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Potential for winter war at the Standing Rock camps

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Image: Instagram/Elizabeth Hoover

There have been long-standing concerns for the Standing Rock demonstrators that have been simmering for some time now and have not abated even when President Obama declared there should be a pause in the development of the Dakota Access Pipeline. 

See, on the one hand there was the judge who denied the Standing Rock Sioux tribe's request for an injunction and therefore declared that the Dakota Access pipeline construction could legally proceed, and the other where the U.S. federal government then stepped in and temporarily halted the project.

One of the key concerns is demonstrating in the middle of winter, which was the all too familiar cause of most Occupy camps shutting down as temperatures dropped.

In Occupy Toronto, the temperature began to drop day by day until we opened our tent doors to piles of drifting snow. At first concern over our deteriorating weather conditions were simply whispers, and then became General Assembly (GA) items to discuss, and then through emergency meetings. While Toronto did not lack in heart, we had very formidable odds stacked against us by Mother Nature, as winter camping is not only extremely expensive, but also particularly dangerous if not done right.

And at that time in 2011, with so little time to prepare, and with so many grandiose ideas that turned out to be laughably impractical, we had to finally admit that no, the state didn't win out against us, it was winter that won.

The weather situation will not be the same for those who pledge to camp out in North Dakota. It will be worse -- the open spaces greater, the wind stronger, the snow deeper.

The political reason for the temporary delay was so the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers could determine the pipeline's environmental impact, but so far, the Army Corps has not backed down on its notice that it expects demonstrators to leave their camps by December 5, regardless of the study's outcome.

In a letter to the Standing Rock tribe, John W. Henderson, a district commander with the Corps, said that the area will be closed by December 5, 2016. Anyone found to be on "Corps-managed land" north of the Cannonball River after that date will be considered trespassing and subject to prosecution.

Henderson went on to say, "This decision is necessary to protect the general public from the violent confrontations between protestors and law enforcement officials that have occurred in this area, and to prevent death, illness, or serious injury to inhabitants of encampments due to the harsh North Dakota winter conditions."

The Army Corps is not the only one concerned about the coming winter.

Sadly, there is a fear that someone might soon die, with the weather being a deciding factor. The cold and the wind will be the more challenging factors.

Law enforcement has already deployed its anti-personnel fire-hoses on demonstrators, both in canoes and also on dry land. The fear lays in how this tactic is going to be used in the future, when the temperature drops towards freezing. It could only be a matter of time until someone dies from hypothermia.

To address this very matter, the Standing Rock Medic and Healer Council released this statement,
"The physicians and tribal healers with the Standing Rock Medic and Healer Council call for the immediate cessation of use of water cannons on people who are outdoors in 28 [degrees Fahrenheit] ambient weather with no means of active rewarming in these conditions. As medical professionals, we are concerned for the real risk of loss of life due to severe hypothermia under these conditions.”

Hypothermia is a medical emergency that occurs when your body loses heat faster than it can produce heat, causing a dangerously low body temperature. Hypothermia is most often caused by exposure to cold weather or immersion in a cold body of water. Primary treatments for hypothermia are methods to warm the body back to a normal temperature. 

In conjunction with re-warming protocols, the nearby city of Cannonball has opened one of its school gyms open in case people need to seek shelter somewhere warm.

Donation call outs have already shifted to start seeking things like winterized tents and warm blankets. Learning from Toronto, there will also likely be need for wooden pallets to keep their tents off the cold ground and regular farm hay which can be used as insulation. To law enforcement, this winterizing of the camp looks like the demonstrators are building up the area to make it more permanent. This is exactly what they dred. 

Another concern is that it seems that some people are literally stepping off the bus to support the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe, which is always welcome, but these newcomers are not coming equipped with the winter camping tools necessary to support themselves, so they end up a drain on activist resources.  

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Image: Instagram/Elizabeth Hoover

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