The Week That Was: The Big Stories in Indian Country, October 30, 2016


The battlefields of Iraq came to North Dakota, the election plot thickened yet again, and the police-killing statistics of Natives rose by a tragic one. Suffice to say it was a rough week in Indian country.

DAKOTA ACCESS TRAVESTY: Flouting human and civil rights, authorities in North Dakota on Thursday October 27 cleared the Treaty Camp that had been set up in the path of the Dakota Access pipeline by deploying military technology and tactics that had been developed for use in Iraq. Snipers perched atop Humvees, aiming at the groups of people praying; police maced and pepper-sprayed protectors directly in the face at point-blank range with the force of a garden hose; groups of heavily armed officers hauled away each arrested individual. Video was broadcast live on Facebook as the protectors documented the attacks against them. The activist media outlet Unicorn Riot’s footage was disturbing enough to prompt a trigger warning from ICTMN.

The Treaty Camp had been set up days earlier on the east side of U.S. Highway 1806, with dozens of tipis and tents placed directly where Dakota Access LLC wanted to build. The organizers, invoking 1851 Treaty rights, had declared eminent domain over the lands. The week before moving in, authorities had foreshadowed the October 27 rout by bombarding the protectors with rubber bullets and mace in answer to that move. Columnist Mark Trahant wondered ahead of that terrible day how far North Dakota would go. Cheyenne River Chairman Harold Frazier met privately with President Barack Obama in Los Angeles even as police massed at the frontlines. Standing Rock Sioux Chairman David Archambault II blasted the use of force and called on the Justice Department to investigate. The Justice Department reiterated that it was not about to issue the permits for crossing the pipeline under the Missouri river. Water protectors called for reinforcements, inviting all supporters to the camps. Many did come, including actor Mark Ruffalo and the Rev. Jesse Jackson. Avengers star Chris Hemsworth, while he didn’t go to the camps, apologized for an earlier diss to Native Americans and professed his support for the water protectors. Rank-and-file members of the AFL-CIO union, whose leadership has endorsed the pipeline, challenged that stance and spoke out in support of the water protectors. Numerous op-ed columnists weighed in about the damage being done, including the Society of Indian Psychologists, which called the treatment of the protectors “reprehensible” and “a retraumatization of the people already suffering on the reservation.” Meanwhile, back at the main camps away from the front lines, preparations were under way for winter.

Politicians spoke out too, in the wake of the events of October 27. A day after Standing Rock Youth erected a tipi in the lobby of the campaign headquarters of Presidential candidate Hillary Clinton, the Democrat released a statement saying that Clinton’s position is that “all voices should be heard and all views considered in federal infrastructure projects.” Green Party nominee Jill Stein, who was arrested a few weeks ago for her part in the anti-DAPL actions, issued a scathing statement against the state’s actions saying she was “horrified.” Democratic Senator and former Presidential candidate Bernie Sanders wrote to President Obama calling for federal intervention in the “very troubling situation unfolding at and around the Standing Rock Sioux reservation in North Dakota.” While Obama did not respond directly, Chief Arvol Looking Horse appealed to him for assistance. Looking Horse also negotiated with the Morton County Sheriff’s Office to calm things down on the front line. At the height of the conflict, a herd of buffalo appeared on a nearby hilltop, uplifting the protectors’ spirits. Contributor Mark Trahant called the whole thing “another reminder of injustice.”

AGONIZING IRONY: As if to apply salt to this gaping wound, on the very same day that military force was used to quell an unarmed group that was trying to protect the right to clean water, a jury in Oregon acquitted the self-styled militia who had staged an armed uprising to take over the Malheur Wildlife Refuge.

BARRELLING TOWARD THE ELECTION: As the 2016 Presidential election approaches, a Montana poll showed Denise Juneau, Mandan, Hidatsa, and Arikara Nation, trailing Rep. Ryan Zinke by a wide margin. But that did not have to mean the end of Juneau’s race, wrote Trahant, given that this is anything but a “normal” election. With 15 days to go, the campaign for Joe Pakootas in Washington State’s Fifth Congressional District was hitting the phones hard, and the overall quantity and the quality of Native Americans who are running for office making it a very significant election for Indian country. Fourteen days ahead marked the beginning of what Trahant called the “crazy season” in a column focusing on North Dakota’s Chase Iron Eyes. He also, before the landscape was obfuscated yet again by an e-mail investigation, broached the possibility of a landslide for Democrat Hillary Clinton. Many in Indian country have already decided, as early voting commenced on the Pyramid Lake and Walker River Paiute reservations in Nevada in response to a lawsuit they won seeking polling places on their homelands. Twelve days ahead, and it became clear that a main issue is the Affordable Care Act. Trahant also speculated on how to gauge who might be winning in early voting.

ANOTHER STATISTIC: The number of Native Americans killed by police rose by one, if you don’t count the unborn baby who was in the womb of Renee Davis, 23, on the Muckleshoot Indian Reservation in Washington when police shot her dead while conducting a wellness check. Fourteen Native Americans have been killed by police so far this year, compared with 10 in all of 2015. Per capita, more Natives are killed by police than any other race.

UNWELL FARGO: The banking giant whose false accounts practices were blasted open recently, was preying on minorities, and one bank location had zeroed in on Indians.

LANGUISHING PATRIMONY: 342 boxes of sacred items collected in the late 1980s and early 1990s are languishing at the Nevada State Museum in Carson City. They contain as many as 1.5 million items collected under the auspices of the Nevada Bureau of Land Management as a way of preserving them during a mining operation. They come from a sacred site named Tosawihi and belong to the Te-Moak Western Shoshone, which wants them back.

CULTURAL APPROPRIATION WORLD SERIES: With the World Series in full swing, so to speak, a lawsuit seeking to ban the use of the Cleveland Indians’ mascot drew attention. The team’s controversial Chief Wahoo logo has been around since 1928, through many incarnations. Also not getting the memo was a group of cheerleaders and students at an Ohio high school who displayed a five-foot tall banner that read, “Hey Indians, Get Ready for A Trail of TEARS Part 2.”

ANOTHER MEMO NEEDED, STAT: With Halloween upon us, the inappropriate costumes emerged from closets and costume stores to make their appearances at parties. Such was the costume of actress Hilary Duff and her boyfriend, who dressed as pilgrim and Native American ‘chief’ for a party. She later apologized after a severe social media backlash.But the ignorance also got downright cruel, when a few costumes of people dressed as water protectors cropped up on social media.

AT LEAST THERE’S SOME AMMO: ICTMN Arts and Entertainment Editor Vincent Schilling supplied some useful comebacks to throw at anyone donning a costume that appropriates Native culture.

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