North Dakota’s move to arrest award-winning journalist suggests it protects corporations above citizens. Does the state find honest journalistic exposure of Native issues a greater threat than the potential environmental hazards created by a biased, lucrative energy company?
The #NoDAPL fight has persisted for more months than many people realize, but actress Shailene Woodley’s arrest on October 10th finally caught the general public’s attention. With approximately 40,000 people watching live, Woodley returned peacefully from the protest to find her RV surrounded by law enforcement. She was one of 27 arrested that morning, but many ask the question Why? Because she has such a large following that her honest documentation somehow threatens the pipeline’s construction?
Amy Goodman, the host and executive producer of Democracy Now!, both witnessed and documented firsthand Energy Transfer’s pepper-spraying of unarmed citizens. She widely circulated videos of private security attacking the Protectors with vicious dogs. It was her crew’s images that were the most powerful, including one of a dog whose mouth and nose was dripping with blood. Then, on September 8th, a criminal complaint and warrant was issued for Goodman, charging her with criminal trespassing. On October 13th, Democracy Now! announced Goodman will “turn herself in to North Dakota authorities on October 17th.” Goodman’s reasoning for her compliance is that this warrant is “a clear violation of the First Amendment,” She argues that she was doing her job and plans to fight the charge.
My questions are:
- What business does the State of North Dakota have – in arresting actresses with large followings who obey police orders?
- In filing warrants for the arrest of journalists who are doing their jobs to, honestly, report stories?
- Why does North Dakota fail to arrest anyone from the energy company or its private security force?
- Why does North Dakota continue to send militarized police officers to monitor a non-violent protest?
- What is North Dakota getting out of defending an oil company over their own citizens?
Indian Country: Where Everything Happens and No One Tells You About It
Native Americans make up about 2% of the total American population. In North Dakota, Native Americans account for nearly 7% of the state’s citizens, although Native American representation in the media is virtually non-existent. Indigenous journalists exist, but they are, often, not paid for their work. If a newspaper chooses to cover a Native American issue, a non-Native journalist is typically hired to cover the piece, thereby resulting in a story with cultural gaps. It is not that there aren’t stories to cover. In fact, there are so many it’s appalling.
Journalists like Amy Goodman of Democracy Now! know that Indian Country is full of stories buried under the cover-ups of responsible government agencies and corporations. From the tar sands of Canada to the uranium mines on Navajoland, Native Americans experience arguably some of the highest rates of environmental racism in the country – but you might be hard-pressed to find any media coverage. It takes these few good and honest journalists to bridge the gap between cultural ignorance and widespread misinformation on urgent issues, like the violation of human rights.
The Dakota Access Pipeline is yet another example of a misconstrued, misrepresented, and under-reported violation of human rights. While the degree with which the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe was or was not consulted regarding the project is still a contested issue, Energy Transfer’s decision to attack peaceful citizens with aggressive dogs and pepper spray was a condemning action. Energy Transfer’s decision to destroy documented graves and cultural sites, further affirmed its lack of concern for this specific class of citizens. Amy Goodman realized this, and therefore appeared at the front lines on September 3rd to document the truth. Her footage of that day’s events has circulated the planet with damning evidence.
In the state’s criminal complaint against Goodman, North Dakota Bureau of Criminal Investigation Special Agent Lindsey Wohl actually references Goodman’s video in a sworn affidavit. Wohl states Goodman is documented identifying herself while on film, then interviewing protestors about their involvement at Standing Rock. Democracy Now! argues that this evidence is an ironic choice to showcase because it also documents Goodman doing her job properly and exercising her constitutional rights as a journalist. It appears that the issue may not be Goodman’s presence at the #NoDAPL demonstration; the issue may actually be her documentation of an attack that violates the human rights of countless Native Americans.
Goodman’s cameraman caught footage that went viral in just hours. The film received over 14 million views online. Additionally, stations such as CBS, NBC, NCC, NPR, MSNBC, and sources such as Huffington Post rebroadcast the video on their platforms. Goodman stands by her work and calls the events of September 3rd “a violent attack on Native American protesters.” The North Dakota Newspaper Association’s executive director, Steve Andrist, supports her argument, stating that “it’s regrettable that authorities chose to charge a reporter who was just doing her job.” And so I once again ask: North Dakota, what are you getting out of this? Are you intentionally silencing an already silenced demographic of American citizens?
The Legacy of Environmental Racism Continues
Even as a tribal member whose work is affected by roads with un-reclaimed uranium contamination, I have previously been hesitant to embrace the term “environmental racism.” I used to chalk it up to coincidence. However, I am no longer afraid to call things by what they are. Just a brief study of the Navajo Nation should convince anyone that energy companies are structured around profit over compassion. Wherever there is a loophole, you can be sure an energy company will find a way to fit through it – and drag its massive profits along with it.
The DAPL case has been referred to as a “textbook example” of failed tribal consultation and, arguably, of environmental racism. As Kierán Suckling of the Center for Biological Diversity told BuzzFeed News in a recent interview, “All of the risks and none of the benefits have been going to Native Americans disproportionately for oil, gas, and uranium for a long time.” Standing Rock’s resistance to the Dakota Access Pipeline project is therefore a crucial one: It has the potential to set a precedence for a more thorough and ethically-oriented procedure of tribal consultation.
I know our current American education system doesn’t adequately dissemination information regarding tribal history and law, but trust me when I say tribal nations are – theoretically – well-protected by a variety of federal laws. We just need those laws to actually be practiced. We need lucrative corporations to be held accountable for their violations of these laws. And we need the media to finally start representing us as something other than a mascot that lost the last sports match.
Please contribute your small deed for our cause today by sharing this article. Ahé’hee’. (Thank you in Navajo)
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