U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Announces Intent to Close Oceti Sakowin #NoDAPL Camp

UPDATE: Sunday, November 27, 2016 – The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers issued a public statement reaffirming they plan to officially close the land which includes the Oceti Sakowin camp. However, the Corps also states that it “has no plans for forcible removal” of the thousands of water protectors who have been camped out for months and are erecting winterized structures.

Oceti Sakowin, ND – The Army Corps of Engineers sent a letter, dated November 25th, to Standing Rock Sioux Tribal Chairman Dave Archambault II stating the Army’s intention of “closing the portion of the Corps-managed federal property north of the Cannonball River to all public use and access effective December 5, 2016.” The Oceti Sakowin encampment, previously referred to as the #NoDAPL overflow camp, is currently located on the property that the Army references and can be seen in the video below from November 25th.

The location of the camp can also be seen on Google Maps:


Colonel John W. Henderson, the Corps of Engineers Omaha District Commander, stated in the letter sent to the Tribal Chairman that pursuant to 36 C.F.R. § 327.12, “no member of the general public, to include Dakota Access pipeline protestors, can be on these Corps’ lands.” This statement effectively negates the special use permit issued on September 16th, which allows Standing Rock Sioux Tribe to engage in a lawful free speech demonstration on those lands.

Col. Henderson is invoking the Code of Federal Regulations (C.F.R.) Title 36 – Parks, Forests, and Public Property. Part 327 is “the rules and regulations governing public use of water resource development projects administered by the Chief of Engineers“. The .12 section refers to 327.12, which is “restrictions“.

36 C.F.R. § 327.12 Restrictions state:

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.” – 36 C.F.R. § 327.12

In the first sentence of the second paragraph, the Army states that they have “established a free speech zone on land south of the Cannonball River for anyone wishing to peaceably protest the Dakota Access pipeline project, subject to the rules of 36 C.F.R. Part 327.” Within the rules such as no smoking and quiet times of 10 p.m. to 6 a.m.

The letter states that “any person found to be on the Corps’ lands north of the Cannonball River after December 5, 2016, will be considered trespassing and may be subject to prosecution under federal, state, and local laws.

A map of the Army Corps boundary and the newly created “Free Speech Area” is pictured below.


In the next sentence, the terms “unlawful” and “occupation” are in dispute, as the land in question is unceded Sioux nation land under the 1851 treaty of Fort Laramie.

Furthermore, any person who chooses to stay on these Corps’ lands north of the Cannonball River does so at their own risk, and assumes any and all corresponding liabilities for their unlawful presence and occupation of such lands.” – Colonel John Henderson

The Army stated that “many Title 36 violations” are occurring at the Oceti Sakowin camp, such as, “unauthorized structures, fires, improper disposal of waste, and camping.” They then speak directly to the tribal government about this “illegal activity“, stating:

Additionally, any tribal government that sponsors such illegal activity is assuming the risk for those persons who remain on these lands.” – Colonel John Henderson

In the last paragraph of the letter, Colonel Henderson says:

As I have publically [sic] stated, I am asking you, as a Tribal leader, to encourage members of your Tribe, as well as any non-members who support you who are located in the encampments north of the Cannonball River on Corps’ lands to immediately and peacefully move to the free speech zone south of the Cannonball River or to a more sustainable location for the winter. I am genuinely concerned for the safety and well-being of both the members of your Tribe and the general public located at these encampments.” – Colonel John Henderson

Read the full letter below:


The Standing Rock Sioux Tribe issued a press release responding to the Army Corps of Engineers announcement of their intention to close the camp:

Statement by the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe
Statement by the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe

Aside from disputes regarding broken treaties by the U.S. Government, there are also decade-old disputes around the Army Corps of Engineers and the Missouri River. The Pick-Sloan Act of 1944authorized the Army Corps of Engineers to construct and operate five massive earthen dams on the main stem of the Missouri River for flood control, navigation and hydropower.” Subsequently, the Army Corps of Engineers flooded the lands of the Plains Indians Tribes, as “federal legislation authorizing the acquisition of tribal lands for the site of the reservoirs” was enacted.

Samantha L. Varsalona, wrote in a piece titled ‘Pipelines, Protests and General Permits‘ that “the Oahe Dam not only destroyed a site of spiritual significance to the Sioux, but also flooded nearly fifty-six thousand acres of Standing Rock Reservation and over one hundred four thousand acres on the Cheyenne River Reservation.” In the November 7th post that is part of the Environmental Law Review Syndicate, statements are made regarding the historical controversy and significance of the damming projects by the Corps:

Overall, the construction of the Oahe Dam destroyed more Indian land than any other public works project in America.” – Samantha L. Varsalona, Staff Member, Georgetown Environmental Law Review

The cultural and spiritual significance of the damming of the Missouri River is also addressed by Jon Eagle Sr., the Tribal Historic Preservation Officer of the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe, in the article ‘When Man Changes the Land, It Is Changed Forever‘:

Long ago our ancestors knew the Cannon Ball River as Inyan Wakan Kagapi Wakpa, “River where the sacred stones are made,” and they knew the Missouri River as Mni Sose, “Turbulant Water.” At the confluence of where those two rivers met was a great whirlpool that created perfectly round stones that were considered to be sacred. When the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers dredged the Cannon Ball River and altered its course, the rivers quit making those stones. That federal undertaking had an adverse effect on an area of religious and cultural significance to our people. We will never again see this. When man changes the land it is changed forever.” – Jon Eagle Sr., Tribal Historic Preservation Officer of the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe

Since the Army Corps does not have its own law enforcement personnel, it is unclear who would potentially enforce trespassing charges. Any operation to disband the Oceti Sakowin encampment could possibly be carried out by Bureau of Indian Affairs federal police who are active in the area, the North Dakota National Guard, or possibly the Morton County Sheriff and assisting agencies who have thus far been permitted to come onto some Army Corps lands to carry out field force operations against water protectors.

Unicorn Riot is committed to continuing to provide direct updates from North Dakota. We will be on the ground on December 5th to cover events as they unfold.

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Below is Unicorn Riot’s coverage of the [#NoDAPL] anti-Dakota Access Pipeline struggle from early summer 2016 to present:

March – May 2016

August 2016

September 2016

October 2016

November 2016

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