A repeal of the Affordable Care Act — now in the offing in Congress — could deal a body blow to healthcare for at least 33% of all Native Americans.
The federal government promised free healthcare to tribes in treaties more than a century ago. The legislation that protects and modernizes those treaty promises was rolled into the ACA when it became law in 2010.
With the ACA on the chopping block, this legislation could vanish, tribal leaders say.
“Revoking it will have catastrophic consequences for the Indian health care system,” Jenifer LittleSun, executive director of the Southern Plains Tribal Health Board in Oklahoma, told BuzzFeed News. “This is a direct result of thousands of hours of negotiations with the federal government.”
Nine tribal health boards, the National Indian Health Board, and political groups including the National Congress of American Indians sent a letter to Congress in December, asking to preserve sections that addressed healthcare for tribes.
“Repealing these provisions and the IHCIA now would have disastrous consequences for the Indian health system,” they wrote, with urban and rural health centers losing “3rd party revenue, legal authorities, and life-saving programs.”
Of primary concern are a series of amendments to the Indian Health Care Improvement Act (IHCIA), rules that were bundled in with the ACA. Originally passed in 1976, the law laid out the responsibilities of the Indian Health Service, which provides healthcare to tribes. But it was revised substantially in 2010.
“It really was a ten-year effort to get the amendments done,” Myra Munson, of counsel at Sonosky, Chambers, Sachse, Miller, Monkman & Flannery, LLP in Anchorage, who worked with tribes to draft IHCIA amendments, told BuzzFeed News. “It would be an enormous waste of energy to start all over.”
On Wednesday night, Senate Republicans took the first steps towards repealing the ACA by voting for repeal plans as soon as January 27. Similar actions are expected from the House of Representatives.
“If Congress does not repeal the ACA in a surgical manner that would preserve the IHCIA reauthorization provisions, the result could be a lot of harm to the Indian health care system as it works today,” said Geoffrey Strommer, an attorney at Hobbs, Straus, Dean and Walker, LLP in Portland, who works on tribal law and healthcare, told BuzzFeed News.
The amendments to the IHCIA include rules that allow tribes to employ doctors in one state even if they were licensed in another. Another authorized IHS facilities to offer elder care and long-term care, which, “prior to the IHCIA was not a set of programs that the IHS felt that like they had to carry out,” Strommer said.
Two other sections of the ACA make extra dollars available for the chronically underfunded system: One allows tribe-run or IHS clinics to bill Medicare for broader range of services, and another requires that insurance companies or Medicaid be billed before tapping into federal appropriations.
Medicaid expansion, another possible target of the ACA repeal, has brought welcome additional funding to centers that serve Native Americans. It’s also expanded the services that are available.
“From my perspective taking away Medicaid would be devastating,” Donald Warne, chair of the Department of Public Health at North Dakota State University, told BuzzFeed News.
In North Dakota, one of the states that has expanded Medicaid, private insurance has begun to cover many services that the underfunded Indian Health Service cannot provide. If Medicaid were to go away, “We cant even do things like cancer screening or a colonoscopy,” Warne said. “Taking insurance from American Indians or any other population will kill people.
Of the IHS’s $6.2 billion budget in 2016, $807,600 came from Medicaid.
The issue has received some congressional attention: Among the amendments to the budget bill proposed Wednesday night was one sponsored by Senator Tom Udall of New Mexico, that sought to protect the Native Americans enrolled in Medicaid.
“Any reduction in federal payments to the Indian health system would jeopardize the lives and well-being of American Indians and Alaska Natives, as most health care facilities that serve Native Americans are already woefully underfunded,” Udall, who is the incoming vice-chairman of the Senate Committee on Indian Affairs, said in a statement. Just in New Mexico, 132,000 tribal members are enrolled in Medicaid, according to the senator’s office.
But Warne worries that tribes do not have the political clout to make their needs heard — federally recognized tribes only exist in 35 states. “We have to contend with the fact that there are lawmakers who are in positions of power who don’t care about American Indian issues because we’re not in their constituencies,” he said. “[In] Kentucky, home of the senate majority leader, there are no American Indians. What does Mitch McConnell care about American Indians? If you look at his voting record he doesn’t care.”
That the IHCIA amendments were piggybacked on the ACA in 2010 was an accident. Lawyers and tribes began working on amendments as early as 1999, but by the time negotiations with Congress were complete, Democrats were gearing up to push Obamacare through.
“The message was clear: it was impossible to push two major health bills. An agreement was reached to combine them into a single document,” Munson said. “We don’t believe that any of the objections that the leadership has had are really directed at Indians.”
The repeal of the Affordable Care Act will leave millions of Americans without health care. The native people are just one segment of the population. Like the native people, millions of students, people working without benefits, and the poor will end up without health insurance. The other problem is that when uninsured folks go to the emergency room for care, the cost of this treatment is absorbed by the hospital and the tax payers. Another important aspect is that if ACA is repealed without a replacement, then previous conditions will not be covered. So anything that you have been diagnosed with would not be covered going forward. This leaves many people in a hole. Families with children and the elderly will find themselves swamped with medical bills.
This would be a great time to write, call, or email your representatives. Tell them to either let the ACA alone or not to repeal it without a replacement. It is vital for our country going forward. Not having healthcare insurance will have a devastating on the lives of many families. Political party affiliation will not protect Americans as they try to avoid financial jeopardy – Republicans will be affected as easily as Democrats.
Indigenous activists are focussing on the Dakota Access pipeline’s finances before Donald Trump takes office in an effort to further strain the oil corporation and cause continuing delays that they hope could be disastrous for the project.
The firm wrote in a filing this year that the pipeline “committed to complete, test and have DAPL in service” by the start of 2017. And if the company did not meet its contract deadline, then its shipping partners had a “right to terminate their commitments”.
In asking a judge to speedily green-light the $3.8bn project, vice-president Joey Mahmoud claimed that the loss of shippers could “effectively result in project cancellation”, leading advocates and analysts to declare that a missed January deadline could be financially disastrous for ETP and a huge feat for Standing Rock.
But in emails to the Guardian, DAPL spokeswoman Vicki Granado claimed that January was just an “initial target” and not a “contractual date”, which is “much later”, though she refused to say when.
Her statement, which contradicts the company’s official court testimony on multiple occasions, has prompted accusations that the corporation has either committed perjury or is lying to reporters. (Granado claimed that the court filing didn’t explicitly say that 1 January was a contract deadline even though the language strongly suggested it was.)
Shippers contacted by the Guardian either did not respond to inquiries or declined to comment on the terms of their contracts with Energy Transfer.
“If DAPL is not available as scheduled, we will continue to use our current transportation methods,” said John Roper, spokesman for Hess Corporation, one of the shippers. A representative of Phillips 66 said it remained a “committed shipper on these pipelines systems” but did not elaborate.
Regardless of the significance of the January date, opponents of the project argued that the continuing suspension of the project is already having a big impact on the ETP’s bottom line.
“A couple of months delay for a project like this is significant,” said Cathy Kunkel, energy analyst for the Institute for Energy Economics and Financial Analysis (Ieefa) and co-author of a recent report that scrutinized DAPL’s funding.
The corporation claimed in court that each month of delay cost the company $4.5m and that a failure to launch on time would lead to losses of $913m in 2017.
While some activists have continued to camp near the construction site in very harsh winter conditions, others have been organizing successful “defund DAPL” campaigns.
“There’s been increasing concern by the entities that are financing this enterprise, some of which actually care about indigenous people and some of whom care about how they appear to care about indigenous people,” said Jan Hasselman, attorney for the tribe.
In November, the largest bank in Norway, DNB, announced that it had sold its assets in DAPL, while Odin Fund Management, a major Norwegian fund manager, sold $23.8m worth of shares invested in the companies behind the pipeline. Earlier this month, the Swedish bank Nordea said it would not back the pipeline if the corporation violated the demands of the Standing Rock tribe.
Tim Donaghy, senior research specialist with Greenpeace, which has petitioned banks to abandon DAPL, noted that reports of extreme police violence against Native Americans have further fuelled the divestment efforts. “No bank wants to be associated with a project that’s violating human rights.”
The financial challenges for Energy Transfer come at a time when the company is already in a precarious economic situation due to broader industry trends, analysts said.
Global oil prices began to collapse in 2014 after shippers committed to DAPL, and production in the Bakken Shale oil field has fallen, which has created major hardships for drillers, according to the recent Ieefa report.
That means the existing pipeline infrastructure may be adequate to handle regional oil production, and that if the contract deadline does expire, shippers could be eager to pull out or renegotiate favorable terms.
“They’ve locked themselves into a long-term commitment in the midst of a steep and what appears now to be a sustained decline in oil production from the region,” said Clark Williams-Derry, director of energy finance at the Sightline Institute, who has analyzed the pipeline’s finances and who co-authored the report. “If I were a shipper, I would be very concerned.”
Dallas Goldtooth, organizer with the Indigenous Environmental Network, who has been a leader on the ground at Standing Rock, said a permanent cancellation of the project could have long-term implications for the industry.
“They are trying to ram these projects into the ground as quickly as possible with no concern about the risk,” he said, adding: “I hope this sucker sinks Energy Transfer.”
LaDonna Brave Bull Allard, a Standing Rock tribe member who owns land where one of the main camps remains in place, said the DAPL corporation was “panicking” about its finances and misleading the public.
The company should not be trusted, she said, noting that the construction site was being monitored to ensure that DAPL workers do not start drilling under the Missouri river, which provides the tribe’s water supply.
“We are preparing because we know we have a fight on our hands. We will be standing our ground no matter what.”
While we were celebrating the dropping of the ball in Times Square on New Year’s Eve and ringing in 2017, the protesters were still at Standing Rock. The ones that were home by that time were trying to get their lives and homes organized once again. They had walked away from their lives, jobs, classes, homes, and social obligations to go to Standing Rock; to take a stand for their beliefs and against big business and the federal government. This is very admirable for people we have spent years trying to ignore because of the crimes we had committed against them.
Would you have the strength to keep fighting after centuries of oppression and genocide?
Do you have the strength to put aside your privilege and stand by them? Reblog this and keep posting other supportive blogs and articles — help them get the word out.
The Native American myth of Deganawidah has many astonishing parallels with the story of Christ
The influence of Christian myths may well have affected another story from Native American traditions — that of the Deganawidah the Pacemaker. This semi-mythical character, also known as the Man from the North, was born into the Wendot tribe, later known as the Huron, who lived along the northern shore of present day Lake Ontario. According to tradition, Deganawidah was born of a virgin who, when she confessed to her mother that she was pregnant but had never known a man, was revealed to have been visited by a messenger of the Great Spirit Tarenyawagon, who was sending a messenger to bring lasting peace to humankind. At first there was much doubt among the tribes-people, and it is even told that Deganawidah’s grandmother tried three times to kill the child after prophecies that he would bring no good to the tribe. Yet Deganawidah survived, and grew imbued with wisdom, intelligence, and kindness. He spoke with animals and birds, and began to teach a message of peace among his fellows. The walking Huron found this distasteful and strange and tried to drive Deganawidah away. On reaching manhood he wandered in the wilderness for a time and then set forth in a white canoe said to have been made, astonishing, of stone, to visit other tribes. In the years that followed he traveled amongst the tribes and eventually founded the great Iroquois Confederacy, a democratic union of five tribes from amongst the northeastern woodlands, the concept that influenced not only the founding got of the United States constitution, but also that of the United Nations.
Deganawidah’s death remains mysterious, and like King Arthur, it is believed that he will return at the time of the his country’s need. Remembered still as the Peacemaker, he is seen as a harbinger of peace and as messenger of God. His life parallels that of Christ in many ways, especially in his birth and youthful deeds. He is a perfect example of the Children of Wonder, who come in the dark heart of Winter to bring light and a message of peace to the world.
Deganawidah, the PeaceMaker, was brought up with intelligence and kindness and, like Jesus, went on to spread a message of peace and democracy
–From The Winter Solstice: The Sacred Traditions of Christmas by John Matthews
Pipeline Spills 176,000 Gallons of Oil Into Creek 150 Miles From Dakota Access Protests
byTOM DICHRISTOPHER, CNBC
A pipeline leak has spilled tens of thousands of gallons of crude oil into a North Dakota creek roughly two and a half hours from Cannon Ball, where protesters are camped out in opposition to the Dakota Access pipeline.
Members of the Standing Rock Sioux and other tribes, as well as environmentalists from around the country, have fought the pipeline project on the grounds that it crosses beneath a lake that provides drinking water to native Americans. They say the route beneath Lake Oahe puts the water source in jeopardy and would destroy sacred land.
North Dakota officials estimate more than 176,000 gallons of crude oil leaked from the Belle Fourche Pipeline into the Ash Coulee Creek. State environmental scientist Bill Suess says a landowner discovered the spill on Dec. 5 near the city of Belfield, which is roughly 150 miles from the epicenter of the Dakota Access pipeline protest camps
The leak was contained within hours of the its discovery, Wendy Owen, a spokeswoman for Casper, Wyoming-based True Cos., which operates the Belle Fourche pipeline, told CNBC.
It’s not yet clear why electronic monitoring equipment didn’t detect the leak, Owen told the Asssociated Press.
Owen said the pipeline was shut down immediately after the leak was discovered. The pipeline is buried on a hill near Ash Coulee creek, and the “hillside sloughed,” which may have ruptured the line, she said.
“That is our number one theory, but nothing is definitive,” Owen said. “We have several working theories and the investigation is ongoing.”
Last week, the Army Corp of Engineers said it would deny Dallas-based Energy Transfer Partners the easement it needs to complete the final stretch of the $3.7 billion Dakota Access pipeline. United States Assistant Secretary of the Army Jo-Ellen Darcy said the best path forward was to explore alternative routes for the pipeline, something Energy Transfer Partners says it will not do.
Energy Transfer Partners says the Dakota Access pipeline would include safeguards such as leak detection equipment and that workers monitoring the pipeline remotely in Texas could close valves within three minutes if a breach is detected.
Republican President-elect Donald Trump has voiced support for the Dakota Access Pipeline. About 5,000 people are still occupying land near the planned construction site.
The 6-inch steel Belle Fourche pipeline is mostly underground but was built above ground where it crosses Ash Coulee Creek, Suess said. Owen said the pipeline was built in the 1980s and is used to gather oil from nearby oil wells to a collection point.
Suess said the spill migrated almost 6 miles from the spill site along Ash Coulee Creek, and it fouled an unknown amount of private and U.S. Forest Service land along the waterway. The creek feeds into the Little Missouri River, but Seuss said it appears no oil got that far and that no drinking water sources were threatened. The creek was free-flowing when the spill occurred but has since frozen over.
About 60 workers were on site Monday, and crews have been averaging about 100 yards daily in their cleanup efforts, he said. Some of the oil remains trapped beneath the frozen creek.
Suess says about 37,000 gallons of oil have been recovered.
“It’s going to take some time,” Suess said of the cleanup. “Obviously there will be some component of the cleanup that will go toward spring.”
True Cos. has a history of oil field-related spills in North Dakota and Montana, including a January 2015 pipeline break into the Yellowstone River. The 32,000-gallon spill temporarily shut down water supplies in the downstream community of Glendive, Montana, after oil was detected in the city’s water treatment system.
True Cos. operates at least three pipeline companies with a combined 1,648 miles of line in Montana, North Dakota and Wyoming, according to information the companies submitted to federal regulators. Since 2006, the companies have reported 36 spills totaling 320,000 gallons of petroleum products, most of which was never recovered.
A major oil spill just 150 miles from the Dakota Access Pipeline protests in North Dakota has validated the concerns of those who spoke out against the project for months, activists said.
State officials estimate that more than 176,000 gallons of crude oil has leakedfrom the Belle Fourche Pipeline over the past week into the Ash Coulee Creek in western North Dakota. A landowner discovered the spill near the town of Belfield on Dec. 5, according to Bill Suess, an environmental scientist with the North Dakota Health Department.
The leak was contained within hours of its discovery, Wendy Owen, a spokeswoman for Casper, Wyoming-based True Cos., which operates the Belle Fourche pipeline, told CNBC.
But when news of the spill reached the Oceti Sakowin Camp — where thousands have protested the controversial Dakota Access Pipeline for months — activists said they felt vindicated.
One of the protesters’ central arguments for months has been that, despite assurances from Energy Transfer Partners — the Dallas-based company funding the $3.7 billion project — an oil spill would be inevitable.
And the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe believes that a spill would devastate the Missouri River, which is the main water source for the tribe.
For Tara Houska, a Native American environmental activist who has resided at the camp since August, the oil spill was “yet another example of what happens when you have lax regulations written by oil companies and their patrons.”
“The spill gives further credence to our position that pipelines are not safe,” said Houska, National Campaigns Director for Honor the Earth, a nonprofit organization focused on raising awareness and financial support for indigenous environmental justice. “Oil companies’ interest is on their profit margins, not public safety.”
In an interview last month, Energy Transfer Partners CEO Kelcy Warren told NBC News that he could not assure the tribe that an oil spill could not potentially occur. Warren would only say that the Dakota Access Pipeline was prepared to withstand such an event.
Warren said the pipeline would cross 90-115 feet below Lake Oahe, a large Missouri River reservoir, with double walled and remote-controlled shutoff valves on each side of the crossing.
A spokesperson for Energy Transfer Partners declined to comment for this article.
“They can say they have all the latest technologies to safeguard against a leak,” Standing Rock Sioux Chairman Dave Archambault II told NBC News. “But when that leak happens, and it will, all those safeguards will go out the window.”
Archambault said he relayed his concerns to North Dakota Gov. Jack Dalrymple on Monday night, their first one-on-one meeting since the protests began last summer.
Dallas Goldtooth, a member of the Dakota Nation who has been at the camp off-and-on since August, told NBC News that the pipeline spill upstream “shows everyone the necessity to examine not only the Dakota Access Pipeline but all fossil-fuel energy infrastructure development.”
“This should spur us to act,” said Goldtooth. “This should encourage everyone who believes in protecting Mother Earth that we need to examine and critique every fossil fuel project that’s being put on the table.”
Allison Renville, an activist from the Lakota nation, was less circumspect. “We’re winning,” she told NBC News.
“The spill at Bel Fourche, again, is proof that we’re right,” said Renville. “It validates our struggle.”
For all of the naysayers who have ridiculed the native people and their concern about the water, here is just what they have been trying to avoid. Another pipeline leak and one near their camp. A couple of months ago there was one in Alabama. After the initial announcement, we didn’t hear any more about it.
What about our water in both of these situations? Talking to the EPA and finding out about about your water may be something you want to do before the Inauguration. Trump will probably destroy the agency. We are at a serious impasse with our environment here on our planet and here in America. Here it is made more dangerous by Trump and his denying of science. Yet we have the entire city of Flint, Michigan that has not had clean drinking water for at least the last two years. Congress is just now appropriating money for Flint.
We need to continue to give the native people our support and prayers that this stand off at Standing Rock comes to an appropriate end for the people and the land. I stand with Standing Rock.
Following last week’s decision by the Department of the Army to not grant the easement under Lake Oahe, we are all focused on important actions that must be undertaken in the coming weeks. The announcement cited need for further examination of key issues, including treaty rights. It was suggestive of a reroute, and indicated that there will be an Environmental Impact Statement initiated to review the crossing. We look forward to this process getting underway.
This past Friday, we had a status conference in federal district court to handle scheduling and procedural matters. The day after the decision was announced Dakota Access filed a motion for summary judgment, arguing that they already have all necessary permissions to cross under the Lake. This argument is legally flawed and we believe that the motion will be denied upon appropriate review. Judge Boasberg made it clear that the issue raised by Dakota Access will not be decided at least for many weeks. In the meantime, Dakota Access does not have permission to drill under Lake Oahe.
In addition, there was also a meeting with federal officials regarding the initiation of the EIS. When the process is initiated, it will be published in the Federal Register as a Notice of Intent to Prepare a Draft Environmental Impact Statement. We will then enter a period of determining both the scope of the EIS and who the cooperating agencies will be—federal, tribal, and state parties with an interest in the project. It is extremely important that the EIS process begin immediately and I ask that all of our supporters are attentive to the proceedings. We must have confidence but ensure that this time around, the process works for us instead of against us.
I continue to welcome a meeting with President-elect Trump and his Interior nominee, Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers. Nevertheless, it is imperative that we push through as much as we can under the current administration. We cannot afford to lose momentum and continue to be on edge due to the Dakota Access presence at the drill pad. We also urge you to contact the banks investing in this risky and unsafe project to make them aware of the terrible acts this company has committed and reconsider their financing. Also, I ask all water protectors to make plans to return safely home when the weather permits, avoid conflict, and pivot your advocacy to holding the government accountable with respect to the EIS and our court battles. This is far from over.
U.S. veterans build barracks for pipeline protesters in cold
Veterans have a demonstration on Backwater bridge during a protest against plans to pass the Dakota Access pipeline near the Standing Rock Indian Reservation, near Cannon Ball, North Dakota, U.S., December 1, 2016. REUTERS/Stephanie Keith
Members of the Oglala Lakota tribe erect a tipi inside of the Oceti Sakowin camp as “water protectors” continue to demonstrate against plans to pass the Dakota Access pipeline near the Standing Rock Indian Reservation, near Cannon Ball, North Dakota, U.S., December 2, 2016. REUTERS/Lucas Jackson
Benji Buffalo (R) greets a friend to his campsite inside of the Oceti Sakowin camp as “water protectors” continue to demonstrate against plans to pass the Dakota Access pipeline near the Standing Rock Indian Reservation, near Cannon Ball, North Dakota, U.S., December 2, 2016. REUTERS/Lucas Jackson
Campers cook lunch inside of the Oceti Sakowin camp as “water protectors” continue to demonstrate against plans to pass the Dakota Access pipeline near the Standing Rock Indian Reservation, near Cannon Ball, North Dakota, U.S., December 2, 2016. REUTERS/Lucas Jackson
Demonstrators greet each other near the entrance of the Oceti Sakowin camp as “water protectors” continue demonstrations against plans to pass the Dakota Access pipeline continue near the Standing Rock Indian Reservation, near Cannon Ball, North Dakota, U.S., December 2, 2016. REUTERS/Lucas Jackson
Benji Buffalo works to improve his campsite inside of the Oceti Sakowin camp as “water protectors” continue to demonstrate against plans to pass the Dakota Access pipeline near the Standing Rock Indian Reservation, near Cannon Ball, North Dakota, U.S., December 2, 2016. REUTERS/Lucas Jackson
Messages of support adorn the side of a tipi inside of the Oceti Sakowin camp as “water protectors” continue to demonstrate against plans to pass the Dakota Access pipeline near the Standing Rock Indian Reservation, near Cannon Ball, North Dakota, U.S., December 2, 2016. REUTERS/Lucas Jackson
Campers photograph a signpost with the names of various tribes on it inside of the Oceti Sakowin camp as “water protectors” continue to demonstrate against plans to pass the Dakota Access pipeline near the Standing Rock Indian Reservation, near Cannon Ball, North Dakota, U.S., December 2, 2016. REUTERS/Lucas Jackson
Members of the Oglala Lakota tribe erect a tipi inside of the Oceti Sakowin camp as “water protectors” continue to demonstrate against plans to pass the Dakota Access pipeline near the Standing Rock Indian Reservation, near Cannon Ball, North Dakota, U.S., December 2, 2016. REUTERS/Lucas Jackson
People donate food and equipment to campers inside of the Oceti Sakowin camp as “water protectors” continue to demonstrate against plans to pass the Dakota Access pipeline near the Standing Rock Indian Reservation, near Cannon Ball, North Dakota, U.S., December 2, 2016. REUTERS/Lucas Jackson
Children sled down a hill inside of the Oceti Sakowin camp as “water protectors” continue to demonstrate against plans to pass the Dakota Access pipeline near the Standing Rock Indian Reservation, near Cannon Ball, North Dakota, U.S., December 2, 2016. REUTERS/Lucas Jackson
Campers unload donated wood inside of the Oceti Sakowin camp as “water protectors” continue to demonstrate against plans to pass the Dakota Access pipeline near the Standing Rock Indian Reservation, near Cannon Ball, North Dakota, U.S., December 2, 2016. REUTERS/Lucas Jackson
A camper works on her tent inside of the Oceti Sakowin camp as “water protectors” continue to demonstrate against plans to pass the Dakota Access pipeline near the Standing Rock Indian Reservation, near Cannon Ball, North Dakota, U.S., December 2, 2016. REUTERS/Lucas Jackson
A man rides a horse down a road inside of the Oceti Sakowin camp as “water protectors” continue to demonstrate against plans to pass the Dakota Access pipeline near the Standing Rock Indian Reservation, near Cannon Ball, North Dakota, U.S., December 2, 2016. REUTERS/Lucas Jackson
A group walks towards the entrance of the Oceti Sakowin camp as “water protectors” continue demonstrations against plans to pass the Dakota Access pipeline near the Standing Rock Indian Reservation, near Cannon Ball, North Dakota, U.S., December 2, 2016. REUTERS/Lucas Jackson
U.S. military veterans were building barracks on Friday at a protest camp in North Dakota to support thousands of activists who have squared off against authorities in frigid conditions to oppose a multibillion-dollar pipeline project near a Native American reservation.
Veterans volunteering to be human shields have been arriving at the Oceti Sakowin camp near the small town of Cannon Ball, where they will work with protesters who have spent months demonstrating against plans to route the Dakota Access Pipeline beneath a lake near the Standing Rock Sioux Reservation, organizers said.
The Native Americans and protesters say the $3.8 billion pipeline threatens water resources and sacred sites.
Some of the more than 2,100 veterans who signed up on the Veterans Stand for Standing Rock group’s Facebook page are at the camp, with hundreds more expected during the weekend. Tribal leaders asked the veterans, who aim to form a wall in front of police to protect the protesters, to avoid confrontation with authorities and not get arrested.
Wesley Clark Jr, a writer whose father is retired U.S. Army General Wesley Clark, met with law enforcement on Friday to tell them that potentially 3,500 veterans would join the protest and the demonstrations would be carried out peacefully, protest leaders said.
The plan is for veterans to gather in Eagle Butte, a few hours away, and then travel by bus to the main protest camp, organizers said, adding that a big procession is planned for Monday.
Protesters began setting up tents, tepees and other structures in April, and the numbers swelled in August at the main camp.
Joshua Tree, 42, from Los Angeles, who has been visiting the camp for weeks at a time since September, said he felt pulled to the protest.
“Destiny called me here,” he said at the main camp. “We’re committed.”
The protesters’ voices have also been heard by companies linked to the pipeline, including banks that protesters have targeted for their financing of the pipeline.
Wells Fargo & Co (WFC.N) said in a Thursday letter it would meet with Standing Rock elders before Jan. 1 “to discuss their concerns related to Wells Fargo’s investment” in the project.
There have been violent confrontations near the route of the pipeline with state and local law enforcement, who used tear gas, rubber bullets and water hoses on the protesters, even in freezing weather.
The number of protesters in recent weeks has topped 1,000. State officials on Monday ordered them to leave the snowy camp, which is on U.S. Army Corps of Engineers land, citing harsh weather, but on Wednesday they said they would not enforce the order.
“There is an element there of people protesting who are frightening,” North Dakota Attorney General Wayne Stenehjem said on Thursday. “It’s time for them to go home.”
Morton County Sheriff Kyle Kirchmeier spoke by phone on Friday with U.S. Attorney General Loretta Lynch, but assistance for law enforcement and a timeline for a resolution to the situation were not offered, the sheriff’s office said.
Lynch said in a statement that the U.S. Department of Justice has been in communication with all sides in an effort to reduce tensions and foster dialogue. She said senior department officials will be deployed to the region as needed.
U.S. President-elect Donald Trump said on Thursday he supported the completion of the pipeline, and his transition team said he supported peaceful protests.
North Dakota Governor Jack Dalrymple said on Wednesday it was “probably not feasible” to reroute the pipeline, but he would try to rebuild a relationship with Standing Rock Sioux leaders.
On Friday, Morton County Commission Chairman Cody Schulz said his office has been working in conjunction with the governor’s office to meet with tribal leaders soon.
Since the start of demonstrations, 564 people have been arrested, the Morton County Sheriff’s Department said.
State officials never contemplated forcibly removing protesters, and Dalrymple said his evacuation order stemmed mainly from concerns about dangerously cold temperatures.
The temperature in Cannon Ball is expected to fall to 4 degrees Fahrenheit (-16 Celsius) by the middle of next week, according to Weather.com forecasts.
The 1,172-mile (1,885-km) pipeline project, owned by Texas-based Energy Transfer Partners LP (ETP.N), is mostly complete, except for a segment planned to run under Lake Oahe, a reservoir formed by a dam on the Missouri River.
Protesters, who refer to themselves as “water protectors,” have been gearing up for the winter while they await the Army Corps decision on whether to allow Energy Transfer to tunnel under the river. The Army Corps has twice delayed that decision.