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Uncertainty for pipeline protesters amid Trump Inauguration

Posted: 3:50 PM, Jan 18, 2017
Updated: 2017-01-19 02:01:21Z

Uncertainty is mounting in North Dakota as Donald Trump is about to become President of the United States.

Native American protesters and supporters encamped along the Missouri River have, thus far, won several battles to stop the Dakota Access Pipeline from boring under the river.

“This is getting destroyed,” said protester Gena Neal who came from Oklahoma. “And it’s all over greed.”

The Army Corp of Engineers halted the project per President Obama’s orders late last year.
               
But, with a new administration coming in at the end of the week - all bets appear to be off in terms of what’s next.
               
“The longer I stay – the more I want to fight even harder,” said Phyllis Bald Eagle who is here with her husband and three sons as part of the Cheyenne River Sioux representation. “We are protecting our Mother Earth.”

Despite the bitter cold, howling winds and blizzard conditions, North Dakota state officials estimate there are still 500 protesters in the sprawling encampment along the Missouri and Cannonball rivers.

“You just have to know when to stay inside,” said Bald Eagle.

The tribesmen and women hunker down in tents, teepees and yurts.

“We have wood stoves. Our yurt and our tent stay very warm,” Bald Eagle said.

“It’s not a question of if the pipeline is going to leak,” said Jake Renner who came from Connecticut to support the movement. “It’s just when? This is not a protest. It’s a spiritual movement. These people, they deserve their land and pure drinking water.”

The company building the 1,100 mile pipeline through four states, Energy Transfer Partners, says its pipeline does not touch any part of the Standing Rock Reservation.

But, many natives believe the land is hallowed ground and is protected by the reservation and a century old treaty.

“If they’re willing to break treaties with this tribe, then they’re willing to break treaties with the tribes that I’m from,” said Neal, who is Cherokee and Choctaw.

“This pipeline represents corporate greed,” said Michelle Running Wolf. “The people that are behind this have a lot of money already. Why do they need more?”

“This is the last chance we have to really stand up,” Renner said. “We assume that we can keep growing and keep consuming, but we have finite resources.”

Most of the protests have been peaceful - like one on Tuesday, a tribal chant on the main highway.
               
But, there have been violent clashes between police and protesters. Police have used water cannons, rubber bullets and mace at times to push protesters back from drilling operations.

Since the movement started in April of last year, police have arrested nearly 600 protesters.

The encampment is aimed at blocking the pipeline that would carry crude from the Bakkan oil fields in North Dakota through four states to southern Illinois.

This week, surveillance choppers circled daily, razor wire blocks protesters from crossing the bridge on the main highway and the National Guard is staged at various lookout points.

Tensions are also mounting between those in the encampment and neighboring towns. Bismarck, North Dakota is the closest city – more than 50 miles to the north of Cannonball.

"You can't even eat at a restaurant up there," said Bald Eagle. "They won't help you. They just shut the door on you."

Locals say the protest is growing old.

“I’m just tired of hearing about it,” said one woman in Bismarck who asked not to be identified. “We hear about robberies and other crimes happening in the encampment. I don’t know if it’s true, but I wouldn’t go down there.”
Despite sub-zero temperatures, support is still pouring in.

All of the snow and ice also poses a new threat to protesters. Forecasters say flooding along the Missouri River is now inevitable come this spring, so many protesters have already started moving their camps to higher ground.

“I’ll be here as long as it takes,” said Running Wolf.

“They’re wanting to take this land away from the natives,” Neal said. “That’s what’s going on. Make no mistake about it. Natives don’t want this. They want to keep their land whole, they want to keep it clean.”