The Week That Was: The Big Stories in Indian Country, September 11, 2016


An 11th-hour federal rescue, an epic (for Oklahoma) earthquake, and a Superfund designation made for a tumultuous week in Indian country.

THE PROTECTORS ARE HEARD: Top of the news, of course, was how the feds stepped in right after U.S. District Court Judge James Boasberg denied the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe’s request for an injunction against the Dakota Access oil pipeline. The U.S. Department of the Interior, Department of Justice and Army Corps of Engineers issued a joint statement that, in effect, temporarily halts all construction bordering Lake Oahe on the Missouri pending further study and possible reform of the consultation process with Indigenous Peoples. Outrage had erupted after a private security firm used dogs to fend off water protectors who were trying to stop the desecration of gravesites by Dakota Access LLC as it commenced construction over a holiday weekend. Many witnesses, including Amy Goodman of Democracy Now, saw the attacks firsthand, and caught them on film. The Cheyenne River Sioux demanded answers, and the entire Congressional delegation of New Mexico condemned the violence in a letter to Obama and Energy Transfer Partners, the company behind the pipeline, calling the use of dogs “deplorable.” Rep. Raúl M. Grijalva, D-Arizona, announced he would visit and tour the prayer camps on Sunday September 11. 

The Standing Rock Sioux sought a temporary restraining order against the pipeline as Judge James Boasberg hauled everyone into court for an emergency hearing after the raucous holiday weekend. He did halt construction on a portion of the site, but not the area containing graves because it was on private land, where he said he lacked jurisdiction. Meanwhile, more nonviolent action shut down construction for a second time.

Support continued pouring in from all quarters. The cast of Justice League came out once again in support of the water protectors, this time via a video. Singer-Songwriter Jackson Browne made a public statement, saying, “I intend to support public resistance to the Dakota Access Pipeline as much as I can,” and then disavowing the Texas multimillionaire who turned out to be behind the project, even though he was a musical patron. Tlingit artist Doug Chilton brought his custom 30-foot, fiberglass canoe from Juneau, Alaska, to the paddle for solidarity on the Missouri River. And Gyasi Ross exhorted the protectors to keep at it, with a hat tip in particular to the women who had started it all. Some of them, Lakota women of the Brave Heart Society, penned a plea for assistance directly to President Barack Obama.

Notwithstanding the peaceful nature of the camps, North Dakota Governor Jack Dalrymple saw fit to activate the National Guard, albeit in a limited, administrative role. His emphasis on public safety puzzled those who had seen no evidence of police protection when the dogs were unleashed, and tribal leaders and elders responded with varying degrees of uncertainty. Exasperated, the Yankton Sioux sued the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers for the pipeline permit approvals.

The lawsuits, and the camps, are hitting at yet another issue, as columnist Mark Trahant reported: climate change. “If the United States is to be that ‘indispensable nation’ it has to lead on the most important crisis Mother Earth faces, climate change,” he wrote. In keeping with that, the camps also attracted a candidate. Henry Red Cloud, who is running for a seat on the South Dakota Public Utilities Commission, traveled to Cannon Ball, North Dakota, to show support for the people of Standing Rock and their opposition to the pipeline. An award-winning solar innovator, he champions the move away from fossil fuels. After all this, it seemed that President Barack Obama had finally gotten wind of the direct appeals and calls for help after being questioned about the issue during a university forum in Laos at which he promised to have his staff look into it. Less than 24 hours later, the feds had stepped into the dispute.

ABOUT THAT CLIMATE CHANGE...: In a speech, Obama conveyed his message on climate change from Lake Tahoe Wednesday through the words of a Washoe tribal leader: “ ‘What happens to the land also happens to the people,’ ” he said in announcing conservation efforts at the 20th Annual Environmental Summit.

GOLD KING SUPERFUND: Environmental and tribal activists welcomed the government’s announcement that it had designated the Gold King Mine a Superfund site, advancing the cleanup of an area contaminated by a multimillion-gallon toxic spill last year.

MEANWHILE, IN FRACKING CENTRAL: Operators of 17 disposal wells in the Osage Nation agreed to shut down operations following a 5.8-magnitude earthquake, the biggest in Oklahoma's history.

CHEWED OUT: Magnificent Seven star Martin Sensmeier dished with ICTMN A&E Editor Vincent Schilling about being chewed out by an Oscar nominee. He recently wrapped filming the movie in which he plays alongside Denzel Washington, Chris Pratt, Ethan Hawke and Vincent D'onofrio.

DESERT WATER FOUNTAIN: Seattle’s newest middle school, named for a beloved Native American educator of the 1980s and ’90s, will open its doors in fall 2017. Built on the site of the former American Indian Heritage High School, the school features Native-themed wall murals by artist Andrew Morrison, Apache/Haida; original walls saved from the previous school, which was torn down on the same site. The middle school will also house a K-8 program that will focus on Native culture and social justice. One educator likened it to “a water fountain in the desert.”

HEARTBREAKING ANNIVERSARY: The police refuse to classify it as a cold case, but the murder of 19-year-old Faith Hedgepeth more than 1,450 days—three years—ago remains unsolved. Police are hard at work on the case but are missing key evidence that would link the horrific crime to a suspect.

TIME ON THEIR SIDE: Featuring the poetic words of the late John Trudell, A Tribe Called Red has just released their latest video, for a song track entitled A Lie Nation, from their upcoming third album, We Are The Halluci Nation. The video, a shout-out to the American Indian Movement's (AIM) occupation of Alcatraz Island, was featured in Time magazine.

15 YEARS ON: As the nation marked the 15th year since the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks on New York City's Twin Towers and the Pentagon in Washington, D.C., the Aboriginal People's Television Network (APTN) broadcast its new documentary series on Mohawk ironworkers, many of whom helped build the World Trade Center, both old and new versions. ICTMN Contributor Gyasi Ross had the indigenous take in 2015 on what it felt like to be in New York City on that day, as well as some other thoughts, and one Mohawk reminisced about the original job site when the towers were first being built. 

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