November 6, 2016 Desiree Kane / YES! Magazine & William Boardman / Reader Supported News
On October 27, a colonial force of 250 armed with military weapons prepared to attack the campsite of oil pipeline protesters. The soldier-police faced off on a bridge against 40-50 veterans armed with only prayer. And the Natives won. Meanwhile, in Washington, the president equivocates. "We're monitoring this closely," Barack Obama says. "We're going to let it play out for several more weeks...."
The Standing Rock Victory You Didn't Hear About Desiree Kane / YES! Magazine
(November 5, 2016) -- Last week, the world watched in horror as a massive militarized police force attacked prayerful indigenous water protectors fighting for the water of 18 million people. Over and over, people were brutalized, pulled out of sweat lodges while in ceremony wearing only their underwear. Medics and journalists were arrested alongside water protectors. Cars were searched and impounded, personal possessions were taken by police.
Everyone by now has seen the videos of the assault last Thursday. Here at Standing Rock, the age-old story of government forces raising arms against Native people is being repeated in real time through social media.
But lost in that day, in the horrific stories of degradation, is a small story of victory, of how 40 to 50 Native people stood against more than 250 police on a bridge on County Road 134 in rural North Dakota.
Word-of-mouth announcements went out to the Oceti Sakowin camp that there was going to be a police raid of the front-line camp that had been set up in the way of the pipeline. A raid means people are in imminent danger, and that is widely understood here. Over Labor Day, campers were attacked by dogs and pepper sprayed by Dakota Access security.
And since then, we've seen increased militarization. It has been apparent that the government, specifically Morton County Sheriff's office, is the security force protecting the pipeline, so no one doubted that this time the police would be the ones to desecrate bodies and lifeways.
My original plan was to take County Road 134 to photograph the pipeline being forced into the earth. Instead, I found a blockade of wood logs and hay bales set up in an area where water divided the back country road. No one there was armed with anything other than prayer. It was a strategic juncture because police vehicles couldn't cross the narrow embankments on their way to the raid. If they were stopped at this bridge from the east, they could only come from the north.
In the morning, police did come, and from both sides. When I arrived, this blockade had already stopped an LRAD -- a sonic weapon often called "sound cannon," which can cause permanent hearing loss -- from making it to the camp. Even as police numbers grew, eventually well beyond 200, the water protectors held their ground, fearless.
Then the dancing began.
People began dancing to a hand drum, entranced by the power of prayer. A single elder, a veteran, repeatedly walked out and yelled: "Send one unarmed like I am out here to negotiate. Please. We are protecting the water for our children and yours. Send one out here to negotiate. Let's talk! Please!"
He was met with no negotiation.
But the water protectors held the bridge. For hours and hours, police advanced and retreated.
This was an unforgettable moment unfolding. With the dancing going on and the veteran trying to negotiate out front, a young woman stepped up and began moving her body to the beat of the drum. She was power incarnate. Her arms were wide open, her pink fingernail polish glistening. She was crying. Just waiting to be pepper sprayed, she wore a painter's mask, one which would have done nothing much for protection.
That standoff's foundation was ceremony and song, the truest essence of religious freedom.
This is what colonial violence looks like: 250 police -- some of them snipers, some with guns drawn on the crowd -- in a standoff with 40 to 50 unarmed indigenous people who just want to be allowed to live.
The untold story of this day was that those troops never made it from the east to join the others in raiding the camp, dehumanizing the friends and families of those on that bridge. There were 250 fewer officers able to show up to brutalize people and pervert prayer ceremonies on October 27. History rarely teaches us about when Natives win against the state. And that's how injustice flourishes: in the shadows.
So let me be clear. On October 27, when a colonial force armed with military weapons faced off on a bridge against veterans armed with only prayer, the Natives won.
We're monitoring this closely. And, you know, I think, as a general rule, my view is that there is a way for us to accommodate sacred lands of Native Americans. And I think that right now the Army Corps is examining whether there are ways to reroute this pipeline in a way . . . . So -- so, we're going to let it play out for several more weeks and determine whether or not this can be resolved in a way that I think is properly attentive to the traditions of the first Americans . . . .
-- President Obama on the Now This News website, November 1, 2016
(November 4, 2016) -- Isn't that sweet? The President gave lip service to "the traditions of the first Americans." He didn't mention treaties between sovereign nations, of course, because he's not about to break with the traditions of the second Americans: that such treaties are only a means to a genocidal end and aren't to be taken seriously by the United States of exceptional, manifestly destined Americans whenever such treaties interfere with what the US wants.
That's what "properly attentive" means historically. Freely translated, "properly attentive" means "make a show of peace talk, them roll over them with whatever force necessary after it's too late to affect the election." The legal mind is nothing if not properly attentive to elegant turns of phrase in its unyielding hypocrisy.
If the President had any intention of honoring anything relating to the sacred lands of Native Americans, he would not be planning to "let it play out for several more weeks." Sacred lands have already been destroyed.
Sacred lands are being destroyed no, not only by the pipeline construction but also by the massive militarized police response to nonviolent protest. Letting it play out for several more weeks only opens the door to the destruction of more -- even all -- of the sacred lands in the path of this lethal-to-the-planet pipeline.
What is happening, what has been happening for months in North Dakota, is a travesty -- of justice, of common human decency, of the rule of law and standards of international law. And our president is on the wrong side of all of it, just barely responding in his docile, passive, articulate evasiveness.
"We're monitoring this closely," says the President
If the President is monitoring this closely and remains willing to let it play out for several more weeks, that's a pretty clear signal that he has no serious problem with the creation of police state conditions in North Dakota.
Besides an unknown number of private security forces working for Energy Transfer Partners (the pipeline sponsor), there are law enforcement officers from at least seven states that have cost about $10 million so far. That seems a ridiculously high price to pay to contain peaceful protest. And it's an even more ridiculous price for taxpayers to shell out to protect private profits.
If the President is monitoring this closely without responding, that is a tacit admission that he has no serious problem with any of the egregious behavior so far by official and quasi-official paramilitaries and their wide-ranging mistreatment (apparently including criminal assault) of American citizens. In particular, he has allowed and continues to allow himself to be seen as approving:
* Unlicensed, apparently untrained private security forces using dogs to bloody peaceful protesters (who call themselves water protectors).
* State officials arresting and over-charging journalists for committing journalism.
* A local sheriff inflaming the public with false reports of "pipe bombs," when what he had actually heard was talk of "peace pipes."
* Law officers shooting nonviolent water protectors in the back and front with rubber bullets.
* State officials housing arrestees in dog cages and conditions that violate international law against torturing prisoners.
* Law officers on the riverbank using mace and pepper spray against nonviolent water protectors standing in the water.
* Official surveillance helicopters flying low to panic horses.
* Official surveillance helicopters mysteriously going off duty just before "persons unknown" start a prairie fire (with such ineptitude that the wind blows it away from the Standing Rock Sioux gathering ground).
* Apparent contempt of court by Energy Transfer Partners, who sent its bulldozers to destroy a burial ground that, once destroyed, could no longer be a reason for a federal court to rule against the pipeline. Desecration is not a criminal act, apparently, when you have a government permit for it, even when that permit is under litigation.
That's a lot of official abuse to tolerate, even for a president, and that's just a sampling of the police state techniques being tested in Middle America these days.
"And I think that right now the Army Corps is examining whether there are ways to reroute this pipeline in a way . . . "
The President paused there, leaving the thought unfinished. The pipeline has already been re-routed, away from the state capital city of Bismarck after residents there expressed fear that the pipeline threatened their water supply. Now the pipeline threatens the water supply of the Standing Rock Sioux (and thousands of others), but that is more acceptable to the American power structure.
The President has expressed no dismay at the idea that a pipeline rupture along the Missouri River would devastate huge numbers of "the first Americans," who have no other source of water. As one water protector put it: "If it were to be contaminated, . . . it would be a death sentence."
Why does the President think rerouting a climate-hostile pipeline is any kind of an answer to anything other than protecting the speculative bets of Energy Transfer Partners?
If he were to consider this pipeline (any new pipeline) in terms of its impact on global climate values, this would be a no-brainer: no more pipelines. This is the Army Corps of Engineers we're talking about -- the Army -- and the President is the commander in chief who has no difficulty blowing up wedding parties and funerals with drones in some imaginary defense of national security.
Why does he have such reluctance to protect planetary security? Why does he not just order the Army Corp of Engineers to go back to square one and re-do this process which was fast-tracked in the first place, for reasons that remain murky, and with the exclusion of interested parties with legal standing. But President Obama, on full salary as he campaigns for Hillary Clinton, shows no inclination to do any of this well or right. He's apparently much more confortable with false equivalencies and blaming the victims (also on Now This News):
Yeah, I mean, it's a challenging situation. I think that my general rule when I talk to governors and state and local officials, whenever they're dealing with protests, including, for example, during the Black Lives Matters protests, is there is an obligation for protesters to be peaceful, and there's an obligation for authorities to show restraint. And, you know, I want to make sure that as everybody is exercising their constitutional rights to be heard, that both sides are refraining from situations that might result in people being hurt.
For someone supposedly monitoring this closely, the President might be expected to know that people have already been hurt and most if not all of those hurt were nonviolent, peaceful protestors set upon by dogs and assaulted by rubber bullets, sound cannons, and chemical weapons. What fundamental, callous irrationality prompts this president to bring in Black Lives Matter? That is strange beyond comprehension. But perhaps it shines a light on that dark place in his soul that allowed him to react with almost no help or pity for the people of Flint, poisoned by their own governments, including the one President Obama is supposed to lead.
William M. Boardman has over 40 years experience in theatre, radio, TV, print journalism, and non-fiction, including 20 years in the Vermont judiciary. He has received honors from Writers Guild of America, Corporation for Public Broadcasting, Vermont Life magazine, and an Emmy Award nomination from the Academy of Television Arts and Sciences.
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