds alarms that it’s just a matter of time before the construction gets the green-light.