The Army Corps of Engineers made good on an earlier announcement Tuesday afternoon and issued the access permit allowing construction of the Dakota Access Pipeline to proceed.
While the news was disheartening to protesters, it was hardly unexpected. The Standing Rock protests are largely over. After months of camping beside the river, the protest site has shrunk from a population of 10,000 to less than 100 protesters currently holed up in a new camp, “Lost Child.” Despite their dwindling chances of success, several groups connected to the protests have continued to collect donations.
Given the unstructured nature of the protests, tracking donated money has been difficult. Much of the funding for the protest camps came through donations to a GoFundMe account opened by LaDonna Tamakawastewin Allard, one of the organizers of the camp. More than $3 million has been raised so far, with additional donations coming in daily. Protesters maintain that the money raised has been used to pay for groceries, tents, and other camp supplies. However, Allard has not released any bookkeeping to show how the money was spent
A parallel campaign on Fundrazr raised $2.8 million for a legal defense fund. The money was raised by a group known as the Freshet Collective. It is not entirely clear who set up this group or what formal connection it has to Standing Rock. Its website asks that donations be submitted online or sent to a P.O. Box in Minneapolis. Some early references to the group ask for donations to be sent to a residential address in south Minneapolis.
The Freshet Collective offers some, but not all, protesters arrested at Standing Rock assistance with bail bonds and legal defense. Its website explains that they have “successfully bonded approximately 600 people out of jail” as of late January, with priority given to native protesters.
The Freshet Collective’s website urges protesters to make their court appearances so that the group does not forfeit the bond money.
“If you do not have access to resources to bond yourself out of jail, the Freshet Collective may pay your bond,” reads one page of the Freshet Collective website. “If you accept these funds, you must show up for your court appearances or you will forfeit the movement’s money to North Dakota law enforcement.”
What happens to the returned bond money is not explained. Aside from information about donating and the general purpose of the group, Freshet Collective’s website offers few clues as to the identity of the founders.
The Collective is far from the only group asking for additional funds. Despite their dwindling numbers, the tribe and the protest are continuing to solicit donations. On Sunday, the Medic Healer’s Council posted an “herbal wish list” on Facebook. The list included a variety of teas and medicinal herbs and asked that donations be sent to an address in Bismarck.
The push comes after it was discovered that tens of thousands of dollars of donated gear was abandoned at the camp and ruined.
What will happen to this money now that the camp has disbanded is unknown. Unlike a donation to a formal charity, GoFundMe and FundRazr donations are not subject to any audits. Although some wish to keep protesting on the construction site, others, including the Standing Rock tribal chairman, sound ready to go home.
In an interview last week, tribal chairman Dave Archambault II backed away from some of the more intense protest rhetoric.
“This pipeline is not going to kill our nation,” Archaumbault said. “This pipeline is not going to destroy America. This one pipeline that everybody’s talking about — this one pipeline where people refuse to leave — this is not gonna be detrimental to our nation.”
While he stopped short of saying that pipeline resistance was over, he said that the fight would continue in court. Most significantly, Archambault walked away from the very catchphrase that has defined the protest movement: Water is Life. To Archambault, the environmental elements of the protest have come to overshadow other concerns about quality of life on the reservation.
“Basically, what we’re saying is ‘life is water’ — is, is equal — life is water,” he said. “I don’t see it that way. I see it as, water is a source of life. It is not life.”