Due to citing public safety concerns, federal officials plan to close the campsite where demonstrators have protested the construction of a disastrous oil pipeline near the Standing Rock Sioux Reservation in North Dakota. Instead, officials plan to create a “free speech zone.” I apologize, but isn’t the United States of America a free speech zone? Isn’t that what our country was based upon? Federal officials sent a letter Friday to the chairman of the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe, Dave Archambault II. They stated that the decision had been made to “protect the general public from the violent confrontations between protesters and law enforcement officials that have occurred in this area.”
“It is both unfortunate and disrespectful that this announcement comes the day after this country celebrates Thanksgiving — a historic exchange between Native Americans and the first immigrants from Europe,” Mr. Archambault said. “Although the news is saddening, it is not all surprising given the last 500 years of mistreatment of our people.” Authorities will be closing the camps north of the Cannonball River. This includes the Oceti Sakowin camp, about 40 miles south of Bismarck, where opponents of the 1,170-mile Dakota Access Pipeline have gathered for months. Native American tribes, among others from around the country that have gathered there to support and to stand by these people. They are led by the Standing Rock Sioux and have been protesting the pipeline project. They fear it would pollute the Missouri River and harm sacred cultural lands and tribal burial grounds. There have been large protests at the Lake Oahe crossing. This is so important to them because the Missouri River is the tribe’s primary source of drinking water.
The letter from the district commander of the Army Corps, Col. John W. Henderson, stated that the emergency services and facilities needed to protect demonstrators camped north of the Cannonball River during the harsh North Dakota winters could not be provided. “I do not take this action lightly but have decided that it is required due to the concern for public safety and the fact that much of this land is leased to private persons for grazing and/or haying purposes as part of the corps’ land management practices,” he wrote. He said that anyone found on the land after Dec. 5 could be charged with trespassing. The project has ignited months of clashes between the police and demonstrators.
On Monday, the police confronted hundreds of protesters. Nearly 300 people were treated for injuries resulting from the use of police force, according to the Standing Rock Medic and Healer Council. The pipeline project was delayed in September when the Obama administration temporarily blocked it from crossing under the Missouri River. President Obama called on both sides to show restraint and revealed that the Army Corps of Engineers was considering an alternative route for the project. However, the pipeline is currently almost complete. This is a sad day in America when we do not respect the people who truly began our great country.