Opposing Voices From North Dakota Pipeline Meet To Curb Clashes
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Protests against the Dakota Access Oil Pipeline continue along with periodic clashes between police and demonstrators. This week, President Obama said the Army Corps of Engineers may reroute the pipeline. As NPR's Jeff Brady reports, the Corps also met with the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe to try and avoid future confrontations with protesters.
JEFF BRADY, BYLINE: At the main protest camp about 40 miles south of Bismarck along the Missouri River, announcements blare from a loudspeaker throughout the day.
UNIDENTIFIED ANNOUNCER: Relatives, this red van is the one that has all your sacred items - whatever was left up there.
BRADY: Across a dusty road, there's a U-Haul truck. It was filled with protesters' belongings that were removed last week from a site along the planned pipeline route. Now all that stuff is on the ground. And Lolly Bee is sifting through it.
LOLLY BEE: Huge piles of sleeping bags and blankets and clothing and purses and sleeping pads and teepee canvases.
BRADY: Bee is looking for her clothes and a blue sleeping bag.
BEE: Day after day after day, we were warned of being raided. But, like, we never knew when it was going to happen. So we just kept settling in. And when it actually came, a lot of people didn't have time to move their stuff out.
BRADY: This week, there was another clash as a group of protesters tried to build a plywood bridge across a creek to access the construction site again. Other protesters waded into the water and shouted at the line of officers in protective gear on the other bank.
UNIDENTIFIED PROTESTER: Your paychecks come from our tax dollars - out of our paychecks.
BRADY: The pipeline protesters appear to have a strategy of provoking confrontations with police, which helps bring more attention to their cause. And this week, they got just that when police used force and pepper spray to push them back. Demonstrators have criticized the Army Corps of Engineers for asking the local sheriff's department for help.
On Thursday evening, Native American leaders met with the Corps to discuss protester safety. As Col. John Henderson walked out from that meeting wearing a green camouflage uniform, a group of Native American women confronted him.
UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN: Our people are getting roughed up. And you have blood on your hands.
BRADY: One woman told the colonel she was injured while standing in the road singing.
JOHN HENDERSON: It's very unfortunate that anybody got hurt out there. That was never the intent. The intent is to prevent any further injury.
UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN: You gave them permission to kill us.
HENDERSON: No I didn't give any permission...
UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN: Yes, you did.
BRADY: To be clear, there have been no reports of deaths associated with demonstrations or clashes with police. Henderson spent at least three hours talking with tribal leaders from around the region.
HENDERSON: My sole reason for being here today is to ensure that we don't have further clashes between law enforcement and demonstrators and construction-site workers.
BRADY: Many of the protesters are camped on land that the Army Corps manages. But the agency allows that for now, staking out only the pipeline construction area as off-limits. Standing Rock Sioux chairman Dave Archambault II says his safety conversation with Henderson went beyond just concerns about police-protester interactions.
DAVE ARCHAMBAULT II: We also talked about the future. What is that going to hold, as far as when the winter comes? And how are we going to prepare if people are staying for a long time?
BRADY: Archambault says the tribe is working on that. He says President Obama's announcement that the Corps may reroute the pipeline didn't come up at this meeting. The Corps says it's exploring options and won't speculate on outcomes. Meantime - protesters say they're here to stay. Jeff Brady, NPR News, Bismarck, N.D. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.