Defying the government and even the local tribe, a stubborn group of activists remains camped out in North Dakota.
On January 24, President Donald Trump issued an executive order intended to speed up construction on the Dakota Access pipeline (DAPL), which the Sioux Indians consider the "black snake," a fulfillment of an apocalyptic prophecy. For months, the pipeline had been blocked by high-profile protest camps established by the Standing Rock Sioux and filled with activists who traveled from all over the world. Under Barack Obama, the Army Corps of Engineers had in December denied an easement needed to complete the pipeline's last unfinished bit, which came near the Standing Rock reservation—a proximity that the tribe said would infringe on their sovereignty and potentially pollute their water. Many "water protectors" saw this as a victory and left. But Trump's government rapidly reversed that decision: The easement was approved on February 7 and construction has already begun, despite the tribe's last-minute effort to block the DAPL in court.
The largest protest camp, Oceti Oyate (the "people's camp") is on land managed by the Army Corps, which has ordered the remaining 300 or so activists (down from a December peak of more than 10,000) to leave by February 22. Any remaining campers may be charged with a misdemeanor that carries up to $5,000 in fines or six months in prison, according to an Army Corps spokesperson.
Some occupants plan to relocate to other camps, but many appear ready to defy the local authorities, the federal government, and even the Standing Rock Sioux themselves, whose leaders have been asking activists to leave for months.
"We've raised the vibration of this land so high, I think people would stay even if the pipeline is stopped," says Dennis Romaro, 25, a Chumash from California. "Everybody here is somehow disconnected from... modern society, money, and currency... and we start to see a sense of unity throughout this dynamic. I have to stay here forever."