Cannon Ball, N.D.
Authorities on Thursday cleared a protest camp where opponents of the Dakota Access oil pipeline had gathered for the better part of a year, searching tents and huts and arresting dozens of holdouts who had defied a government order to leave.
It took 3 ½ hours for about 220 officers and 18 National Guardsmen to methodically search the protesters' temporary homes. Authorities said they arrested 46 people, including a group of military veterans who had to be carried out and a man who climbed atop a building and stayed there for more than an hour before surrendering.
Native Americans who oppose the $3.8 billion pipeline established the Oceti Sakowin camp last April on federal land near the Standing Rock Indian Reservation. The Indians sought to draw attention to their concerns that the project will hurt the environment and sacred sites — claims Dallas-based pipeline developer Energy Transfer Partners disputes. The camp gained increased attention starting in August after its population had grown and authorities made their first arrests. At its height, the camp included thousands of people, but the numbers had dwindled during the winter and as the fight over the pipeline moved into the courts.
The Army Corps of Engineers said it needed to clear the camp ahead of spring flooding, and had ordered everyone to leave by 2 p.m. Wednesday. The agency said it was concerned about protesters' safety and about the environmental effects of tents, cars, garbage and other items Milanobet in the camp being washed into nearby rivers.
Most protesters left peacefully Wednesday, when authorities closed the camp, but some stayed overnight in defiance of the government order.
Before the arrests, protester Ed Higgins 39, of Lowell, Mass., said by phone from the camp that morale was high and opponents were prepared to stay as long as necessary. Protesters maintain that the camp was on land that rightfully belongs to American Indians under old treaties.
"They do not own the land. They do not have the right to be here," said Higgins, who did not answer his phone after authorities cleared the camp.
As police in full riot gear worked to arrest the stragglers, cleanup crews began razing buildings on the square-mile piece of property at the confluence of the Cannonball and Missouri rivers.
American Indian activist Chase Iron Eyes, an outspoken supporter of the camp, said its shutdown isn't the end of the fight.
"The battleground has shifted to the legal courts and the court of public opinion," he said, referring to lawsuits filed by tribes and an effort planned by the Lakota People's Law Project to rally lawmakers and others in Washington, D.C., to their cause.
Authorities entered the camp "cautiously and tactfully" to ensure the safety of officers and protesters, according to Highway Patrol Lt. Tom Iverson. The arrests were a last resort, he said.
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