The dispossession for the indigenous people in North Dakota, and the brutalisation of the water protectors and protesters from Americans of all ethnic groups for the profit of big oil continues. In this short video from The Young Turks, their reporter Jordan Cheriton shows how militarised police are building a razor wire fence around a Native burial ground, so that the local indigenous people cannot visit or pray at the graves of their ancestors. There was an attempt by the NODAPL protestors to reach the island earlier in canoes, but they were beaten off by the police. The abandoned canoes were left on the island’s shore, where they are shown being hauled away and broken up by the rozzers.
Cheriton intervenes one of the water protectors, Mr Akicita Tokahe, who is a former US army veteran. Mr Tokahe was one of the US squaddies sent to Panama. He describes how the saw the local people there regard him and his army buddies with a mixture of fear and joy in their eyes. Now, he says, he’s experiencing what it’s like to be on the other side of an armed force.
The video ends with a young woman’s voice chanting a song about not giving up the protest against the Dakota Access Pipeline.
This is just one disgraceful episode in a long line of instances of police brutality, official injustice, greed and intimidation. It shows the overwhelming power of the oil industry in America, the way they’ve been able to ride roughshod over laws and treaties protecting indigenous land, and the absolute contempt they have for the Native people of America.
The pipeline was due to go through, or past, the town of Bismarck. However, as this would have posed a threat to the water quality of White, suburban community, the people complained and the decision was made to send it straight through the land of the Sioux people. And this is very much treaty land. Cheriton, or one of the others from The Turks, talked to a Black protestor, who had worked as one of the environmental teams researching and presenting evidence on whether oil pipelines could be legally constructed in particular areas. America has legislation, which should prevent oil, or other potentially dangerous or polluting engineering projects, being situated in poor, Black or otherwise disadvantages neighbourhoods. The oil company deliberately falsified evidence to claim wrongly that the land through which the pipeline was going to be laid was not Native American. They did so by counting only the indigenous Americans resident on Federal land, ignoring the greater amount of reservation land which the pipeline will run through. And as Cheriton points out here, the oil company shouldn’t be on that small island either. It belongs to the American military, and by law the only people allowed on that land should be the US armed forces.
So far, we’ve seen instances where the cops have done their best to prevent peaceful protests and prayers at the state capital. They’ve used mace against the protestors, physically attacked them, including with dogs. Indigenous protectors, including women, have been hauled off to be kept in dog kennels. They have been shot with rubber bullets, and the other day a White young woman, Sophia Wilansky, had her lower arm blow off when one of these goons shot her directly with a stun grenade. This is illegal, but they did it anyway and are now lying about it. The protestors have made it very clear that they’re putting this in the perspective of the long-term dispossession of the Native people of America by Whites. I don’t think you can fairly argue against this. A desire for the wealth of natural resources and agricultural land was behind the continuing seizure of Indian land and relocation of the Amerindians themselves during the 19th century. Despite the fact that this land is protected by the Fort Laramie treaty of 1863, if I’m not mistaken, the whole affair shows that the authorities are still willing to violate treaties and seize indigenous land, just as their 19th century predecessors did, when it suits them.
There is indeed a real danger that the pipeline will foul the area’s drinking water and damage its ecology. One of the statistics cited is that there already been 300 odd oil spills across America, which aren’t reported. And the authorities in America seem to have absolutely no interest in protecting the water quality of their citizens. The people of Flint, Michigan, have had their drinking water poisoned with lead by the local water company, but so far little, if any, action seems to have been taken to clean up the mess and punish those responsible. Communities have also seen their water contaminated by fracking, again with the absolute complicity of the local politicos.
There’s a lesson for us over here. The same companies that are fouling the American environment are keen to start fracking over here, and local authorities and the Tory party are all too eager to let them do it. So we can also expect communities harmed by poisoned drinking water, what the politicos take the bucks handed to them by fossil fuel companies completely indifferent to the suffering and damage they’ve caused.
As an archaeologist, I’m also left astonished and disgusted by the desecration of the tribe’s burial grounds. The respectful treatment of human remains excavated through engineering works, archaeological investigation or preserved in museums is a serious issue. It naturally arouses concern by people that their dead ancestors should be treated with dignity. And the issue is particularly strong, when the remains are those of peoples that have suffered from persecution. For example, a few years ago human remains were uncovered during building work for a new supermarket in one of the northern English towns. It was established that these were Jewish burials, including some of the victims of one of the terrible pogroms unleashed against them during the Middle Ages. Their excavation and removal to another site was, obviously, a delicate matter involving careful negotiation between the authorities, developers, archaeologists and the Jewish community.
Similarly, I was told by a Canadian archaeologist friend that the American archaeologists conducting an investigation of Native burials had to participate and observe certain ritual requirements, including being anointed with buffalo grease, while conducting the excavation. And rightly so, as they were on indigenous territory, interfering with their ancestors’ burials and remains, and so it was only correct that they should have to observe indigenous customs governing the sanctity of the dead.
And you can probably think of other, more prosaic examples of similar concern in White communities, when the dead there have been disturbed due to redevelopment. Yet the police and the oil company there have shown no such sensitivity to the feelings of the local people, or respect for their dead.
This is an absolute disgrace. And I’m very sure we can expect the same callous attitudes and casual brutality over here in Blighty when fracking starts.
Tags: Akicita Tokahe, Bismarck (town), Blacks, Burials, Conservatives, Demonstrations, Flint (Town), Fort Laramie, Fracking, Jews, Jordan Cheriton, Lead, Local Authorities, Michigan, Museums, Native Americans, Natural Resources, NODAPL, North Dakota, North Dakota Pipeline, Reservations, The Young Turks, Treaties, US Army, Women