Standing Rock: One tribal leader tells water protectors to leave; another says stay put

by Brian A. Wilkins
December 8, 2016

NEAR CANNON BALL, NORTH DAKOTA — Oceti Sakowin Camp filled with tempered cheers this past Sunday as news trickled through about the U.S. Army Corp of Engineers’ decision to deny the easement Energy Transfer Partners needs to continue drilling.

Thousands of veterans arrived at the camp that day as well, giving Oceti Sakowin a buzz that had not been experienced prior to those events. By the time the sun began to set, there were still several cars full of water protectors trying to get into the camp from Highway 1806, many of whom were in celebratory moods after hearing about the federal government’s decision.

Two seemingly contrasting messages have been disseminated by tribal leaders since the government’s decision. David Archambault II, the chairman of the Standing Rock Sioux Tribal Council, told water protectors to return home as harsh winter conditions have arrived in the area. He thanked everyone for coming to the camp and asked them to allow the tribe to continue the fight in court and keep the momentum going forward.

Archambault believes Energy Transfer Partners will now cease drilling near tribal lands underneath the Missouri River and the tributaries that span the northern edge of the reservation near the town of Cannon Ball. The company could potentially face fines and other civil penalties if it defies the orders of the federal government.

Archambault said that water protectors who are not from the area now have a reason to go home during the harsh winter months and come back later if necessary, pending action by the President-Elect when he takes office in late January. Though the people of the Sioux Tribes are accustomed to the arctic-like weather that comes to North Dakota every winter, visitors may not be as well prepared to survive. Archambault said water protectors have no reason to attempt enduring the harsh conditions and potentially bring harm upon themselves now that the tribe has won an important battle in the ongoing struggle.

Oceti Sakowin spokesman and media director John Bigelow had a different tone during a press conference earlier that Monday, December 5.

Bigelow expressed skepticism regarding the U.S. Army Corp of Engineers sincerity in enforcing the order and Energy Transfer Partners’ willingness to honor it. He reiterated to the press that the Sioux Nation is accustomed to the cold, snowy weather after surviving in the area for thousands of years. Bigelow also insinuated that water protectors should remain strong at the camp until there is proof that Energy Transfer Partners will not continue with the construction of the pipeline through tribal lands.

We arrived at the camp on December 4, ready to stay for the long haul and do whatever is necessary to help the Sioux Nation with their struggle. There’s no cut-and-dried answer as to what water protectors should do from this moment forward. But it must be noted that Archambault is a politician and his tone echoes that of North Dakota Governor Jack Dalrymple. The latter also told water protectors who have converged on the camp since the summer, to go home due to forthcoming frigid conditions that are normal for the state this time of year. Bigelow’s stance was more indicative of a continued strong presence at Oceti Sakowin and elsewhere by water protectors.

We’re returning to camp today, Thursday, December 8, to listen to what tribal elders are saying and observe actions of others, before determining what the next course will be.

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