Dakota Access oil pipeline protesters will not follow a government directive to leave the federal land where hundreds have camped for months, organizers said Saturday, despite state officials encouraging them to do so.
Standing Rock Sioux tribal leader Dave Archambault and other protesters explained that they'll stay at the Oceti Sakowin camp a day after Archambault received a letter from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers that said all federal lands north of the Cannonball River will be closed Dec. 5 for "safety concerns."
The Corps cited the oncoming winter and increasingly contentious clashes between protesters, who believe the pipeline could harm drinking water and Native American cultural sites, and police.
"We are wardens of this land. This is our land and they can't remove us," said protester Issac Weston, who is an Oglala Sioux member from South Dakota. "We have every right to be here to protect our land and to protect our water."
The vast majority of the several hundred people fighting against the four-state, $3.8 billion pipeline have created a self-sustaining community at the sprawling camp, which is on Corps land in southern North Dakota. They've put up semi-permanent structures or brought motor homes and trailers.
People were chopping wood and setting up tents at the encampment, which is more than a mile from a Missouri River reservoir where the final large segment of the pipeline is yet to be completed due to the Corps consulting with the tribe.
President Barack Obama raised the possibility of rerouting the pipeline in that area earlier this month, something Kelcy Warren, CEO of Texas-based pipeline developer Energy Transfer Partners, told The Associated Press is not an option from the company's standpoint.
Obama said his administration is monitoring the "challenging situation" but would "let it play out for several more weeks."
The Corps' letter, according to Archambault, said that those who stay on the land after Dec. 5 may be prosecuted, and that there'll be a free speech zone south of the river.
Archambault said Saturday that he doesn't believe the Corps will forcibly evict people from the camp, adding that the tribe is working to provide protesters protection from the elements on its reservation, which is south of the Cannonball River, but offered few details.
(The Associated Press, WJLA, and James MacPherson contributed to this report)