Water ​protectors ​clean up the Oceti Sakowin camp on Feb. 19 in Standing Rock, North Dakota, where for months thousands had protested the $3.8 billion Dakota Access Pipeline. Credit: Sipa via AP Images

It was the kind of operation I had expected, although it happened a day later: a heavily militarized evacuation of the last protesters at Oceti Sakowin, the main camp behind the movement at Standing Rock.

By midday Thursday, the Humvees and helicopters had moved in and as many as 33 people had been arrested on federal lands managed by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. Another 60 or so people who had defied the corps’ Feb. 22 evacuation order had fled, crossing the frozen Cannonball River to escape arrest.

The ultimate goal, according to Lt. Tom Iverson with the North Dakota Highway Patrol, was to “speed up this cleanup process.” Iverson was referring to Gov. Doug Burgum’s call to clear the network of camps behind one of the largest indigenous gatherings in history. The stated urgency: spring flooding.

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Starting Thursday morning, bulldozers dug into temporary structures and police slashed open teepee-style dwellings. Like the fast-tracking of the final stretch of the $3.8 billion energy project, the razing was on the radar of President Donald Trump.

In a White House briefing, press secretary Sean Spicer said the Trump administration had “been involved with the tribe and the governor” about the completion of the Dakota Access Pipeline (DAPL).

“We are constantly in touch with them,” Spicer said.

Representatives of the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe were quick to deny their portion of the secretary’s remarks.

“That claim is absolutely false,” said tribal Chairman Dave Archambault II, in a prepared statement. “We repeatedly asked for meetings with the Trump administration, but never received one until the day they notified Congress that they were issuing the easement” needed for the pipeline’s completion.

Some of the protesters, known as water protectors, said their leader had sold out a long time ago.

“A lot of people don’t like Dave,” said Dean Dedman Jr., a Standing Rock Sioux tribal member who had at one point joined those calling Archambault “DAPL Dave.”  Support for the chairman started to wane in early December, when he asked protesters to leave the reservation and turn their struggle toward the courts.

As Dedman finalized his plans to depart the camps earlier this week for activism in Iowa, he seemed to have made peace with his tribe’s leader.

“I still have faith in him, even if he did wrong by the people,” Dedman said.

On Feb. 27, Standing Rock and its sister nation – the Cheyenne River Sioux Tribe – will have their latest hearing about the pipeline before federal District Judge James Boasberg in Washington, D.C.

“This is not the end but the beginning for our people,” Archambault texted me.

 

Jenni Monet

Jenni Monet is an independent journalist reporting for PBS NewsHour, PRI The World, Al Jazeera, High Country News, and Yes! Magazine. She is executive producer and host of the podcast Still Here and is a tribal member of the Laguna Pueblo.