The Never-Ending Indian Wars

The world has been shocked by North Dakota’s violent, militarized reaction to 
the oil pipeline resistance at Standing Rock. For the better part of a year, people watched via social media, then increasingly with conventional media, as heavily armed law enforcement officers and private security agents used dogs, rubber bullets, mace, tear gas, batons, and water cannons deployed in sub-freezing temperatures to attack unarmed civilians. 

A volunteer medical team of doctors, nurses, EMTs, homeopathic physicians, herbalists and others cared for the many hundreds of injured. More than 100 were hospitalized, and more than 700 were arrested as they protested the building of the Dakota Access Pipeline.

Standing Rock may have revealed this violence to a new generation of observers, but for Native people, the brutality is nothing new, says Wendsler Nosie Sr., San Carlos Apache leader of Apache Stronghold, a group that seeks to prevent mining from obliterating Oak Flat, a tribal sacred site. “Federal and state involvement with us has always been military, from the days when we Native people were prisoners of war until this very day,” says Nosie.

The force used against unarmed civilians was extreme, even by military wartime standards. The concussion grenades that have allegedly caused some of the most serious wounds in North Dakota were banned in Iraq, U.S. Army veteran Griz Grzywa said an interview at Standing Rock. Grzywa served as a Ranger for 15 years, including one tour of duty in Somalia and three tours in Iraq. He went to Standing Rock in December 2016 to help shield the demonstrators from harm. “They are using a level of force against women and children here that our military would hesitate to use,” he said.

The second half of the 20th century saw many examples of state-sanctioned violence toward Natives. During the 1960s and 1970s, unarmed members of Northwest tribes were shot at, clubbed, gassed, and arrested—notably at Frank’s Landing, in Washington state—while seeking recognition of treaty-guaranteed fishing rights. For decades, law enforcement officers have roughed up and arrested protesters from Pine Ridge Indian Reservation as they try to shut down the town of Whiteclay, Nebraska. With about a dozen residents, the town exists almost exclusively to bootleg alcohol onto the dry reservation, setting off a cascade of physical and social ills and crime.

Just under 10 years ago, South Dakota sent its entire on-call contingent of highway patrol to help local police make arrests on the Yankton Sioux Reservation. Tribal members and others were demonstrating peacefully against a concentrated animal feeding operation that was being constructed on their homeland against their wishes. In Montana in 2012, after Northern Cheyenne spiritual teacher Mark Wandering became lead plaintiff in a voting-rights lawsuit, police traffic stops of Native people in the area spiked.

Natives are not just stopped by police; they are killed by law enforcement at a higher rate than any other group, according to Mike Males, senior research fellow at the Center on Juvenile and Criminal Justice. In April 2016, Claremont Graduate University scholars Roger Chin, Jean Schroedel, and Lily Rowen announced research showing that in six states—Mississippi, South Dakota, Idaho, Washington, Alaska, and North Dakota—death rates for Native Americans were higher than for any other group. 

“The violence toward us is embedded in our history,” says Nosie. “When we started the Oak Flat encampment, right away military-type planes began flying overhead.” 

Meanwhile, both houses of the North Dakota legislature have passed bills that make it easy to redefine a protest as a riot, increase criminal penalties for ”rioting,” and—astonishingly—allow ordinary citizens to injure or even kill protesters. If the last measure is signed into law, motorists who “negligently” hurt or kill anyone obstructing traffic “would not be held liable for any damages.” Bill co-sponsors were frank about it being a response to constituents who oppose the anti-DAPL movement.

North Dakota civil rights attorney and former U.S. attorney Tim Purdon, of the firm Robins Kaplan, calls the bill a “new low” that ”sends a message that we are going to dehumanize those with whom we disagree.” Purdon says the bill also has unintended consequences, since it allows anyone driving negligently—while drunk or texting, for example—to kill or maim.

All of these measures are meant to send a message, said Nosie: “We did it to you before, and we can do it again.”

c. Stephanie Woodard; photograph at top of medics' tent at Standing Rock in December 2016 c. Joseph Zummo; photograph at bottom of the aftermath of the Wounded Knee massacre, Pine Ridge Indian Reservation, December 1890.

Voices from the Movement for Native Lives

This story first appeared on In These Times magazine's website in October 2016. 

As reported in “The Police Killings No One Is Talking About,” Native Americans are shot by police, or die in custody, at the highest rate of any group. Yet the general public has almost no awareness of this. Or, as Darleen Tareeq (above, second from right), whose fiancé Philip Quinn of the White Earth Band of Ojibwe was shot and killed by police in September 2015, puts it, “Everyone is cool with it.”

In a recently released study of this national blind spot, Claremont Graduate University researchers Roger Chin, Jean Schroedel and Lily Rowen agree, writing that the minimal coverage of the issue indicates that Native people are ignored and their issues devalued.
As Black Lives Matter, Idle No More and other social justice movements have proliferated, “Native Lives Matter” has been taken up as a rallying cry by Natives grieving the loss of loved ones to police violence, as well as those calling attention to numerous other injustices—such as the routing of the Dakota Access Pipeline so as to imperil the Standing Rock Sioux Reservation’s water source, which the tribe opposes.

Here are five advocates who devote their time and energy to promoting the concept that Native Lives Matter.
Troy Amlee, or Akicita Sunka-Wakan Ska (White Horse Soldier), shown left, is a hip-hop and dubstep musician from the Standing Rock and Cheyenne River Sioux Tribes. He and JR Bobick, a French Canadian descendant from St. Paul, Minn.—both activists with Idle No More Twin Cities—were outraged by the December 2013 police-shooting death of Cheyenne-Arapaho teen Mah-hi-vist Goodblanket. Together, they posted on Idle No More’s pages, then created the Native Lives Matter Facebook page in 2014 to document and bring awareness to the deaths.
Darleen Tareeq, of White Earth and Leech Lake Ojibwe heritage, was interviewed a year to the day after police shot and killed her fiancé, Philip Quinn. The couple are shown right with their newborn daughter. Before getting on the telephone with In These Times, she, Amlee and Bobick attended a vigil for Quinn. The event included a dinner, honor songs, speeches by Quinn’s family and friends, fireworks and a traditional giveaway of gifts from the family to supporters. “It was a beautiful night,” says Tareeq.
Attorney Chase Iron Eyes, left, helped raise the movement’s profile by hosting a Native Lives Matter rally in Rapid City, S.D., in December 2014 and penning a report on the subject for the Lakota People’s Law Project in 2015. A member of the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe, Iron Eyes has run for Congress from North Dakota and been a leader of the NoDAPL movement.
In early 2015, Marlee Kanosh, of the Paiute Tribe of Utah, right, began administering the Facebook page Native Lives Taken By Police. The loss of her brother Corey in a 2012 police shooting drew her to the online community of people suffering similar tragedies, and what she describes as “a whole world of people going through the same thing for a very long time.”
Chase: It’s a movement for reclaiming our inherent spiritual dignity. Native Lives Matter is a healing and a way to move beyond what has been imposed on us for 500 years—since the arrival of Europeans. Black Lives Matter brought attention to police brutality and institutional racism, and we were very aware of that when we coined our version of the term. We want Native Lives Matter understood as expansive—including improvement in many quality-of-life issues that affect our communities, in addition to police shootings specifically.  As such, it’s a comprehensive call to action for social justice reform.
JR (shown right): The mainstream media doesn’t follow Native issues, so we base the content of our Facebook page, Native Lives Matter, on what our community wants, not on what we want as organizers. As a result of listening to the people, we have covered many subjects in addition to police brutality. The issues relate to each other. This approach has brought the page nearly 100,000 “Likes” so far. 
Troy: We have also tried to make our page a reliable source for news about the Dakota Access Pipeline, a big concern for Native people these days. As a group, we support positive issues and projects. We advocate for healthy eating and living, encourage planting of backyard gardens and hold clothing drives. We are showing up for the people.
Marlee: As administrator for the Facebook page Native Lives Taken By Police, I focus on police brutality. My posts are also very personal. In addition to research, I talk to the families, find out who the victims really were and get permission to use their photographs and other material. I have met some of the families, including Daniel Covarrubias’s mother and sister at Rise Up October in New York City in 2015. [As reported in In These Times, Lakewood, Wash., police shot and killed Covarrubias earlier that year.]
Marlee: My brother Corey was shot and killed [by police] in 2012 in Millard County, Utah. There are so many questions about his death. It doesn’t add up. The medical examiner said no major organs or veins were hit, so the shots weren’t immediately fatal. It seems that he was just allowed to die. [Kanosh reportedly did not receive care after he was shot, but rather lay facedown in the dirt until morning, when his mother was notified he was dead.] Why was Corey not given medical aid? Isn’t there a law requiring this? We are citizens of this country, and we have rights. We feel lied to and betrayed. I didn’t know how to deal with this other than to use my feelings, my pain and my hurt, to be helpful—to share others’ stories. I know how the families feel when this happens.  
Chase: In December 2014, friends and I organized a rally in Rapid City to make clear the contrast between what Natives contribute to the local economy and what we suffer. We were attending the Lakota Invitational Basketball Tournament, which brings a significant amount of money to Rapid City. In addition, the nearby Pine Ridge and Rosebud reservations have few businesses, so money from local Native residents and people living on the reservations flows directly to Rapid City business owners throughout the year. And you know the statistics—just about every quality-of-life indicator for Native people­ is very bad. We suffer disproportionate incarceration, and our children are taken from their families and placed in foster care far more often than non-Native children.
A local man named Allen Locke, who is Lakota, shown below, happened to attend the rally. The next day was the championship game. I went to buy Christmas gifts, and when I returned to the tournament, everyone’s Facebook timelines were going crazy with the information that cops had shot someone in a development called Lakota Homes.
Some of us went over and learned it was Allen. His family asked us for help dealing with the police and the media. We said, “Yeah, absolutely,” and hung out to make sure they had what they needed. After that, we went to the Lakota People’s Law Project office in Rapid City, which became the base camp where we held press conferences, produced literature and got information out. I wanted to document what was occurring and wrote the report “Native Lives Matter.”
Troy: Five years ago, a lot of tokala warriors [members of a traditional warrior society] attended the funeral of my uncle Beau Little Sky, who was in AIM, the American Indian Movement. I was 19 at the time and observed that they had a consciousness about them. I was curious. I joined AIM and did homeless feeds and cop-watch patrols, which involved going around Minneapolis/St. Paul with a police scanner and listening for minority-related calls. Through cop-watching, I got involved with Occupy Minnesota and Idle No More Twin Cities. The Native Lives Matter page JR and I put together now has nine admins in Minnesota, North Dakota, South Dakota and Colorado.
Darleen: Today is the one-year anniversary of the day my baby’s father was murdered by police. Marking that anniversary is an Ojibwe tradition, which we did at Indian Mounds, an ancient burial mound in St. Paul. There was a lot of support. Families of other victims, such as Marcus Golden, also killed in 2015, joined us. His dad is indigenous, and his mom is African American. Family members of Jamar Clark, an African-American man shot last fall, were there as well. I got involved in this grassroots Native Lives Matter group because I wanted to be part of listening to and protecting the people. Native people nationwide are being murdered at a higher rate than other people. We have been living a silent, comfortable genocide. Everyone is cool with it—us dying and our cultures being taken away. 
Chase: Everywhere there are reservation bordertowns or large Indian populations, there is tension—from Oklahoma and states surrounding the Navajo Nation to rural areas of Montana and Minnesota. As the Native Lives Matter idea has grown, it has also come to include cities like L.A. and Denver. Natives everywhere have taken it over in ways that let them get out their own message.
Marlee: Without the Internet and social media, each of us would be talking to small communities. With online connections, we can talk to the larger community.
Chase: Indians are tribal people. There are few degrees of separation between any of us. We’re also highly involved Internet users, with the ability to go viral even though we’re a small percentage of the U.S. population. Tweets about opposition to the Dakota Access Pipeline were trending high on Twitter long before there was any mainstream media coverage, long before elected officials were talking about it. They live in a world that doesn’t exist anymore, a world where you had to get a TV network to cover you. That’s old school.
Marlee: I have so many dreams. Every night after I do a story for the page, I dream about it. Today, opening up the page and seeing all the stories there overwhelmed me. I have done about 80 and have a couple of additional names to get to as well. I know there are even more. Being helpful makes me feel better, though. I also do a lot of praying and meditating.
JR: Our Native Lives Matter page is about helping build a community.
Marlee: Through Native Lives Taken By Police, I want to help people keep their family member’s story alive. It has been important for my own family to do this, so I am doing what I can for others.
Chase: It is painfully clear that some people can’t expect justice. We Native people want to stop being ignored. In our eyes, Allen Locke gave his life for that.

The Spirit of Standing Rock Is On the Move

This article first appeared in Yes! magazine in January 2017. It covers not just Standing Rock, but additional places where Native people and their allies are calling out environmental crises that will impact all of us. The rest of the article is here.

Western Shoshone Joe Holley and grandson in a sacred site the tribe is fighting to protect from the ravages of gold mining

Sometime last year, the Standing Rock Sioux reservation in North Dakota became not just a physical location but an iconic challenge to the national conscience. Like the Selma civil rights marches in 1965 or the Frank’s Landing tribal fishing rights demonstrations in 1970, Standing Rock’s water protectors, as they call themselves, transformed ideas of advocacy and resistance. They built coalitions across movements for tribal sovereignty, defense of natural resources, resistance to expanding energy infrastructure, and cultural survival. They showed the world a culture grounded in stewardship and connection to the earth. 

Standing Rock, December 2016
The resistance that persisted even through the cold and dark of the North Dakota winter, with ongoing injuries and arrests, shows how difficult, dangerous, and uncertain it can be to speak truth to power.

Now the spirit of Standing Rock is on the move.

Its Native-led, youth-driven expertise is extending outward to help other communities protect their land and resources. In Texas, Frankie Orona, from the Borrado, Chumash, and Tongva people, is leading actions against the Trans-Pecos Pipeline, which will carry fracked gas across Texas and into Mexico, if completed. For months, he and others have danced, prayed, and sang in the path of the line. Recently, they were arrested after locking themselves to construction equipment. In December 2016, after consulting with the Indigenous Environmental Network, which was central to organizing the Standing Rock resistance, Orona’s group established a camp and built a Native/non-Native support system, similar to Standing Rock’s, with backing from local environmentalists and ranchers. One rancher is hosting the camp on her property.

Arvol Looking Horse speaks to the press, Standing Rock, December  2016
Standing Rock has also been evoked in Florida and New Jersey, where Natives and non-Natives have united to object to the Sabal and Pilgrim pipelines, respectively. In Florida, four camps were recently established to protest the Sabal line, and on January 6, Dallas Goldtooth of the Indigenous Environmental Network went live on Facebook to urge Standing Rock water protectors to go support these other fights.

Elsewhere, Native people are standing up for mountains. In Hawai‘i, conflict rages over placing another telescope on the holy peak Mauna Kea. Prayer gatherings, blockades, arrests, declarations of Native self-determination, and a lawsuit have blocked the project so far. In Arizona, longtime protests have also sought to roll back desecration of Mount Graham, where a telescope mars the sacred summit, and the San Francisco Peaks, contaminated by wastewater that a ski area uses for snow-making. 

Michigan tribes are warning of a potential nationwide disaster in the making—old, crumbling pipelines, including a 63-year-old mussel-encrusted one that passes through the Great Lakes, which hold one-fifth of the planet's entire surface freshwater supply. 

Certainly the Standing Rock campaign has inspired wider interest in Native struggles, agrees Judith LeBlanc, director of the Native Organizers Alliance and member of the Caddo Nation of Oklahoma. “People everywhere are talking about Standing Rock, which has magnified the reality of other situations like it,” says LeBlanc. She calls the awareness a “Flint moment” for Indian Country.

Gold mine in a Western Shoshone sacred site
And she is optimistic. LeBlanc notes that tribal struggles are ever more successful: “Stopping drilling in the Arctic and a giant coal export terminal in the Northwest, canceling oil and gas leases in a Blackfeet cultural landscape—these successes have been Native-led,” LeBlanc says. 

As Shoshone-Bannock professor and pundit Mark Trahant has pointed out in Yes! magazine, the end of these stories is no longer “inevitable,” with Native communities always losing to outside interests.

Tribal advocacy has helped protect more places in recent weeks. In Colorado, the Piñon Pipeline will not go forward, the company that was planning to build it has announced. In the last weeks of President Obama’s term, he protected the ancient spiritual places and magnificent scenery in southern Nevada as the nearly-300,000-acre Gold Butte National Monument. He did the same for 1.35 million acres in southern Utah, now the Bear Ears National Monument. Notably, at Bear Ears indigenous people will contribute to ongoing management decisions. Though state and congressional officials have said they will fight both monument designations, such actions are difficult to unwind.

“The United States needs us Native people,” says Wendsler Nosie Sr., a former San Carlos Apache tribal chairman and leader of Apache Stronghold, a group formed to protect a sacred landscape in Arizona. “Without us taking the lead on these issues, there would be chaos. As a country, we have to choose a better way of being.”

Native-led campaigns take place in courtrooms, legislatures, and other government chambers. They also occur during face-offs on the prairie, desert, and tundra. “So far, we haven’t had to stand in front of bulldozers,” says Kimberly Williams, Curyung tribal member and director of an Alaska Native group seeking to protect the massive Bristol Bay salmon fishery from a proposed mine. “But I’m ready to.”

“What we learned at Standing Rock is the power of unity,” says Orona. “Hundreds of indigenous nations from all over the country and the globe stood together, along with supporters, and that endures.”

By the end of November 2016, hundreds of tribes from around the nation and the world were represented at the Standing Rock camps. Back home, each tribe faces its own decades-long struggle against environmental and cultural destruction, with years of fighting ahead.
A group of Western Shoshones camp in a tribal sacred site

For more on places where Native people warn against present and future environmental disasters, go to this link for the rest of this article in Yes! magazine.

c. Stephanie Woodard; photographs c. Joseph Zummo.