National Guard threatens Dakota Access protesters with arrest on public lands

© Alexander Rubinstein
Members of the North Dakota National Guard have threatened to arrest people on Army Corps of Engineers land who are protesting the Dakota Access Pipeline. The land should be open to the public ‒ unless the government decides it isn’t.

Protesters canoeing down the Missouri River in North Dakota on Tuesday afternoon stopped to set up a fire on the riverbank on Army Corps of Engineers land. At that point, they were approached by “heavily armed” members of the National Guard and told that they would be arrested for trespassing if they didn’t leave, RT America’s Alexander Rubinstein reported.

The main camp, Oceti Sakowin, is on Army Corps land, Rubinstein pointed out.

At issue is the 38 miles of the Dakota Access Pipeline that is set to cut through land that belongs to Native Americans under the 1851 Treaty of Fort Laramie. The Standing Rock Sioux tribe says it was not adequately consulted about the path of the pipeline, and that the project will endanger the tribe’s water supply and disturb sacred lands, including burial sites.

According to the Army Corps of Engineers, its land, including “those lands and waters which are subject to treaties and Federal laws and regulations concerning the rights of Indian Nations,” are open to public use. “Picnicking and related day-use activities” are specifically mentioned in the rules and regulations governing public use of the Corps’ lands. According to section 327.10(b), fires are allowed under certain circumstances, namely that they will be contained in designated areas, they won’t be left unattended and they will be completely extinguished.

However, there is one exception: Access is allowed at the district commander’s discretion.

327.12 Restrictions.

(a) The District Commander may establish and post a schedule of visiting hours and/or restrictions on the public use of a project or portion of a project. The District Commander may close or restrict the use of a project or portion of a project when necessitated by reason of public health, public safety, maintenance, resource protection or other reasons in the public interest. Entering or using a project in a manner which is contrary to the schedule of visiting hours, closures or restrictions is prohibited.

Violators may be punished by a fine of up to $5,000, six months in jail or both.

RT reached out to the Army Corps of Engineers Omaha District, which oversees the land around the Standing Rock Reservation, to see if the district commander had closed or otherwise restricted the land near the protest site

“The National Guard does not fall within the chain of command of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers,” spokeswoman Eileen Williamson replied in an email. “The National Guard is present at the request of the State to support local law enforcement actions.”

A call to the North Dakota National Guard was not returned.

Nearly 120 people were arrested during a standoff with police and the National Guard on Thursday, when law enforcement sought to reopen state Highway 1806, which protesters had blocked off, and to clear the so-called North Camp, located on private land.