The police have recruited out-of-state, militarized support in a hypocritical and completely injust response to the prayer #NoDAPL movement.
Yesterday, Standing Rock tribal members and their allies stood on Highway 1806 and on the surrounding easements, maintaining a resistance against the encroaching Energy Transfer construction. Militarized police, who have cut off the highway with barricades in both the north and south of the encampment, forced the unarmed citizens back. On September 3rd, Protectors managed to stop bulldozers from destroying a portion of documented graves and sacred sites in the line of the pipeline. On this day, however, police cars ran beside the bulldozers, protecting them as they picked up where they had left off.
As Native Americans already face the highest rates of police brutality per capita, the events at Standing Rock are a grim reminder of how Native rights have been suppressed and silenced since the start of European colonization.
A number of tanks flanked the police, armed with loaded war-style guns, as they surrounded the Protectors. The police shot rubber bullets, injuring people and some horses, and deployed sonic weapons that cause injuring by creating a booming sound. At one point, a police officer kicked over a bucket used to hold burning smudge sticks. The people were praying over this sage. When the bucket was kicked over, it started a small fire that then ran underneath a parked car. An officer used a bullhorn to order the people to retreat, which they reluctantly obeyed.
The officer’s argument: You’re on private land.
The Protectors’ argument: We’re on public land, and any private land is illegally seized and/or unceded territory.
The Agony Caused by One Hastily Proposed, Multi-Billion Bakken Oil Project
In this video, you can hear live footage as Kandi Mossett of the Indigenous Environmental Network describes the scene. At one point, she sounds like she is in tears, seeing the graves of war heros being plowed through like they are worth nothing.
Jon Eagle, Sr., the Historic Preservation Officer for Standing Rock, described over a webinar the four hardships in life that his ancestors outlined in their histoires:
1. To hear an orphan cry;
2. To lose a child;
3. To lose your mother; and
4. To not know where a warrior fell.
How would you feel if your grandfather in his grave, with his WWII Purple Heart and memorial star at his grave, was plowed through without proper consultation because a pipeline decided a cemetery was the best path? Without even giving you the option of a proper relocation and reburial, should that even be acceptable to you?
“These people in our history, they were our heroes,” said Eagle, providing perspective on the webinar. “I don’t think the mainstream society understands that. I really doubt the American people would support a company building a trench through the Arlington Cemetery, but that’s what’s happening here.”
Native Americans have the most American military participation, per capita, than any other demographic. Think of the Navajo Code Talkers, who were given arms by the American military despite the Treaty of 1868 clearly stating Navajos shall not bear arms. And they keep enlisting, to this day, to defend the land they have always belonged to, even if their rights on this land have been drastically limited since colonization.
The Hypocrisy of Morton County’s Response
Within the camps at Standing Rock, Protectors are trained to be peaceful, nonviolent, and cooperative. The movement is focused around prayer to reflect the traditional beliefs of the people affected, the Standing Rock people who feel obligated to protect the land and resources secured for them by their ancestors. However, they also feel obligated to maintain a peaceful spirit in the movement. The militarized police force used thus far is an excessive use of resources.
This is in stark and hypocritical contrast to the Bundy standoff in Oregon earlier this year. This article is one of many which identify this issue. How can armed, white people occupying a Wildlife Refuge be able to maintain their standoff while a group of unarmed Natives with treaty rights are being forced to fall back?
And North Dakota isn’t planning to slow down. Many of us involved have been questioning the sanity of the state’s decisions. In fact, the Governor has recently used an emergency order to bring in out-of-state police to the #NoDAPL defense.
Here is a copy of this request:
I understand workers fearing safety, but I don’t think safety is in question if they fully understood the sentiment behind this movement. No one is blaming the workers. In fact, on September 3rd, I recorded videos of Protectors shouting things like “We forgive you! Please stop what you’re doing and understand.”
Understand the things that matter to us, the laws that are designed to protect us, and the violations that have occurred in this entire process. Honor our treaties, our international laws that you wouldn’t break with anyone else. Honor us.
Yet WHO is HONORING Us Now?
I despise the misnomer “Indian”. I believe it’s more appropriate to address people by their respective national identities. In other words, I would call a person from France “French” before I would call that person “European”. Similarly, I would make an effort to call someone “Navajo” or “Diné” before calling that person “Native American” or “Indian.” Unfortunately, that misnomer is also used because it is a legal term and a political status for enrolled citizens.
But what “Indians” are we hearing about right now in the news? Yeah, not the ones putting their lives on the line in Standing Rock.
If any Cleveland Indians fan has told you the mascot is to “honor” Natives, then that person is making excuses. The only exception to that would be if that person is watching the World Series while sharing #NoDAPL news and sharing in my sentiment about the mascot hypocrisy in sports fans right now.
Chief Wahoo is ridiculous. But the way some fans to choose to dress and act is even more ridiculous. For all of the fans who assume “Indian” can be represented by redface and a chicken-feather headdress, you have some serious cultural gaps. First of all, a warbonnet is sacred and should never be worn, no matter who you got it from unless it was a legitimate, hereditary or honorary ceremony from leaders where you have tribal citizenship. (NOTE: Citizenship does not equal “my great-great grandmother was a Cherokee princess/Blackfoot ashamed of her identity and who ‘hid’ from the government.”)
Headdresses – at least the style that the general American populace tends to identify – come from the Plains cultures. Like the Lakota and Dakota. Like the exact peoples who are begging for support at Standing Rock right now.
If you are TRULY honoring them, if you really TRULY believe you care, you would prioritize going to Standing Rock over watching the World Series. AT THE VERY LEAST, you would stay at home and DECHIEF your gear, acknowledging that it is NOT HONORABLE to keep Wahoo on your attire or even wear a headdress without doing SOMETHING to hold the team and fans accountable for the atrocities at #NoDAPL right now.
To quote my mother: “Seriously, if these fans want to honor Natives, they should respect and support their cause. How is a pennant going to help them prevent the unnecessary desecration of their sacred sites and natural resources? Ludicrous.”
My answer to her question: The people defending the mascot with all their energy don’t sincerely care. Their lives won’t be affected if this pipeline is built. If anything, maybe the costs of what they buy will go down. At least short-term. Then, at some point, the whole world will be paying for our destructive patterns and relationship with the earth.
I just pray that the curse Russell Means placed on the Cleveland team sticks. And I pray that curse is broken the year Clevelanders commit to a change and commit to an image that doesn’t stereotype a group of peoples they forced off of Reservations in Ohio in the 1830s.
What This Fight is About: A Reminder
Finally, let us remember this is battle is not strictly over environmentalism and fears of pollution. Yes, that is absolutely one element of it. #MniWiconi is a powerful message that caught a lot of attention as this movement gained public attention. However, this fight is first and foremost about tribal sovereignty. It is about the rights a tribe has to the proper consultation of its treaty lands, traditional lands, and various resources.
Tribes are protected by countless laws – well, in theory. The problem is those laws are often obeyed in the loosest terms possible. My own personal experience in compliance, both on the Reservation and as a subcontractor for energy companies, solidifies my belief that these companies just want the work done. They don’t respect the opinion of the tribes. They actually believe the tribes “make up” information to shut down projects. That is a ridiculous conclusion, and it highlights the cultural gap between the companies with all the money and power versus the people downstream from their lucrative projects.
Unfortunately, what is happening at Standing Rock is not unique. And I don’t just mean because we recently blocked the Keystone XL pipeline. I mean tribal consultation in general. Three more examples that are on-going are the Shasta dam project in California, the AZ-202 Loop project in Phoenix, and the Escalade project in the Grand Canyon.
Tribes have never been able to assert their full sovereignty and authority. Colonization might appear to be over, but it has never stopped – not on the cultural level, and not on the development level either. Standing Rock is just one example of how the injustices continue.
Between the contrast of the truth and what has been reported by law enforcement,… The symbolism of police kicking over prayer sticks, causing the area to become literally inflamed,… The disproportionate reaction to a prayerful movement versus other examples of civil mobilization,… Standing Rock is becoming a historic event that highlights how the federal government is still failing an entire class of citizens, yet the honest story is rarely heard.
And, despite what American textbooks like to teach students, Native American tribes have not all died off. We are strong, we maintain modern lives while learning our cultures and languages, and we are not submitting to a selfish, law-breaking energy company like Energy Transfer.
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Photo Credit: Getty Images