Federal officials say they will not evict the growing protest population residing on U.S. Army Corps of Engineers’ land near the Standing Rock Sioux reservation due to reasons related to free speech.
Thousands of protestors have gathered at the encampment since August, being provided food, shelter, clothes, and water while they protest the controversial Dakota Access pipeline that they believe will permanently contaminate water supply and destroy burial sites.
Although the location of the encampment is on federal land, several Native Americans believe the land is rightfully owned by the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe under a 150-year-old treaty.
Several residents in the area have told reporters that they feel unsafe as a result of the growing protest population. Some have said they have experienced feeling threatened and intimidated by protestors who have stolen hay and grazing animals from residents’ farms.
A spokeswoman for the Corps has said that removing protestors from the federal land would give the appearance of not protecting their rights to free speech and therefore are simply encouraging people to relocate to lands where they are legally allowed to protest.
Protestors have told reporters they plan to stay put through winter if they must and that they will not leave until the pipeline is permanently stopped.