ON THE GROUND: Marching With Suspicion

By on March 15, 2017

Was the Native Nations Rise March just a PR move?

(Photo: Max Mogren)

JACKSON HOLE, WY – Thousands of Native Americans and allies took part in the Native Nations Rise March in Washington, D.C. on Friday. Approximately 8,000 people marched that morning despite it being cold, wet and blustery; weather that seemed to signal something about the march itself, some would later conclude.

Conditions in D.C. that week were eerily reminiscent of what we experienced in North Dakota leading up to the eviction and destruction of the Water Protectors’s main encampment: several unseasonably warm and sunny days followed by an abrupt, severe drop in temperature and a rain/snow mix on the day of the big event.

The march began at the Army Corps of Engineers Building and made stops at Trump International Hotel and the White House. It ended with a pizza party at a temporary teepee encampment on the lawn near the Washington Memorial obelisk.

Several musicians performed including Talib Kweli, Tabu (a Native member of The Black Eyed Peas), and Prolific the Rapper, a Lakota man from South Dakota whose hit song “Black Snakes” has become an anthem of the Water Protector Movement. Prolific the Rapper is currently facing up to seven years in jail for charges stemming from flying a small drone “in a threatening manner”” near North Dakota law enforcement.

Dozens of Indigenous and non-Native speakers addressed the crowd during the march and throughout several days of events leading up to it. Most were received respectfully and in solidarity with the assembled crowd. The only speaker I witnessed who was met with widespread animosity was Standing Rock Tribal Chairman Dave Archimbault Jr., who appeared briefly on stage near the White House. Archimbault’s short speech attempted to link him with the wishes of Native youth, but it was interrupted by hecklers and punctuated with boos.

Archimbault has been a polarizing figure for the movement since early December when he infamously declared victory and told the Water Protectors to go home. His words were repeated by the mainstream media as justification for clearing out the encampments.

By mid-December the Standing Rock Tribal Council—led by Archimbault—officially withdrew support for the encampments though their website still accepts donations for a Dakota Access Pipeline Fund. It is not clear where that money goes, but it certainly isn’t going to the camps that the Tribal Council voted unanimously to evict on January 22. Archimbault has been accused of misappropriating funds intended for the encampments and even of accepting bribes to derail efforts to stop DAPL.

Under Archimbault’s leadership several prayer encampments of private land, well above the floodplain within the Standing Rock Reservation, were evicted shortly after the main camp was destroyed on February 23. Water Protectors fled main camp to Sacred Stone and Black Hoop camps on the rez only to be evicted again by BIA acting on orders from the Standing Rock Tribal Council.

On Wednesday, March 8—while most Water Protectors were headed to D.C.—BIA, on orders from the Standing Rock Tribal Council, bulldozed the school and kitchen buildings at Sacred Stone Camp. These buildings were on private land, built up to code, and arguably ranked among the nicest structures of any kind near Cannon Ball, North Dakota.

Sacred Stone Camp was the first of several camps built on and around the Standing Rock Reservation to peacefully oppose the Dakota Access Pipeline. Landowner and camp founder Ladonna Brave Bull Ballard welcomed a permanent settlement on her land overlooking the Missouri River, but the Tribal Council shut it down against the wishes of Ballard and other camp organizers.

“We have been betrayed by Standing Rock Tribal Council,” wrote Ballard in a Facebook post February 2, when law enforcement showed up unannounced at her door to assess conditions and the future of the camp. Ballard was not available for comment at the Native Nations Rise March but maintains an active presence on her personal Facebook page and the Sacred Stone Camp page.

Wyomingites Tahnee Redwing, Big Wind Lott, and Little Wind Lott from the Wind River Reservation made the journey to D.C. to attend the March. “It felt good to see all the people supporting us, but it seemed like a huge distraction,” said 20-year-old Little Wind. “It was all a big show, and now the show’s over. Everyone goes home thinking we accomplished something here, but it was just a march. DAPL Dave helped set this up, and it feels like a set up.”

Other Water Protectors echoed Little Wind’s sentiments, saying long-term encampments are a more affordable and effective means of raising real awareness through civil disobedience versus traveling cross-country to an expensive city to take part in a permitted march. Some Water Protectors I spoke with worried that their possessions at Standing Rock would be bulldozed and taken to the landfill before they got back. Some, including the Lott siblings, spent every dollar they had getting to D.C. to take part in the march.

This spring the Lott siblings hope to visit anti-pipeline encampments around America to share lessons learned during their time at Standing Rock. So far they have raised almost $500 through their “Rezpect Our Water Tour” GoFundMe campaign, approximately enough gas money to drive from Riverton, Wyoming, to D.C. and back. PJH

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