The Army Corps of Engineers on Friday told the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe that protesters against the Dakota Access Pipeline must leave their North Dakota camps by a week from Monday or risk prosecution for trespassing.
But protesters appeared ready to defy the order.
"We are wardens of this land. This is our land, and they can't remove us," Isaac Weston, a protester and Oglala Sioux member from South Dakota, told the Associated Press. "We have every right to be here to protect our land and to protect our water."
The protesters identify themselves as peaceful water protectors.
"People are preparing for anything that could happen, and from what I've gathered, the elders will sacrifice their life before leaving this camp," Kat Bagley, a photographer who joined the protesters, told ATTN:.
Bagley cited the unarmed veterans who are coming to join the Standing Rock protesters next Sunday as a potential factor behind the corps' letter.
“We are heavily counting on that to make a barrier between the water protectors and militarized police and to send a stronger message, and I think the [Army Corps] announcement is a scare tactic to deter the vets from coming up and to scare people into leaving," Bagley said.
John W. Henderson, district commander of the Army Corps of Engineers, issued the warning to leave corps-managed land, NPR reported:
"I am closing the portion of the Corps-managed federal property north of the Cannonball River to all public use and access effective Dec. 5, 2016.
"This decision is necessary to protect the general public from the violent confrontations between protesters 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."
Henderson added that the corps would designate a "free speech zone" in an area south of the river, which he said would afford police, fire, and medical teams easier access.
Standing Rock Sioux Tribe's chairman, Dave Archambault II, asked for supporters to appeal the order:
"Our tribe is deeply disappointed in this decision by the United States, but our resolve to protect our water is stronger than ever. We ask that ... everyone who can appeal to President Obama and the Army Corps of Engineers to consider the future of our people and rescind all permits and deny the easement to cross the Missouri River just north of our reservation and straight through our treaty lands. When Dakota Access Pipeline chose this route, they did not consider our strong opposition. ...
"It is both unfortunate and ironic that this announcement comes the day after this country celebrates Thanksgiving — a historic exchange of goodwill between Native Americans and the first immigrants from Europe. Although the news is saddening, it is not at all surprising, given the last 500 years of the treatment of our people. We have suffered much, but we still have hope that the president will act on his commitment to close the chapter of broken promises to our people and especially our children."
Henderson's warning comes after police officers used tear gas, rubber bullets, and fire hoses to deter protesters.
Officers sprayed water at 400 protesters last week as temperatures dipped into the 20s, NBC News reported.
Sophia Wilansky, 21, faces several surgeries to save her arm after she was allegedly hit by a police concussion grenade.
"I'm personally committed because of how powerful and beautiful this entire community is, and while I have fear of physical pain, that doesn't come before needing to stand there in solidarity," Bagley told ATTN:.
[h/t NBC News]