Supplies at the Sacred Stone Camp in Cannon Ball, N.D. (Joe Brusky / CC 2.0)

Protesters who have planted themselves on federal land in North Dakota were awarded a small victory Monday when federal officials announced they would not evict the sprawling encampment. The camp, which has been set up for weeks and become increasingly self-sustaining, houses activists joining the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe’s opposition to the Dakota Access pipeline (DAPL). The Chicago Tribune reports:

Federal officials say they won’t evict the Oceti Sakowin, or Seven Council Fires camp, due to free speech reasons, even though it’s on U.S. Army Corps of Engineers land near the confluence of the Missouri and Cannonball rivers that many Native Americans believe is still rightfully owned by the Standing Rock Sioux under a nearly 150-year-old treaty. …

The camp is the overflow from smaller private and permitted protest sites nearby and began growing in August. The gathering has been called the largest gathering of Native American tribes in a century, all there to protest Dallas-based Energy Transfer Partners’ $3.8 billion Dakota Access pipeline, which tribal officials believe threatens sacred sites and a river that’s a source of water for millions.

While the demonstrations against the DAPL have been mostly peaceful, tensions flared last week when police raided a prayer event. The continued development of the DAPL is in limbo after the Obama administration stepped in to halt a 20-mile swath of construction. If built, the pipeline would cross four states to help haul oil from North Dakota’s Bakken oil fields.

Although Monday’s news may be a victory for the Standing Rock Sioux and their supporters, many other locals aren’t too happy with the federal government’s lack of action. “Ranchers and farmers in the area are wary of the growing number of protesters and are fearful of damage to their fields and pastures,” the Chicago Tribune notes. “[R]esidents in the area have expressed feeling unsafe and frustrated with how the protest has swelled to scores of self-described ‘water protectors’ who have joined the tribe’s fight, and Republican U.S. Rep. Kevin Cramer—North Dakota’s lone voice in the House—says the camp is illegal.”

“The Army Corps of Engineers said it is ‘encouraging’ protesters at the permitless camp to relocate to permitted areas,” states the website RT. A corps spokeswoman added, “We don’t have the physical ability to go out and evict people—it gives the appearance of not protecting free speech. Our hands are really tied.”

Protesters, meanwhile, are looking to the months ahead—specifically, the approaching North Dakota winter. “According to people that help organize the protest camp in Cannonball, warm blankets and clothes are being donated by the hundreds,” WDAY 6 News reports. “However they say it’s lumber that’s going to help them out as winter comes. They hope to build structures for people to stay in and block the wind.”

The encampment is likely to grow as more protesters join the fight. A thousand Lakota youths from South Dakota are raising funds to travel to the protest site, according to a news release from One Spirit Native Progress:

The Standing Rock Lakota have been joined by members of 280 other tribes, and the youth from the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation want to join their elders and stand with them.

Not only would this strengthen the #NODAPL movement, it could also be a turning point in stopping the epidemic of youth suicide on the reservation. …

Most of the youth have been supporting their elders from afar until now, but they are determined to reach the protest site to lend their voice to the movement in person. Young runners from Pine Ridge arrived at Standing Rock on the evening October 2nd. They ran more than 500 miles to show their commitment and support.

Other protesters recently visited the Minnesota offices of Enbridge Gas Distribution, a company recently described as “the single largest financial contributor to the DAPL project.” Unicorn Riot reports:

Attendees of the action were let into the lobby by an Enbridge employee. Signs and handouts containing a declaration against Enbridge and Dakota Access accompanied an “Enbridge lemonade stand”, from which cups of “oil” were offered to Enbridge employees. …

While some attendees chanted “You Can’t Drink Oil” and “Love Water, Not Oil”, others approached every Enbridge employee in the mostly-vacant office. Each employee was given a copy of the Declaration, and asked if they wanted to drink a cup of oil.

Participants in this action left the office once every available employee had been approached. The “lemonade stand” was set up once more outside of the building while an organizer summarized the contents of the declaration.

Although local news outlets report that thousands of protesters are at the camp, mainstream media has yet to provide significant coverage of the demonstrations. The lack of eviction from federal lands means that the protests will probably be able to continue throughout the harsh winter months.

A spokesman for the camp protesters, Cody Hall, stated, “We’re not leaving until we defeat this big black snake.”

Local officials, meanwhile, are concerned that the encampment will further escalate tensions. “I’m starting to see a lot more guns in the back of pickup trucks,” said Republican state Rep. James Schmidt. “All it is going to take is one incident, and emotions are going to overtake the situation.”

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