CANNONBALL, North Dakota, November 28, 2016 (ENS) – The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers has sent a letter informing the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe that on December 5, it will “close” all lands north of the Cannonball River, on unceded territory in North Dakota where indigenous encampments are set up in protest of the Dakota Access Pipeline.

In his letter, Corps of Engineers District Commander Col. John Henderson says that his decision to clear the area is necessary to protect people from violent confrontations with law enforcement and uphold the Corps’ land leases to private individuals for grazing and haying.

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Indigenous field medic at the Standing Rock Sioux protest camp, Oct. 27, 2016 (Photo by Avery White / Oceti Sakowin Camp)

Henderson has designated a “free speech zone” south of the Cannonball River on Army Corps lands. Anyone protesting outside that area will be considered trespassing and subject to forcible removal and prosecution.

Anyone who chooses to remain at the encampment, warns the letter, “does so at their own risk, and assumes any and all corresponding liabilities for their unlawful presence.”

The indigenous response is that they are not going anywhere. “As a coalition of grassroots groups on the ground, we stand united in defiance of the black snake and united in our commitment to defend this water. We call on all people of conscience, from all Nations, to join the encampments and protect the sacred. We are not moving,” the protesters said in a statement.

If the Army Corps and law enforcement officials move against the protesters on December 5, they may meet with more resistance than they anticipate.

On December 4, at least 2,000 veterans plan to arrive at the Standing Rock Reservation in North Dakota to join in protest against the Dakota Access Pipeline.

The event, Veterans Stand for Standing Rock, is a call for veterans to “assemble as a peaceful, unarmed militia” to “defend the water protectors from assault and intimidation at the hands of the militarized police force and DAPL security.”

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Rally of veterans in support of the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe, Washington, DC, Nov. 27, 2016 (Photo by Susan Melkisethian)

The veterans’ organizers say, “We have full support of the Sioux tribe elders and will be cooperating with them every step of the way.”

Ownership of the land at issue is in dispute. The Corps says it is their land, but the Standing Rock Sioux say, “The land in question is unceded territory, affirmed in the 1851 Treaty of Ft. Laramie as sovereign land belonging to the Great Sioux Nation.”

The tribe says, “The Oceti Sakowin encampment is, in many respects, a reclamation of this territory and the right to self-determination guaranteed in the treaties. Water protectors north of the Cannonball River are not trespassers and can never be trespassers. The Army Corps has it backwards.”

The Dakota Access Pipeline, DAPL, is nearly completed. The only section still unpermitted would be laid under several bodies of water, including the Missouri River half mile upstream from the Standing Rock Sioux reservation.

This river not only supplies drinking water to the tribe but is a major tributary to the Mississippi River where more than 10 million people depend on it for human consumption and irrigation of the nation’s bread basket.

When complete, the 1,172-mile pipeline will carry a minimum of 470,000 barrels of oil a day from North Dakota’s Bakken oil shale fields to refineries in Illinois.

The protesters fear that the pipeline will inevitably leak, contaminating the Missouri River and the precious drinking water it provides.

While Col. Henderson says closure of the protesters’ encampment is for their own protection, the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe and its supporters point out in their response that the only way to protect people is to deny the last outstanding easement required for the pipeline to cross the Missouri River.

Dallas Goldtooth of the Indigenous Environmental Network, said, “We stand by our relatives of the Oceti Sakowin and reaffirm their territorial rights set in the Ft Laramie Treaty of 1851. If the Corps wants to keep people safe, then deny the easement, rescind the permits, and order a full Environmental Impact Statement. This decision is short-sighted, dangerous, and a blatant example of the systemic oppression that continues in Indian Country. We have already seen critical injuries caused by the actions of a militarized law enforcement. We implore the White House to take corrective measures and help avoid further harm by law enforcement.”

In just seven weeks, The White House will mean President-elect Donald Trump, but Trump has a vested interest in completing the Dakota Access Pipeline. He holds stock in Energy Transfer Partners, the company building the pipeline.

Trump’s 2016 federal disclosure forms show he owned between $15,000 and $50,000 in stock in Energy Transfer Partners, down from between $500,000 and $1 million a year earlier.

Trump also owns between $100,000 and $250,000 in the oil company Phillips 66, which has a one-quarter share of Dakota Access.

Pipeline opponents warn those investments could affect any decision he makes on the $3.8 billion project as president. This and other potential conflicts of interest could be resolved if Trump places his investments in a blind trust, a move he has resisted.

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Tribal flags fly at the Dakota Access Pipeline protest encampment, Nov. 18, 2016 (Photo by Dark Sevler)

In an interview with Al Jazeera, Orlando Cruz, a Native American protester, said the pipeline symbolizes centuries of subjugation of his people by the U.S. government.

“They took our land from us. They said, ‘Here, this is yours, here’s a reservation, you can do what you want on it.’ And we are here in the reservation now, and we don’t get to do what we want with it. And they get to put their pipeline through it,” said Cruz.

The Obama administration said this month that it wants more consideration and tribal input before deciding whether to allow an easement for the pipeline to cross under the Missouri River.

The violence endured by pipeline protesters has been horrific. On November 20, hundreds were injured at the Standing Rock encampments when law enforcement blasted them with water cannons in freezing temperatures.

The attacks came as the protesters used a semitruck to remove burnt military vehicles that police had chained to concrete barriers weeks ago, blocking traffic on Highway 1806. Their efforts to clear the road and improve access to the camp for emergency services were met with tear gas, a Long Range Acoustic Device, stinger grenades, rubber bullets, and the water cannon.

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Water cannon used against Dakota Access Pipeline protesters on the Backwater Bridge, Nov. 20, 2016 (Photo by Dark Sevler)

Some flares shot by law enforcement started grass fires which were ignored by the water cannon operators and had to be extinguished by the protesters. Law enforcement shot down three media drones and targeted journalists too.

National Lawyers Guild legal observers on the frontlines have confirmed that many people were unconscious and bleeding after being shot in the head with rubber bullets. A member of the International Indigenous Youth Council was sent into a seizure by a flash grenade. One elder went into cardiac arrest at the scene but medics were able to resuscitate him.

The camp’s medical staff and facilities are overwhelmed and the local community of Cannonball has opened its school gymnasium for emergency relief.

On Friday, the conflict surfaced among holiday shoppers at a mall in Bismark, the state capital.

Protesters were arrested at the Kirkwood Mall in Bismarck when they gathered peacefully to hold a prayer circle, raise awareness with shoppers and disseminate information on the human and environmental impacts of the pipeline. Heavily weaponized and undercover police, physically assaulted and arrested close to 50 protesters within minutes of their assembly.

“The actions by the police today further expose the interests of the state in protecting corporate interests over human life,” said Angela Adrar, executive director of the Climate Justice Alliance, who is in North Dakota this week as part of a delegation of more than 100 community leaders acting in solidarity with the indigenous leaders at Standing Rock.

Adrar said, “What we witnessed today was the violent and unwarranted response that law enforcement has consistently had toward those who are acting within the law to raise awareness of the devastating impacts that the Dakota Access Pipeline could have on indigenous communities and this entire region.”

Copyright Environment News Service (ENS) 2016. All rights reserved.