It could be the last stand for those who have braved the freezing winter to remain at the Oceti Sakowin camp, near the Standing Rock Sioux Reservation in North Dakota. Earlier this month, the Army Corp of engineers issued an evacuation order with a deadline of February 22. The camp sits on a flood plain and authorities say the possibility of camp flooding could be dangerous for Oceti residents and cited the ecological impact on the nearby Cannonball and Missouri rivers. On Wednesday, Feb. 15, North Dakota governor Doug Burgum escalated tensions at the camp when he issued an emergency evacuation order.
As the governor’s press conference was taking place, Morton county police moved closer to the camp’s south gate and set up a roadblock. Oceti Sakowin was on high alert for hours. “They don’t understand people are willing to die here,”a 90-year-old woman told The Intercept. “They don’t understand we will not back down. We have our ancestors with us and we are in prayer that Tunkashila (Great Spirit in Lakota) will guide us in our freedom.”
The following day, officials from the Army Corp of Engineers met with Oceti residents about assisting in cleanup and the pending February 22 evacuation deadline. “The goal here is that we work together to clean the camp and then everyone leave the area peacefully and go some place safe,” said one of the officials.
Camp leaders and residents challenged the officials about their intentions. Although many did not want the Army Corp inside the camp, they were allowed in with members of Oceti’s security personal.
By Friday, tribal police set up a check point. As we tried to enter, we were interrogated about bringing supplies into camp, including food.
Throughout the day, there were multiple incidents of harassment from the authorities. At one point, the South Dakota state patrol drove into the main roadway in front of camp and exited their vehicles with non-lethal weapons. After a tense standoff, the police moved back to their side of the barricade.
That night, Oceti residents packed into one of the main kitchen halls to discuss the possibility of a violent raid and whether people should evacuate. After the meeting, loud drumming resounded throughout the camp. Spiritual leaders went into ceremony as young Natives drummed and sang sacred songs all night. Calls on the camp radio requested Oceti’s residents to remain in prayer, reminding all those who have chosen to stay that they will not back down.
Drone video courtesy of Standing Rock Tattoo.