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Cruel Winter Could Be Another Blow to Pipeline Protesters' Hopes

Many protesters have vowed to stand their ground despite a tenuous victory over the weekend, but Lord knows when the cold wind blows it'll turn your head around.
Standing Rock
An icy chill has gripped Cannon Ball, North DakotaJim Seida / NBC News

CANNON BALL, N.D. — After the biggest victory in the months-long Dakota Access Pipeline saga, the brutal North Dakota winter showed itself in full force.

The jubilation among the thousands gathered here when the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers denied a permit for the controversial Dakota Access Pipeline to cross the Missouri River, was followed Monday by a day of somber — and cold — reflection.

Protesters and activists — who call themselves "water protectors" — began to come to the realization that what they had won could easily be undone by President-elect Donald Trump.

Related: What's Next for the Dakota Access Pipeline? Some Protesters Wary of Future

The business mogul-turned-commander-in-chief supported the completion of the Dakota Access Pipeline on the controversial route proposed by Energy Transfer Partners, according to an aide's memo recently obtained by the Associated Press.

Standing Rock
An icy chill has gripped Cannon Ball, North DakotaJim Seida / NBC News

For Dallas Goldtooth, a member of the Dakota Nation who has been to the camp off-and-on since August, Sunday was "just a momentary victory for us water protectors."

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers had issued a mandatory evacuation order for Monday but few in the camp have heeded the warning — despite the win, or the wintry weather.

Standing Rock Sioux Chairman Dave Archambault II has urged protesters to return home, citing safety concerns for those unfamiliar with the harsh winters of this region.

Archambault also thanked supporters for achieving the camp's stated goal of stopping the pipeline.

Standing Rock
A group of veterans march to the Backwater Bridge just outside of the Oceti Sakowin camp, Monday, Dec. 5, 2016, in Cannon Ball, North DakotaJim Seida / NBC News

But Goldtooth told NBC News that the "battle was far from over." He believes that leaving the camp would "be playing into Energy Transfer's hands."

"We simply cannot trust Energy Transfer," said Goldtooth. "They would love for us to leave because our presence here has kept a spotlight on the issue."

Related: 'Water Is Life': A Look Inside the Dakota Access Pipeline Protesters' Camp

That sentiment was shared by Pauletta Redwillow, who joined a group of veterans who staged a peaceful march to the Backwater Bridge just outside the camp. The bridge was the site of clashes in late October between protesters and law enforcement.

"We're here for the duration, we're not leaving, we're not letting them dig," Redwillow told NBC News.

Distrust of corporate America runs "deep within the veins of Native Americans," said Robert Dean, a veteran from the Chippewa Cree tribe in Minnesota. He remained skeptical on Sunday evening even as many danced and sang around him.

Standing Rock
Veterans march to the Backwater Bridge in a show of strength supporting the protesters, Monday, Dec. 5, 2016, in Canon Ball, North DakotaJim Seida / NBC News

"We Natives know so much pain throughout our history," Dean told NBC News. "Fighting DAPL brought our nations together because we've had enough, we've suffered for too long and we're not going back."

Dean noted some of his fellow veterans planned to join the hundreds expected to leave the camp on Tuesday, having seen their mission accomplished to protect the camp. But he wasn't going anywhere.

Whether Dean or Goldtooth, and the thousands who have vowed to stay through the dangerous winter, remain true to their word is unclear. And thus the fate of their movement remains equally cloudy.