BISMARCK, N.D. – Dakota Access oil pipeline protesters who tried to set up a new camp on private land undermined the Standing Rock Sioux tribe's efforts to stop the $3.8 billion project, tribal Chairman Dave Archambault says.
Archambault in recent weeks has been pushing protesters to leave their flood-prone main encampment on federal land between the reservation and the pipeline route and asking that activism be spread around the U.S. He said efforts by some to establish a camp Wednesday on nearby higher ground "do not represent the tribe."
Authorities arrested 74 protesters, including American Indian activist Chase Iron Eyes, after they set up teepees Wednesday on land owned by Texas-based pipeline developer Energy Transfer Partners. Protesters said they were peacefully assembling on land they believe rightfully belongs to American Indians. The Morton County Sheriff's Office initially reported 76 arrests but later said two were protesters accused of unrelated drug offenses.
The new camp site was west of the main encampment that for months has housed hundreds and sometimes thousands of people who support the tribe's position that the pipeline threatens their drinking water and Native American cultural sites. The pipeline would carry oil from North Dakota through the Dakotas and Iowa to a shipping point in Illinois. The route would go under Lake Oahe, a large reservoir along the Missouri River. Energy Transfer Partners disputes the tribe's arguments and says the pipeline will be safe.
A few hundred people still remain in the main camp, which is being cleaned up this week in advance of spring flooding that could carry any remaining refuse into the Missouri River. Archambault in recent weeks has called for the camp to disband, and late Wednesday he urged people who have left to stay away.
"In these past few weeks at camp, I see no reflection of our earlier unity, and without unity we lose," he said.
Iron Eyes, who made an unsuccessful bid for Congress last fall, remained jailed Thursday and unavailable for comment, a spokesman said. Iron Eyes told The Associated Press last week that he and others feel a need to "keep up the pressure" because "right now the will of the public is being expressed by a president that does not represent the majority in this country."
President Donald Trump last month called on the Army to reconsider its earlier decision to block the pipeline from being laid under Lake Oahe. It's the last big chunk of construction for the pipeline, and work has stalled while ETP battles the Army Corps of Engineers in court for permission to proceed.
Acting Army Secretary Robert Speer on Tuesday ordered a review of the Army's earlier decision not to grant permission until more study was done. It's unclear how long the review will take, but U.S. Sen. John Hoeven told the AP that after a conversation with Speer, he's certain permission will be granted soon.
"The fight is no longer here, but in the halls and courts of the federal government," Archambault said.
After Wednesday's arrests, law enforcement allowed people in the main camp to come to the new camp site and remove the teepees, which American Indians consider sacred.
Follow Blake Nicholson on Twitter at: http://twitter.com/NicholsonBlake