Peaceful Indigenous water protectors battling the Dakota Access Pipeline in North Dakota have faced water cannons in subfreezing temperatures, rubber bullets, and police tactics so violent that one protester nearly lost an arm.
But instead of addressing the police brutality, Republican Gov. Jack Dalrymple late Monday slapped the water protectors living at the Oceti Sakowin protest camp with an evacuation order and severed their access to emergency services.
The order followed a similar one from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, the legal owner of the land on which the Oceti Sakowin camp is situated. The Standing Rock Sioux Tribe and its allies, however, argue that the land belongs to the tribe under the 1851 Fort Laramie treaty.
"This is Lakota territory. This is treaty territory. No one has jurisdiction but us," said Phyllis Young of the Standing Rock Sioux at a press conference Monday.
Tara Houska, national campaigns director for Honor the Earth, posted the governor's executive order on social media:
— tara houska (@zhaabowekwe) November 29, 2016
Dr. Adrienne Keene, a member of the Cherokee Nation as well as a writer and professor, further observed that a police roadblock is already preventing emergency services from reaching the camp:
— Dr. Adrienne Keene (@NativeApprops) November 28, 2016
Both the U.S. Army Corps and Dalrymple have said they will not remove the Indigenous people from the land by force, but the water protectors fear that the two orders—combined with the severing of emergency services—will embolden the Morton County Sheriff's Department.
"If the true concern is for public safety than the Governor should clear the blockade and the county law enforcement should cease all use of flash grenades, high-pressure water cannons in freezing temperatures, dog kennels for temporary human jails, and any harmful weaponry against human beings," said Standing Rock Sioux Tribe chairman Dave Archambault II.
Water protectors, allies, and even prominent politicians—including 17 former members of President Barack Obama's administration—continue to call on the president to take action to support the Standing Rock Sioux:
— Ruth Hopkins (@RuthHHopkins) November 29, 2016
Can the Standing Rock Sioux depend on a man who is financially invested in the Dakota Access pipeline? Probably not.
— Senator Harry Reid (@SenatorReid) November 28, 2016
— Bernie Sanders (@SenSanders) November 28, 2016
— Bill McKibben (@billmckibben) November 29, 2016
The evacuation orders came as a group of 2,000 U.S. military veterans plan to "deploy" to the Oceti Sakowin camp to support the Indigenous resistance against the pipeline, and to stand as an unarmed militia against the violent tactics used by the Morton County Sheriff's Department.
And the water protectors filed a class-action lawsuit against the police on Monday, seeking to block them from using excessive force against peaceful activists.
Still, as tensions rise, many on the ground are steeling themselves for heightened violence from the state.
"We're going to hope for the absolute best," Linda Black Elk, a member of the Catawba Nation who works with the Standing Rock Medic & Healer Council, told the Guardian. "If they do attempt to remove people forcibly, we are certainly preparing for mass casualties."