Case dismissed against Amy Goodman; the press is now free to cover the Dakota Pipeline protest

The case pitted the North Dakota State Attorney Ladd Erickson against Democracy Now! reporter Amy Goodman.  He was charging her with rioting for her role in the Dakota Access Pipeline protests, in which she was simply a reporter with a microphone, a film crew, and a very effective message.  While she never trespassed, Erickson, in a brazen reinterpretation of the Constitution, said she did not have First Amendment protection as a journalist because Democracy Now! has a liberal bias.  Today, with the drums of the Lakota and other nations beating on the street outside, the judge rejected that argument and dismissed the charges.


Goodman spearheaded national coverage of the protest with dramatic footage of a chaotic confrontation between protesters and a private security firm with attack dogs.  At the time, no major networks or news outlets were covering the protest, which represents the largest gathering of indigenous nations in over a hundred years.

For some background on the protest, see this earlier blogpost.  Additional background, focusing on the pipeline, the land it passes through, and the risk of oil spills, will be posted soon.

Posted in news | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

White man uses his truck to drive into Columbus Day protesters– still no arrest

In a scene recalling the terrorist attack in France, a white truck drove into a crowd of people in Reno, Nevada Monday night.  Police are still reviewing the videos, which show it from multiple angles.  One person remains hospitalized.  Minutes earlier, the man drove by the protesters and yelled at them.  Then he returned.  He then engaged the protesters in a confrontation at his truck and threatened to run them down.  Then he did.


If we were to apply Trump’s standard for Muslims, shouldn’t his white neighbors be notifying the authorities about him?  Where are the white moderates?


Posted in news | Tagged , , , , , | 1 Comment

Why you won’t find Jesus in Harry Potter

rowling1I’m re-blogging this excellent post about JK Rowling’s inappropriate use of Native American symbols in her recent book and upcoming movie Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them, which is set in North America (at least in part).

The blogger is Loralee Sepsey, Owens Valley Paiute from the Big Pine Paiute Reservation in California.  She is currently studying English, Education, and Native American Studies at Stanford University.

In comparing Rowling’s use of Native and Western historical figures, Sepsey observes:

Do we not deserve respectful representation? Are we allowed to exist without some white woman claiming our mythology and our history and our culture as her own invention? Because we never saw her do this to British history or Christianity in the Harry Potter series. Jesus never showed up as a professor at Hogwarts. The whale that swallowed Jonah wasn’t residing in the lake. Voldemort was uniquely Voldemort, not the literal incarnation of Lucifer.

In short, you wont find Jesus incorporated into Rowling’s tales as a professor at Hogwarts because Rowling has respect for Jesus’s actual historical role in our culture and she’s not about to appropriate him and re-write his bio.  But for Native American characters, she takes them freely and completely re-works them.  It’s all about respect.


Posted in reblogs | Tagged , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Havoc, the Dakota Access Pipeline, and the Dogs of War

The violent confrontations splashed across the media in the last few days recall not just another Avatar-esque confrontation between militarized resource-exploiting corporations and local indigenous inhabitants– and yet another ironic use of an appropriated Native name– but also the sordid 523-year history of the use of dogs by European colonists to attack Native Americans.

First, some background.  Dakota Access LLC, a subsidiary of Energy Transfer Partners, has recently received permission to build an underground pipeline from North Dakota to Illinois.  The goal is to transport Bakken crude oil to a terminal that will connect it with Gulf Coast and East Coast refineries and markets.  The pipeline is controversial among white farmers, as eminent domain was used to acquire private farmland for a private oil enterprise.  The pipeline is controversial among Native Americans, especially the Dakota and Lakota of the Standing Rock Indian Reservation, because the pipeline passes under the Missouri River just a mile upstream of their land.  (Note it was a pipeline under the Yellowstone River that ruptured and caused large oil spills in Montana in 2011 and 2015, affecting drinking water.) At the same time, construction of the pipeline disturbs sacred sites and burial grounds.  The tribe argues that the required consultation with them was insufficient and has filed for an injunction to stop construction.  A ruling is expected on September 9.


This woman, especially, has allowed herself to become a cog in the wheel of exploitation.  Note the blood already on her dog’s lips.

In the meantime, construction is sometimes halted, sometimes not, in a sometimes-violent game of cat-and-mouse with protesters.  Shots have been fired, construction equipment set on fire, and chiefs have been arrested.  Most of the protests have involved nonviolent actions.  And then,  on September 3, during a holiday weekend just days before a court ruling, there was mace and attack dogs, used by the company while law enforcement watched from a distance.  Several nonviolent protesters were bitten, including women.

Natives from tribes across the land have traveled there in solidarity, while others have sent material aid.  Over 100 nations have passed resolutions in support of the Standing Rock Sioux in this battle.



Back to the dogs, the most visceral part of the video above.  The use of trained attack dogs against Native Americans goes back to the Spanish conquest.  It began in 1493, with Columbus’ second expedition, a military style invasion with seventeen vessels.  In his famous account of Spanish barbarity and genocide, Devastation of the Indies, Bartolome de las Casas writes:

DakotaAccess2the Spaniards train their fierce dogs to attack, kill and tear to pieces the Indians. It is doubtful that anyone, whether Christian or not, has ever before heard of such a thing as this. The Spaniards keep alive their dogs’ appetite for human beings in this way. They have Indians brought to them in chains, then unleash the dogs. The Indians come meekly down the roads and are killed. And the Spaniards have butcher shops where the corpses of Indians are hung up, on display, and someone will come in and say, more or less,”Give me a quarter of that rascal hanging there, to feed my dogs until I can kill another one for them.” As if buying a quarter of a hog or other meat.
Other Spaniards go hunting with their dogs in the mornings and when one of them returns at noon and is asked “Did you have good hunting?” he will reply, “Very good! I killed fifteen or twenty rascals and left them with my dogs.”

DakotaAccess3He relates another story where a Spanish expedition, traveling through Nicaragua, was running low on food for their dogs.  They tore a child from his mother’s arms, cut off his arms and legs, and fed him to the dogs.

War dogs were used in Florida in 1528, when the fated Narváez expedition used them to kill a chief’s mother DakotaAccess4near Tampa Bay.  They were a key instrument in De Soto’s deadly foray through the American southeast in the 1540’s, terrifying local chiefs into compliance.  An entire book has been written on the subject, Dogs of the Conquest, which describes mastiffs, greyhounds, and wolfhounds that became renown, with names like Becerillo, Leoncillo, Amigo, and Bruto, and who could distinguish natives from Castilians, disemboweling Indians in seconds at the command tómalos, “take them.”


After the dog confrontation on Saturday, the company backed down and left the site.  But with a $3.7 billion project on the line, and oil deliveries already contracted to begin before the year is out, the company will certainly return.  (However, Enbridge has just backed down from a similar pipeline project running through Ojibwe rice harvesting lakes.  It seems that economic factors, like the low price of oil, may have been the deciding factor there.)  The Standing Rock Sioux, have established a dedicated protest camp and vow to protect the river.  Furthermore, the protest may be becoming a rallying point for larger issues involving climate change, national priorities, and tribal sovereignty.  Even with a federal court ruling in a few days, this conflict is likely far from over.

Posted in news | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 4 Comments

Burkini Bans, Cultural Assimilation Policies, and National Identity

In recent weeks, beachgoers along the French Riviera have witnessed the unusual site of fully uniformed police officers, some complete with flak jackets, walking on crowded sandy beaches among speedos and thong bikinis, handing out $43 citations to people wearing too much clothing.


Over two hundred years ago, the French Revolution championed the poor, downtrodden, and underclass.  It was a landmark moment in the development of civil rights and democracy in Europe.  In 1903, these words were engraved on a plaque at the Statue of Liberty, a gift from France to the US, “Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free…”   These sentiments have their limits.  Two years later, France adopted a policy of religious freedom and the promotion of secularism.  The ultimate goal was to mold French society, and all of its citizens, into a homogeneous culture, regardless of ethnic or religious backgrounds.  Today, these policies have reared their ugly head in the form of bans on traditional Muslim clothing.  Ironically, the new law reads like a religious edict, “Access to beaches and for swimming is banned to any person wearing improper clothes that are not respectful of accepted customs and secularism.”


These policies are, of course, prejudiced, designed to stigmatize certain ethnic groups as second-class citizens.  They attempt to define what it means to be French—and to be not-French.

American reaction has been tepid, torn between libertarian ideals and anti-Muslim sentiment.  As of now, it seems unlikely the US will follow France’s path.  Nevertheless, the US does have a long history of similar controversies.  Battles over discriminatory dress codes are regular in public school settings involving youth.  Examples include bans on dreadlocks, cornrow, and Afro hair styles, feathers on graduation caps, and facial hair.  As with the burkini ban, there have been the usual appeals to hygiene and distractions as rationale for the bans.  The US also has a history of nationwide policies designed to mold the nation along specific ethnic and religious lines.  (See this blog post about past US immigration policy.)  Here are some more significant examples of cultural assimilation policies targeting Native Americans:

  • From the late 1800s thru the 1970s, the US’s official policy toward Native Americans was assimilation, to “kill the Indian, save the man”. Throughout this period, hundreds of thousands of Native children were removed from their homes and sent to far-off boarding schools, where their traditional long hair was cut off, their traditional clothing and language was banned, and often they were given new “Christian” names.  Even on reservations, Native religious ceremonies were banned until 1978.


  • In the 1950s, the US began implementing “termination”, a policy that abolished old treaties and banned the official status of entire Native tribes (much like Turkey refuses to acknowledge the existence of Kurds).
  • As recently as the 1970s, up to one-third of Native children were removed from their homes and sent to group homes or foster homes with white parents. (At the same time, up to 25% of Native women were sterilized, often without their consent, dropping the Native fertility rate in the US from 3.3 to 1.3 children per woman.)

Like Muslims in France, these measures were meant to “Americanize” Native Americans, to repress their language and culture and to remold them into the larger ambient culture.

The operative question is whether a nation defines itself as a homogenous or multi-ethnic society.  The candidacy of Donald Trump poses this question to the Republican Party.  While the US is saturated with reminders of white supremacy and celebrations of ethnic cleansing, US law, at least on paper, embraces respect for different religions and ethnicities.  When the French diplomat, Alexis de Tocqueville, published Democracy in America in 1835, he warned that democracies risk falling into a tyranny of the majority.  Given that 64% of French people support the burkini ban, it seems that tyranny has arrived on the French Riviera.  The victims, this time, are traditional Muslim women.

Posted in news | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

New Landmark Book Documents Genocide by Design in California

MadleyA recently published book, An American Genocide: The United States and the California Indian Catastrophe, 1846-1873 by Benjamin Madley, provides a thorough and exhaustive review of the well-documented but poorly-known genocide of Native Americans in California, primarily after the Gold Rush.  Madley provides appendices that list every local account of killings by vigilantes, as well as details the state and federal government funding and policies that encouraged them.  It may prove to be a landmark work in the documentation of genocides worldwide.  As Yale University Press states, “Madley considers why the slaughter constituted genocide and how other possible genocides within and beyond the Americas might be investigated using the methods presented in this groundbreaking book.”

Some of the reviews:

“Madley’s extraordinarily comprehensive research leaves no source unexplored: state and federal archives, legislative reports, memoirs and manuscripts, and library collections. This is the definitive account of California’s genocide.”—Tony Platt, News from Native California

“An American Genocide provides one of the most detailed and stunning narratives of violence, murder, and state-sponsored genocide in North America, making this book a major achievement in the fields of both Native American history and Genocide Studies.”—Ned Blackhawk (Yale University)

“This book is a powerful contribution to the study of Native Americans, to California history, and to genocide studies as a whole. It should be read by every Californian.”—Norman Naimark (Stanford University)

“Benjamin Madley has changed the conversation on genocide and American Indians. After An American Genocide, it will no longer be possible to debate whether or not genocide took place. Instead we will need to confront the questions of how and why genocide against American Indians took place and what the United States owes its indigenous communities.”—Karl Jacoby (Columbia University)

Madley also raises questions for today regarding official government apologies and reparations (in a context where the State takes a cut of Indian casino earnings, and where the State continues to deny aboriginal fishing and hunting rights to most tribes).

For more information and reviews, see:

This book would be a timely read for a certain professor at Sacramento State, a genocide denier who got into a very public conflict with a Native student.

Posted in news | Tagged , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Occupied Lands: The Great Sioux Nation

This is the first installment of a multi-part series looking at lands that were ethnically cleansed of Native Americans, focusing on what has become of those lands today, and what has become of the people that lived there. 

The Sioux call themselves the Lakota, Dakota, and (historically) Nakota, all of which mean “allies”. The word “Sioux” is derived, via the French, from an Anishinaabe word meaning “those who speak another language”.  They are a large and complicated nation, divided into many sub-tribes, which have evolved and moved over the centuries.  Originally from the Minnesota region, many of them moved west hundreds of years ago, pressured by Anishinaabe, Haudenosaunee (Iroquois), and ultimately white expansion.  They were traditionally divided into seven groups, sometimes called the Council of Seven Fires.  It was the Lakota, or Teton Sioux, that first moved out onto the High Plains, further subdividing into seven more groups.  This is the primary group that fought Red Cloud’s War, in which the Lakota (with Northern Cheyenne and Arapaho support) effectively defeated the US, culminating in the Fort Laramie Treaty of 1868, which created the Great Sioux Nation (GSN).  (Note:  Most of the Dakota bands followed a different historical path.  In the aftermath of Little Crow’s War in 1862, they were removed from Minnesota onto a variety of reservations, where they suffered from high rates of starvation and disease.)

Sioux bands

The boundaries of the GSN, combined with the Unceded Lands, encompassed nearly 90,000 square miles, including parts of North Dakota, South Dakota, Montana, and Wyoming.  According to the treaty, it was “set apart for the absolute and undisturbed use and occupation of the Indians and no unauthorized person shall ever be permitted to pass over, settle upon, or reside in.”  The terms also defined Hunting Grounds beyond the GSN, which encompassed large portions of Colorado and Nebraska, plus a tiny corner of Kansas.  It lasted about eight years.

Great Sioux Nation map

In 1874, after trespassing white pioneers reported gold in Paha Sapa, the sacred Black Hills near the center of the GSN, President Ulysses Grant ordered Generals Sheridan and Custer to lead an expedition to confirm the rumors.  They did, and immediately published it in prominent eastern newspapers.  Despite no Lakota attacks on the resulting flood of trespassers, Grant contrived a war to “open the country” to white gold prospectors.  This led directly to the Battle of the Greasy Grass (Custer’s Last Stand), the eventual surrender of the Lakota, their imprisonment on reservations, the assassinations of Crazy Horse and Sitting Bull, and the massacre at Wounded Knee a generation later.


The Homestake Gold Mine, the primary reason for the abrogation of the Treaty of 1868 and the imprisonment of the Lakota.

Originally, the US wanted one thing from the GSN:  gold.  Looking back from the present across the entire area, one economic operation dwarfs all others:  the Homestake Gold Mine in the Black Hills.  Opened in 1876 during the contrived war, the mine helped create the Hearst family fortune.  Delved 8,000 feet deep, it is one of the largest and deepest gold mines in the world.  It’s fair to say the occupation of the GSN and removal of the Lakota was motivated by this sole enterprise.  Thus the GSN was essentially a “banana republic” to be toppled, like Guatemala toppled for the United Fruit Company in 1954 (with the ensuing genocide of its indigenous people) or the covert coup in Iran in 1953 to protect British Petroleum (BP).

But the GSN did not persist even as an American puppet state.  It was taken over by the US federal government by 1877 and eventually absorbed into various states of the union (in 1889 and 1890), while the Lakota languished on reservations.

The Great Sioux Nation Today

Today, 17% of the GSN is comprised of five Indian reservations (Standing Rock, Cheyenne River, Pine Ridge, Rosebud, and Crow Creek).  There are several more reservations to the south and east.  Another 11% is federal lands (including Black Hills National Forest, Mount Rushmore National Monument, Custer National Forest, and Little Bighorn Battlefield National Monument).  The Homestake Gold Mine makes up less than 1% of the land mass.  The remaining 71% is in private hands, primarily white farmers and ranchers.

Buffalo Gap NG

Buffalo Gap National Grasslands

Driving across it, one sees a lot of open country.  It’s the kind of place where you fill your tank when you can because you don’t know when you’ll get to the next town.  Despite the low population density, it is still probably higher than it was in the 1800s.  At the time the Sioux had a population of about 25,000, or about 0.28 people per square mile, which is relatively high for a nomadic society that engaged in little farming.  Hunting buffalo was central to their subsistence, culture, and lives.  The population of the GSN today is roughly 420,000.  The buffalo herds are gone and the area is used for primarily as range and pasture, plus some crops (hay, corn, soybeans, and wheat).  Range and pasture land is worth $600 to $1500/acre; cropland is worth almost double that.


Hearst Castle in California, built with profits from the Homestake Gold Mine in the Black Hills.

In 1923, the Lakota filed a claim against the US for the illegal seizure of their lands.  The case was eventually resolved by the US Supreme Court in 1980 in favor of the Lakota.  The Court ruled that the Lakota were entitled to compensation in the form of money for the value of the land, plus interest going back over a hundred years.  This came to over $100 million.  The Lakota, however, assert that “the Black Hills are not for sale”, and to this day have refused the money.  The funds sit in a US government account, collecting interest, and now total over a billion dollars.  That’s a lot of money, over $50,000 for every Lakota household.  However, it doesn’t compare with the value of the land today ($46 billion, assuming a modest value of $800/acre) or the value of the gold removed from the Homestake Mine (over $45 billion).  Furthermore, most of the Black Hills are federally owned, and thus could simply be turned over to the Sioux.


Wyodak Coal Mine.

The Homestake Gold Mine ceased operations in 2002, but its massive pit remains.  Its deep tunnels are used for scientific research.  On the west side of the Black Hills lies the Wyodak Coal Mine.  Built in 1923 to supply power for the Homestake mine, it is now the oldest continuously operating surface coal mine in the nation.  There was some uranium mining in the Black Hills in the 1950s—and more is proposed but is currently on hold.

Over a century after the confinement of the Lakota, there is only one town of significant size inside the GSN:  Rapid City (population 68,000, with up to 125,000 in the “metropolitan area”).  The other “large” towns within the GSN are Gillette (32,000), Sheridan (17,000), Spearfish (10,000), and Sturgis (7,000).  Bismark, Mandan, Dickinson, Pierre, and most of Casper lie on the other side of river boundaries, just outside the GSN.  Subtracting these few urban areas (totaling about a third of the population), the population density of the vast majority of the GSN today (about 95% of it) is only about 3 people per square mile, relatively low for an agrarian society.  It’s fair to say that the white settlers have not really swarmed over the land and occupied it in large numbers.  They took the gold and the coal and now do some ranching and farming in the rest of the area.


The Powder River as viewed from Google Earth. This was the primary battleground of Red Cloud’s War. Today, the total population from its headwaters to its confluence with the Yellowstone River is less than 700 people.

There are actually more Lakota living in the GSN today than historically.  Today’s population of over 56,000 Native Americans is about double what it was in 1880 when they were imprisoned on the reservations.  Remarkably, the Lakota are pretty much still where they were in 1880.  The land remains extremely segregated.  Of the fifty counties within the GSN, thirty of them are more than 95% white.  In fact, the GSN now includes several of the whitest counties in the entire US. Ten of the remaining counties are more than 50% Native American.  This is because three-fourths of the Natives live on the reservations. Pine Ridge Indian Reservation, while less than 4% of the landmass of the original GSN, holds 50% of the Native American population within the GSN today.  They are packed in.  The population density at Pine Ridge is over 8 people per square mile, much higher than in adjacent white agricultural lands and 16 times higher than historically.  Within Pine Ridge, the population is actually concentrated into a smaller portion of the reservation.  During World War II the US Department of War took over 500 square miles for use as an artillery range, which to this day is littered with unexploded ordinance. Contrast this with the population density of the federal lands, mostly national forests and grasslands, which is near zero.  Looking at a population density map color-coded by ethnicity, Pine Ridge still looks like a Native American concentration camp.


Children at Pine Ridge Indian Reservation.

Pine Ridge today is comparable to the poorest of Third World countries.  Per capita income is under $5,000, compared to a national average of about $27,000.  Unemployment exceeds 80%; alcoholism is only slightly lower than that.  50% live below the poverty line; infant mortality is five times the national average; diabetes and tuberculosis rates are eight times higher; the teen suicide rate is four times higher.  13% of homes lack plumbing; elders freeze to death each winter. Life expectancy is under 48 for men and 52 for women, lower than Haiti.  Worldwide, only war-torn Sierra Leone has lower numbers.  Through the early 1970s, Pine Ridge essentially was a banana republic, its tribal officials in the pocket of US political and business interests.  When a faction on the reservation protested, they suffered several hundred political assassinations.  The unrest culminated in the Wounded Knee occupation of 1973 and the Oglala Shootout of 1975, resulting in the imprisonment of Leonard Peltier.


History painted on a wall at Pine Ridge.

There is one more aspect of the GSN today that is difficult to ignore; it is peppered with names that honor the white conquistadors and remind the Natives of their occupation.  These are names that wave like Confederate flags in south Chicago, sending a message to every Lakota man, woman, and child that they are second-class citizens.  There is Custer National Forest, Custer city, Custer County (two of them), Custer State Park, Sheridan city, Sheridan County, and Grant County.  This list could go on.  Most of the Custer monikers are literally in the middle of the Black Hills.  In an egregious example of adding insult to injury, the faces of four US presidents, including Grant, are carved into the sacred cliffs of the Black Hills.  (It was Grant who contrived the war to steal the land; it was Theodore Roosevelt, also carved into the rock, who said, “I don’t go so far as to think that the only good Indians are dead Indians, but I believe nine out of ten are, and I shouldn’t like to inquire too closely into the case of the tenth.”) This was a conquest and a genocide that is celebrated today in place names, subtly continuing the repression from generation to generation, giving permission for continued repression and discrimination.  In an example of erasure, the massacre site at Wounded Knee is not a national memorial, but is instead owned by a private white landowner who will only sell at an inflated price (which some consider to be a “ransom”).

Oglala NG

Oglala National Grasslands

Despite these historic and present trials, the Lakota of the GSN today continue to preserve their ethnic identity and are striving to restore their pride and traditions, as well as meet their economic and social needs.  There are Lakota language schools for children, initiatives to combat teen suicide and promote community health, and a wide range of programs to assist tribal members.  In short, despite confinement to a small fraction of their original land, the Lakota remain in the GSN, resilient, adapting and surviving.

Posted in Occupied Lands | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment