Police begin arresting last pipeline protesters at Standing Rock
Deadline to clear the Dakota Access pipeline site has passed
Most of the Dakota Access pipeline opponents abandoned their protest camp Wednesday ahead of a government deadline to get off the federal land, and authorities moved to arrest some who defied the order in a final show of dissent.
The camp has been home to demonstrators for nearly a year as they tried to thwart construction of the pipeline. Many of the protesters left peacefully, but police made approximately 10 arrests two hours after the deadline.
The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers ordered all protesters to leave by 2 p.m. MT Wednesday, citing concerns about potential spring flooding. About 150 people met that demand around 1 p.m. when they marched out of the camp.
Hundreds of law enforcement officers from several states were on hand to handle any arrests.
While most protesters left peacefully, some of the last remnants of the camp went up in flames as opponents of the project set fire to makeshift wooden housing ahead of a government deadline to get off the federal land where they have been trying to thwart construction for six months.
Burning the structures was part of a leaving ceremony, according to protesters.
A statement from the Morton Country Public Information Office in Bismarck, N.D., said that protesters set approximately 20 fires, one of which was a vehicle fire.
The statement also said that at least two explosions occurred. A seven-year-old boy and a 17-year-old girl were taken by Standing Rock ambulance to a Bismarck hospital for burns.
About 150 people marched arm in arm out of the camp, singing and playing drums as they walked down a highway. It was not clear where they were headed. One man carried an American flag hung upside-down.
Others departed the soggy camp earlier in the day. Authorities sent buses to take protesters to Bismarck, where they were offered fresh clothing, bus fare home and food and hotel vouchers.
U.S. President Donald Trump has pushed for the completion of the multibillion-dollar pipeline since he took office last month, despite objections from Native Americans and environmental activists who say it threatens the water resources and sacred land of the Standing Rock Sioux tribe.
At the height of the protests, the site known as Oceti Sakowin hosted thousands of people, though its population dwindled to just a couple of hundred as the pipeline battle moved into the courts.
Freedom is in our DNA.— Phyllis Yo, camp leader
The camp is on federal land in North Dakota between the Standing Rock Sioux reservation and the pipeline route that is being finished by Dallas-based Energy Transfer Partners. When complete, the project will carry oil through the Dakotas and Iowa to a shipping point in Illinois.
Some of the remaining protesters were focused on moving off federal land and away from the flood plain into other camps, said Phyllis Young, one of the camp leaders.
"The camps will continue," she said. "Freedom is in our DNA, and we have no choice but to continue the struggle."
New camps are popping up on private land, including one the Cheyenne River Sioux set up about 1½ kilometres from the main camp.
"A lot of our people want to be here and pray for our future," tribal chairman Harold Frazier said.
'We have to leave our 2nd home'
Others, including Dom Cross, an Oglala Sioux from Pine Ridge, S.D., said he planned to return home after living at the camp since September.
"There's a lot of sadness right now. We have to leave our second home," he said.
Law enforcement officers and first-responders were on hand from several states.
Charles Whalen, 50, an alcohol and drug counsellor from Mille Lacs, Minn., said he and a group of about 20 people were not going to leave on their own and were willing to get arrested to prove their point.
"Passive resistance," Whalen said. "We are not going to do anything negative. It's about prayer."
Levi Bachmeier, policy adviser for Gov. Doug Burgum, said authorities would rather not apprehend people, but they would enforce the deadline.
The state "remains committed to ensuring the safety of everyone here," Bachmeier said. "The last thing we want is to see anyone harmed."
Some campers said they were leaving with mixed feelings, both energized by the long protest and saddened to leave new friends. Some people set off fireworks.
Matthew Bishop, of Ketchikan, Alaska, has been in North Dakota since October. He planned to move to another camp.
"People have been surviving here for hundreds and hundreds of years … so if I back down, what would I look like?" Bishop said as he tied his possessions to the top of his car.
Craig Stevens, spokesman for the MAIN Coalition of agriculture, business and labour interests, said the group understands "the passions that individuals on all sides of the pipeline discussion feel" and hopes that protesters' voices "will continue to be heard through other peaceful channels and in court."
Hampered by weather
A massive effort to clean up the camp has been underway for weeks, first by protesters themselves and now with help from the army corps in removing debris.
Some vehicles and pedestrians were having trouble getting through the muck created by recent rain and snow, and cleanup efforts were suspended in part because camp officials did not want heavy equipment making the conditions worse.
With a files from Reuters and CBC News