Wednesday, November 2, 2016

Native Rights, Human Rights - Neither Are Respected at Standing Rock

Why do we punish Dakota pipeline protesters but exonerate the Bundys?

The Bundy militia fought for their right to make money. We want to protect our sacred lands – but the state is treating us with violence and hostility

‘While we stand in prayer, we have assault rifles aimed at us, we are attacked by dogs, pushed from our sacred sites with pepper spray.’ Photograph: Jonathan Klett & Sara Lafleur-Vetter

Sometime in the early summer when the Sacred Stone Camp was just a handful of tents and the Dakota Access machines had not yet come to our side of the Missouri river, I got an email from a woman who said her husband was Cliven Bundy and that she wanted to bring her daughters to stand with us. I knew little of this gun-toting militia, but enough that I told her no, we are a non-violent encampment, you cannot come here.

When I began to look into the Bundy’s standoff at the Malheur Refuge, I became angry. That place is a locus of ancestral heritage of the Burns Paiute Tribe, which the Bundys knowingly desecrated. They reportedly dug latrines through recognized cultural sites. As a tribal historic preservation officer, my heart broke when I heard they allegedly rifled through some 4,000 cultural items that had been kept in the museum. Some of the sacred objects they destroyed were hundreds of years old.

The Bundys did not reclaim that land. It was never theirs. It is Paiute land.

From the beginning, we at Standing Rock gathered in a spirit of prayer and non-violent resistance to the destruction of our homeland and culture. We came together with our ceremonies, songs and drums. Weapons are not allowed into our camps. The Bundys’ occupation began with threats and guns. It was violent from the outset, and the people they pretended to represent did not even condone it.

Last week we saw how justice works in this country: armed ranchers are treated with compassion and their charges are dropped, while indigenous people are physically attacked and charged with trespassing on our own ancestral lands. 

While we stand in prayer, we have assault rifles aimed at us, we are attacked by dogs, pushed from our sacred sites with pepper spray, shot with rubber bullets and bean bag rounds and Tasers, beaten with sticks, handcuffed and thrown in dog kennels. Our horses have been shot and killed. Our elders have been dragged out of ceremonies, our sacred bundles seized, our sacred eagle staff pulled from our hands. My daughter was stripped naked in jail and left overnight for a traffic violation. An arsonist set the hills across from our camp afire, and for hours Morton County did nothing but prevent tribal authorities from responding.

Our resistance has not been met with handshakes.

Both the Bundys and the water protectors at Standing Rock stand for our convictions on what is claimed to be federal land. But that is where reasonable comparisons end. The land they claimed to take back was cleared of our relatives and the buffalo nation so that white ranchers like the Bundys could graze their cattle there.

The Bundys assert a property right which was only made possible through the genocide of indigenous peoples and the continued occupation of our lands by the same government they claim to fight.

Their white supremacist ideology is the foundation of the settler state, and their ranching would not be possible without it. Their racist fear blinds them to the fact that they are actually supporting their enemy and fighting themselves.

The Bundy militia were fighting for their right to make money, while we are fighting our children’s rights to clean drinking water.

A human can only live a few days without water. How long can one live with a government grazing fee?

Our camp reclaims land stolen by the US government in direct violation of the Fort Laramie Treaty of 1851, which affirmed it as sovereign unceded territory of the Great Sioux Nation.

Right in the path of the Dakota Access pipeline are Sundance grounds and village sites, held sacred not only by the Sioux Nations, but also the Arikara, the Mandan, and the Northern Cheyenne. The day after the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe filed papers identifying the burial places of our ancestors, Dakota Access intentionally destroyed them to avoid federal regulation. Would you stand by as bulldozers drove through the National Cemetery at Arlington?

Erasing our footprint from the world erases us as a people. These sites must be protected, or our world will end; it is that simple. If we allow an oil company to dig through and destroy our histories, our ancestors, our hearts and souls as a people, is that not genocide?

As indigenous people, we know these attempts to erase us very well, and one of the ways it works is through environmental racism. Indigenous lands across the country are the sites of nuclear waste dumping, toxic mining operations, oil and gas drilling and a long list of other harmful environmental practices, but see very little benefit from these projects. We live in the sacrifice zones. And that is the story here too – the Dakota Access pipeline was rerouted from north of Bismarck, a mostly white community, out of concerns for their drinking water, but then redirected to ours. They consider our community “expendable”.

The national guard and state police have been reinforced by forces from seven other states, to push corporate interests through our home, but together with our relatives, we stand up. We are still here.

We have always welcomed everyone to come stand with us against the injustices of the federal government. Joining forces would be a source of great power – if we stand together to confront racism and destruction of the land. But we will do that with prayer, not guns.

We are the people of this land. We have the roots growing out of our feet. We stand with compassion and prayer. They cannot break us.


Dakota Access pipeline protests: UN group investigates human rights abuses

Native American protesters have reported excessive force, unlawful arrests and mistreatment in jail where activists describe being held in cages
The Guardian Sam Levin in Cannon Ball, North Dakota  31 October 2016

Jailed protesters say they were temporarily kept in cages that felt like ‘dog kennels’, but officials say the allegations of poor treatment are untrue. Photograph: Morton County correctional center

A representative of the UN’s permanent forum on indigenous issues, an advisory group, has been collecting testimony from Dakota Access pipeline protesters who have raised concerns about excessive force, unlawful arrests and mistreatment in jail where some activists have been held in cages.

“When you look at what the international standards are for the treatment of people, and you are in a place like the United States, it’s really astounding to hear some of this testimony,” said Roberto Borrero, a representative of the International Indian Treaty Council.

Borrero, a Taino tribe member who is assisting the UN forum in its interviews, told the Guardian on Sunday night that the activists’ stories of human rights violations raised a number of serious questions about police response. “A lot of it was just very shocking.” 

The pipeline protests have become increasingly intense over the last two weeks as construction has moved closer to the Missouri river and as police have aggressively responded to activists’ demonstrations with arrests, pepper spray, riot gear and army tanks. 

The Standing Rock camps first emerged in April and have since drawn thousands of Native Americans and climate change activists from across North America and beyond to rally against the $3.7bn oil pipeline, which would carry crude oil from the Bakken oil field to a refinery near Chicago. 

A United Nations group is investigating allegations of human rights abuses by North Dakota law enforcement against Native American protesters, with indigenous leaders testifying about “acts of war” they observed during mass arrests at an oil pipeline protest.

Native American dancers perform during a peaceful demonstration near the Dakota Access pipeline site on 29 October. Photograph: STRINGER/Reuters 

The tribal leadership’s attempts to block construction in court have been unsuccessful, and the pipeline operator, Texas-based Energy Transfer Partners, has moved forward at a rapid pace, building on lands that indigenous leaders say contain sacred burial grounds.

Despite the 22 October arrests of more than 120 people, activists set up new camps on the sites where construction is planned, not far from the river that they fear could be contaminated by the pipeline.

The Morton County sheriff’s office responded on 27 October by surrounding the protesters and arresting 141 people.

Officials have accused activists and journalists of a range of charges, including criminal trespassing, rioting, and a number of serious felonies. Law enforcement have also set up strictly enforced traffic blockades protecting the pipeline site from protesters and the general public.

Native Americans recently released from jail, including elderly women and young activists, have since shared stories with the Guardian of the treatment they faced behind bars, which they said was cruel and inhumane.

Jailed protesters said it seemed clear that police weren’t prepared to handle hundreds of people at once in their local correctional facilities. A day after their release, many still had numbers and charges written on their arms in marker – which advocates said was an unusual and dehumanizing way for police to track inmates – and some were temporarily kept in cages that they said felt like “dog kennels”. 

On Monday, Borrero and Grand Chief Edward John, a Native American member of the UN permanent forum, met with police officials in the local town of Mandan and visited the controversial cages.

The Guardian was planning to join the UN on the visit, and a police spokesman initially told a reporter, “We have nothing to hide.”

But sheriff Kyle Kirchmeier, the controversial law enforcement official leading the response to the protests, later refused to let the media in, saying allegations of poor treatment were “not true”, before shutting a door on a reporter.

Another official with the sheriff’s office also appeared to be hostile toward the UN representatives when they arrived. In the presence of a Guardian videographer, that police official told Borrero and John it seemed as if they weren’t neutral and had already made up their minds that police had mistreated protesters. 

A spokeswoman later sent photos of the holding cells, adding in an email that the “temporary fenced cubicles” were “at least” 10 by 14ft. The images show a windowless room with a number of parallel cages with ceilings of fencing.

Temporary holding cells have been installed at the Morton County correctional center to deal with the mass arrests. Photograph: Morton County Correctional Center

The spokeswoman also claimed that while in the cells, the inmates have access to bathrooms, food, water and medical attention.

But several arrested protesters said they had to wait for basic necessities. 

Johanna Holy Elk Face, a 63-year-old woman arrested last week, told the Guardian that she is diabetic and had very high blood sugar while behind bars. Police were slow to respond to her request for help, she said. 

“I was scared,” she said, adding that she was worried she was going to have a seizure.

Phyllis Young, a member of Standing Rock Sioux tribe, also provided testimony to the UN representatives on Sunday inside a small tent that shook as strong winds blew outside. 

Young said she intended to help the tribe file a lawsuit against North Dakota law enforcement, saying the police’s violent acts against native people were “not only conditions of colonialism, but conditions of war”.

“We embarked upon a peaceful and prayerful campaign,” she said. “They were placed in cages. They had numbers written on their arms very much like concentration camps.”

The UN forum, which has previously urged the US to allow the Sioux tribe to have a say in the pipeline project, plans to issue a report and possible recommendations after its inquiry is complete.

Kandi Mossett, a 37-year-old protester and member of the Mandan, Hidatsa and Arikara nation, got emotional while standing in the rain recounting the mass arrests last week.

“The government is allowing the police force to be used as a military force to protect an oil company,” she said. 

Mossett said she would like to see the sheriff investigated and major reforms instituted in the department to stop the violent response to peaceful demonstrators.

“This started out as defending water, but now it’s so much more.” 

Young said she was particularly disturbed to hear police talk of shielding pipeline property from activists, considering the long history of abuse against Native Americans in North Dakota and across the US. 

“When they tell us we should protect property, they need to eat their words. Who is the thief here?”

Major Disappointment: Obama Clueless about Standing Rock

President Obama with children at Standing Rock Indian Reservation in June 2014
Published September 7, 2016

SOMEWHERE IN LAOS – President Obama, who visited the Standing Rock Indian Reservation, in June 2014 is totally clueless as to what is happening there now. For a president who has done so much for American Indian tribes during his presidency, his response was clearly disappointing.

It took a foreign correspondent to ask the president about his position on the Standing Rock resistance to the Dakota Access pipeline for the first time what he personally thinks about the situation.

Obama’s recent toothless remarks did nothing to demonstrate real support for the protesters at Standing Rock.  Mealy-mouthed platitudes and broken promises are nothing new to the Native people, and though Obama has a good track record when it comes to “Indian Affairs” this is when the people need him most, and all he can say is “Wait and see.”  Is this the next version of “All Lives Matter”?

And what about the journalists whose 1st amendment rights are being striped?  It is because they are doing their job by showing America what is happening at Standing Rock and elsewhere.  One journalist is being threatened with a possible 45 years in prison for filming events at the protest.  That’s 15 years more than Edward Snowden would receive for his actions. 

For shame!  Big Oil demonstrates once again that money doesn’t talk, it screams.

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