Construction on the Dakota Access oil pipeline could wrap up in March. While the pipeline company still faces legal challenges, it’s fast-tracking the last section of pipe under the Missouri River. Inside Energy’s Amy Sisk recently visited the nearby protest camp that’s on the verge of disappearing.
STAND-UP: I’m walking through the main protest camp where a massive cleanup effort is underway. Semi trucks are hauling debris out of camp and people here are piling garbage into bags. They’re also talking about moving their shelters to higher ground because this area is about to flood.
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AGARD: It looks like a trash pile. But it’s getting picked up and every spot is starting to look better and better as we work together.
Dotty Agard lives on the Standing Rock Sioux Reservation that borders camp. She’s here today sorting through mounds of donated goods. (shuffling tarp) She’s looking to save items for her five children, who lost their home in a fire last year.
AGARD: I found a blanket right there and it was about to get thrown away, but I was like, I’m going to keep it.
(fade in tractor sounds) Heavy equipment and semis barrel through. (beep and fade under) Contractors for the tribe are hauling out waste by the dumpster to disposal sites across the region.
(fade in bridge sound) On a bridge over a tributary near camp is a crew from the U.S. Geological Survey. (boost drill and fade) They’re installing a device to monitor the water level that’s expected to rise when the Missouri thaws.
The Army Corps of Engineers and the North Dakota governor say the few hundred protesters who remain have until Wednesday to get out. But not all at camp are overly concerned about the flood threat, or the looming deadline.
Here’s Clarence Rowland of South Dakota’s Oglala Sioux Tribe.
ROWLAND: We’ve been here since August, and we were the first ones here in this camp to set up camp and we’ll probably be the last ones to leave, if anything (laughs).
Members of the Sioux Nation claim this land near pipeline construction belongs to them and was illegally seized by the U.S. government more than a century ago.
The Army Corps says protesters are occupying it illegally. The agency wants to clean up the land before it floods.
Some protesters are moving to higher ground on the Standing Rock reservation. But it may take law enforcement to forcibly remove those who won’t budge from camp.
XFADE FROM CAMP TO OFFICE
Thirty miles to the north is the county seat. I walk with Cody Schulz, chairman of the Morton County Commission, through the sheriff’s department. (door opening)
The sentiment here is optimistic that the protest will disappear. But Shulz is concerned that decisions made in Washington may change the atmosphere here:
SCHULZ: They had some hope and a cause, …. there’s the fear I think from law enforcement that maybe some of that hope may be diminishing and desperation sometimes can set in.
The Army Corps under the Trump administration granted pipeline company Energy Transfer Partners the final permit it needed to finish construction. Standing Rock is now asking a judge to revoke the pipeline’s permit, on grounds that the federal government scrapped plans for a lengthy environmental study with no reasonable explanation.
While the battle plays out in court, North Dakotans have other priorities. Kay LaCoe of Bismarck is concerned about deteriorating relations between the tribe, state and residents.
LACOE: Eventually, after a lot of work and time to have some wounds heal, I think that we are going to be better neighbors to each other. I think that we are going to have a stronger relationship going forward. But I am not naive enough to think that it’s going to happen overnight.
(bed of camp ambi)
YELLOW FAT: People downright hate Indians now.
Back at camp, Standing Rock tribal member Dana Yellow Fat takes a break from dismantling a teepee.
YELLOW FAT: You always knew it was there, but now they feel safe in saying it.
He sees hateful comments on Facebook. And he says tribal members are afraid for their safety when they leave the reservation to visit other parts of the state.
YELLOW FAT: I might have a different skin color than you, but we still both bleed red. My culture and my ways might differ from yours, but we can still be friends.
When the legal battle ends and the protesters leave, the Standing Rock Tribe and North Dakota will have to figure out how to live side by side all over again.