February 22nd was the deadline that officials set for protesters to clear the protest sites at Standing Rock in North Dakota. The pipeline protests began in April 2016, and by December up to 10,000 protesters rallied against the construction of the Dakota Access Pipeline. The water protectors fought endlessly to protect their right to clean water and protect their sacred tribal land.
As the police prepared to raid the Oceti Sakowin Camp this past Wednesday at 2pm, the water protectors cleared their belongings, destroyed tents and destroyed structures. Others set their tents on fire and let them burn to the ground. Most are leaving as told, and will have to take action some other way.
Tribal member Kaooplus Enimkla Thunder and Lightning explained that they lit the tents on fire because their tents were frozen to the ground. They had to be burned in order to remove them. Other tribal members explained that the fires were lit ceremoniously to commemorate the camp and the former water protectors and protesters.
Not long ago, there was hope for the local tribes when Barack Obama decided to block construction of this controversial section of the pipeline. But after Donald Trump signed an executive order in opposition of Obama’s decision, the evacuation was put into place.
While most of the remaining protesters have abided by the law and left, there are still some who have chosen to stay in the Oceti Sakowin camp site. They are being told that if they leave and if they allow contractors to clean the site near the controversial 1,172-mile long pipeline without more of a fight, they will not be charged.
"You know that our big ask for tomorrow is anyone remaining in the camp, we want to make sure that they know they have an opportunity to voluntarily leave," North Dakota Doug Burgum Governor said. "Take your belongings, remove anything that may be culturally significant and we'll help you get on your way if you need to do that."
At this point, those who refuse to leave the site were told that they would be arrested. As the deadline approached, 100 protesters left the site voluntarily and police arrested a handful of people who refused to leave the camps. Those who are still fighting, will also be arrested and forced to leave.
The order to leave is an emergency evacuation order. They are claiming that the evacuation is for their own protection. Apparently the protest site is located in a floodplain and that campers are at risk as snow begins to melt in warmer temperatures.
While most have left peacefully, 10 protesters were arrested on the 22nd on the highway outside of the camp near Cannon Ball, North Dakota. Officials said they were arrested because they refused the commands to leave the area. Once they left and were arrested, authorities closed the camp and did not allow any more traffic in or out.
Though cleanup has already begun, as of this writing there are still up to 50 protestors standing their ground that will be left alone if they collect their belonging and leave without interference. Those who do not, will face consequences.
Officials are not messing around and have continued their threats to arrest. "Anybody that's there is trespassing, so anybody that's there is breaking the law," Burgum said. "Anyone who obstructs our ability to do cleanup will be subject to arrest."
The tribal government has encouraged protesters to leave and they will fight the good fight by taking legal measures against the Dakota Access Pipeline. With the smell of burning wood in the air, only a few protectors remain. While cleaning out the camps those left could still hear the occasional signature cry of the Standing Rock resistance, "Mni waconi," meaning "water is life."
Just a few weeks ago thousands were there to celebrate the small victory to halt construction. Now only a few remain. If you would like to support the tribes, you can make a donation at standingrock.org.