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Dakota Access Pipeline protest setting tense, but quiet

MORTON COUNTY, N.D. -- One day after negotiations between Dakota Access Pipeline protesters and law enforcement broke down, the mood was tense but quiet Thursday, Oct. 27, as the sun rose above the resistance camps.

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A roadblock manned by North Dakota National Guard troops blocks North Dakota Hwy. 1806 before sunrise Thursday, Oct. 27, 2016, north of Cannon Ball. Michael Vosburg / Forum Photo Editor

MORTON COUNTY, N.D. - One day after negotiations between Dakota Access Pipeline protesters and law enforcement broke down, the mood was tense but quiet Thursday, Oct. 27, as the sun rose above the resistance camps.

Above, in restricted airspace, a North Dakota Highway Patrol aircraft circled.

Cecily Fong, spokeswoman for the state’s Department of Emergency Services, said medical staffing is in place should any injuries occur at the protest sites.

She said law enforcement will likely issue a warning to protesters congregating at a camp along State Highway 1806, where pipeline opponents have set up teepees and staged hay bales, logs and barbed wire to block the road, if necessary.

However, Fong said she didn’t know the timing of any law enforcement action planned, and officers want protesters to leave the northern camp, which is on private property recently purchased by the pipeline’s developer, Dallas-based Energy Transfer Partners.

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Protesters will be encouraged to return to the southern camp on U.S. Army Corps of Engineers land.

By Thursday morning, protesters set up an additional “halfway” roadblock on Highway 1806 - between their main barricade and the frontline camp where they’ve promised to hold their ground.

At the halfway roadblock, pipeline opponents staged tires, plywood, sheet metal and logs - all ready to move onto the highway should law enforcement approach. The additional roadblock provides more time for those at the main camp to leave or join the protesters at the frontline camp.

Sam Wounded Knee, from Crow Creek Nation in South Dakota, spent the night at the “halfway” roadblock.

He said a plane flew overhead through the night, and it appeared two people were in the surrounding hills to the west and using flashlights to signal back and forth with the plane.

Asked if he expects violence in a confrontation, “from the police, yeah, definitely,” he said.

“All we’re trying to do is protect our people,” Wounded Knee said, adding that women and children were asked to leave the frontline camp Wednesday night. About 200 people are at the frontline camp.

With the new roadblock established by protesters, Highway 1806 has numerous staging areas, camps and road blocks stretched out over several miles, starting with an equipment staging area set up by law enforcement about a mile south of Fort Rice.

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Traveling south on 1806, in succession, there is a law enforcement barricade, followed by the protesters’ main barricade, halfway roadblock, frontline camp and main camp.

On Wednesday, negotiations between pipeline opponents and law enforcement officials broke down, setting up a possible clash as hundreds of protesters vowed to hold their ground at a the frontline camp directly in the path of the four-state oil pipeline.

A contingent of law enforcement and National Guard officials met with camp representatives on Highway 1806.

Cass County Sheriff Paul Laney of Fargo, who is helping Morton County coordinate the law enforcement response, made one last plea for protesters to remove their roadblock on 1806 and abandon the roughly 200-person “frontline” camp, where teepees and tents continued to pop up on land where the pipeline is planned

“We’re here telling you this is private property and you have to leave,” Laney told camp coordinator Mekasi Camp-Horinek on Wednesday. “We don’t want a confrontation. Please stand your people down and go back to the main camp.”

Mekasi pointed at the road – “our no surrender line,” he said – and then back at the frontline camp standing in the way of the four-state, $3.8 billion oil pipeline – their “no retreat” line.

“That’s your final word?” Laney asked.

“That’s my final word,” Camp-Horinek said, walking away.

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“Good day, gentleman,” Laney said, turning toward the staging area about five miles away near Fort Rice, where a mass of law enforcement and military forces has gathered.

Morton County Sheriff Kyle Kirchmeier said authorities will continue to do everything they can to resolve the situation peacefully, but he said discussions with camp leaders Wednesday reached an “impasse.”

Kirchmeier emphasized that “the last thing we want to do is do it forcefully.”

“If we have the chance for open dialog, that’s what we want to continue,” he said.

Pipeline opponents say they’ve reclaimed land under the Fort Laramie Treaty of 1851, noting the Sioux never ceded that territory.

But Kirchmeier said Morton County authorities have to enforce existing laws and treaty issues would need to be resolved by the federal government. He added that currently the protesters are infringing on other residents’ rights by blocking the highway.

Check back for developments to this story.

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By Amy Dalrymple, Forum News Service

Related Topics: DAKOTA ACCESS PIPELINE
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