North Dakota’s Standing Rock Sioux won a key victory last month in its battle against the Dakota Access pipeline, after thousands of activists descended on the area to protest the project. Now the tribe is paying the price.
Some of the protesters won’t leave, creating semi-permanent encampments near Cannon Ball, North Dakota, and triggering a feud with tribal members fed-up over problems with crime, poaching, panhandling, garbage and waste disposal, as well as the drain on Sioux resources.
The protesters have their own gripes. Rumors about the tribe hoarding donations are rife within the camps, as are complaints about council members attempting to “colonize” the encampments by establishing rules.
Both sides aired their concerns at a tribal council meeting livestreamed Thursday that offered a window into the efforts of the Sioux to grapple with a protest movement that has spiraled beyond the rural North Dakota tribe’s control.
“The word that comes to my mind all the time, it’s ‘imploding.’ We’re imploding,” said tribal chairman Dave Archambault II. “We’re fighting each other. That’s the best way, the easiest way to conquer anyone is to create division and fight among themselves.”
The tension comes despite the protest’s success. The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers pulled last month a previously issued permit on the final 1,100 feet in North Dakota of the four-state pipeline in order to conduct another environmental review over concerns about water quality.
Mr. Archambault said his primary purpose in calling the meeting was to figure out how to move the camps off the flood plain along the Cannonball River before the snow melts, citing the risk of public-safety and environmental hazards from rising floodwaters.
“We have to come up with a plan to get people off the flood plain, get people out of that area so that we can clean it,” said Mr. Archambault, adding that, “A lot of the waste and the trash is going to be in the river when the flood comes.”
Council member Cody Two Bears said the manager at the Cannon Ball community center recently quit over problems with drinking and violence after the tribe opened the facility to activists last month in order to provide shelter from freezing temperatures and snowstorms.
“I totally understand that the people here who are here are supposed to be self-sufficient, but that’s not the case,” said council member Cody Two Bears at the meeting, which was livestreamed on Facebook.
“I can honestly tell you that because there’s been people who have approached our community in Cannon Ball asking for gas money, asking for resources from them, to say, ‘Hey I need to get home,’ or, ‘Hey I need to get food,’ ‘Hey, I don’t have this or that,’ and they’re trying to use our community resources which are very, very limited for our own members,” Mr. Two Bears said.
He said the tribe has also taken an economic hit from the closure of the Backwater Bridge, which was damaged after protesters set fire to it during a September demonstration, impeding access to Highway 1806.
“With that blockade being up there, it’s hurting our people economically,” said Mr. Two Bears. “Moving forward, we don’t know how long it’s going to take for us to come out of that. And with the drug and alcohol increase this last month, it’s been an issue. We all know that.”
As for accusations of “hoarding” money, Mr. Archambault said the tribe has only raised funds on a PayPal account to cover legal expenses related to the tribe’s pipeline lawsuit.
Tribal members also noted that there are thousands of crowdfunding fundraising campaigns aimed at benefiting the protesters and camps.
Communication was a major complaint. Council members said they often have no idea whom to contact at the camps because the leadership changes so often and there is little outreach with the council.
Still, council members said the protesters are welcome to stay, insisting that the tribe is not trying to remove them from the region, despite speculation to the contrary. For their part, protest leaders show no signs of leaving.
Ladonna Allred said the Sacred Stone camp has filed for 501(c) 3 status with plans to become in 2017 a “total green energy camp.” She ticked off a host of projects, improvements infrastructure purchases such as a snowplow, adding that the camp launched a school as of Monday.
She urged the tribal council to file for economic damages against Morton County, where officers have arrested more than 500 activists at protests on private land and public roads, but also said she would work with the council to address its concerns about flooding, safety and waste.
Camp leader Chase Iron Eyes praised the tribe for its fight against the pipeline, but also said that the battle has become bigger than that, saying it has “transformed into a demand for a clean energy economy.”
“This struggle is now bigger than any of those original concerns because now we have a president who is indicating that he is willing to pursue fascist or authoritarian methods, and now more than ever the fight is going to come right here to Standing Rock again,” Mr. Iron Eyes said. “And we are prepared for it.”