A pipeline protest in North Dakota has been growing by the busload and organizers now call it the largest gathering of Native Americans in modern times.
It's estimated that members of 60 tribes have gathered at an encampment overlooking the Cannonball and Missouri Rivers, the Bismarck Tribune reports.
The protesters want to stop construction of a pipeline running more than 1,100 miles from North Dakota oil fields to an existing line in Illinois. Energy Transfer Partners says its $3.8 billion Dakota Access Pipeline will be safer than trains and trucks as a way to get North Dakota crude oil to refineries and markets.
But the Standing Rock Sioux argues the pipeline, which runs within half a mile of their reservation, is a threat to their Missouri River water supply, Indian Country Today reports. The environmental group Earthjustice has filed a lawsuit on the tribe's behalf, arguing the Army Corps of Engineers issued permits for the line to cross rivers without a full review.
Protest grows, tension mounts
The tribe's protest outside the town of Cannonball started small a few weeks ago, but as it has grown there have been more than two dozen arrests. Last week the local sheriff had pipeline construction suspended until a better safety plan could be arranged.
On Friday, North Dakota Gov. Jack Dalrymple issued an emergency declaration for the area, saying it would make state resources available to protect health and safety in the area. Dalrymple clarified that the National Guard was not being deployed to Cannonball.
KBJR reported Monday that two northwestern Wisconsin Ojibwe bands – the Bad River and Lac Courte Oreilles – are among those represented at Cannonball.
But Forum News Service says a threat to the encampment emerged at about noon Monday when state-owned water tanks the protesters had been using were removed after North Dakota's Homeland Security director decided the equipment was not secure.
Air conditioned trailers were also hauled away, Forum News says, on a day when afternoon temperatures approached 90. Law enforcement sources put the number of protesters Monday in the 2,000 to 2,500 range, while tribal leaders said it was closer to 4,000, the news service reports.