Thousands of protesters, tons of garbage and nearly 750 arrests later, the Dakota Access pipeline occupation wrapped up Thursday as law enforcement cleared stragglers from the floodplain in preparation for the massive clean-up ahead.
A total of 46 people were arrested after refusing to leave during the two-day evacuation at the Oceti Sakowin camp, the largest of the protest enclaves located on federal land along the Cannonball River.
The cold, muddy encampment was declared cleared of inhabitants at 2:09 p.m. CST by the North Dakota Joint Information Center.
“We know this brings us one step closer to closure and now we can focus on the important mission of cleaning up the environment and strengthening our relationship with our neighbors,” said Morton County Commission chairman Cody Schulz.
Foes of the pipeline insisted the battle isn’t over, vowing to keep up the fight against the $3.8 billion project, but their options are rapidly narrowing as construction nears completion on the 1,172-mile, four-state oil conduit.
“Our hearts are not defeated. The closing of the camp is not the end of a movement or fight, it is a new beginning,” said the Indigenous Environmental Network in a Thursday statement. “They cannot extinguish the fire that Standing Rock started. It burns within each of us.”
Caught somewhere in the middle is the Standing Rock Sioux tribe, which invited supporters to the area near the reservation to help protest the pipeline over concerns about water quality — and then couldn’t get rid of them as trash, waste and debris piled up in the floodplain.
The tribe has urged activists to show their support in other ways, such as by attending the Native Nations March & Camp in the District of Columbia, scheduled for March 7-10.
Authorities are investigating an incident in which two children suffered burns Wednesday after protesters lit 20 fires at the camp. A 17-year-old girl received severe burns to her hands and face, while her 10-year-old brother had minor burns and was expected to be released Thursday from a Bismarck hospital.
Law enforcement agencies, including the Morton County Sheriff, the North Dakota Highway Patrol and the Bureau of Indian Affairs, were able to clear the camp without using tear gas, rubber bullets or other less-than-lethal means, although they did have to get up close and personal with some activists.
Members of a veterans’ group occupying a tent said they were engaged in passive resistance and refused to leave on their own, which meant that “law enforcement had to carry them out,” said the North Dakota Joint Information Center.