Private corporate mercenaries hired by Energy Transfer Partners sicked attack dogs upon a crowd of Native Americans and their allies, including children, on Saturday who were nonviolently trying to stop the desecration of sacred burial grounds and culturally significant archaeological sites by the company constructing the Dakota Access Pipeline. Six people were bitten, including one child and a pregnant woman, while 30 were also maced by the security team.
The gathering of water protectors was estimated at 300, assembled after the pipeline construction crew abruptly moved three bulldozers to a site nearly 15 miles away — a site identified the day before by Standing Rock Sioux Tribe’s historic preservation officer as containing cultural and historical important sites.
Native American human remains were most likely disturbed by Dakota pipeline workers — a federal crime. The site is on private land and the Tribe had received permission from the landowner to inspect the area adjacent to the pipeline corridor. Texas-based Energy Transfer Partners, in an apparent attempt to avoid a legal challenge, may have acted preemptively to destroy the historic value of the site before a judge could rule on the evidence.
It was a brutal and vicious act.
The land, adjacent to the reservation’s northern border, is within the treaty territory of the Tribe under the 1868 Treaty of Fort Laramie and the Tribe retains legal claims to historical sites there.
“They wanted to destroy the proof and evidence; the company knew those sites were there,” Standing Rock Sioux Tribal chairman Dave Archambault told the Bismarck Tribune. “They don’t normally work on Saturday and Sunday; we know because we’ve been watching them. They desecrated all the land where the landowner gave us permission to look.”
In response, the Obama administration took immediate action on Labor Day and issued a temporary restraining order against Dakota Access Pipeline construction, noting concerns about the oil company "engaging with or antagonizing" the #NoDAPL resistors warranted a restraining order. This is the first comment of any kind on the situation given by the administration and President Barack Obama has been notably silent on this matter, despite the protest going on since April 1.
In 2014, the Obama visited the very site of the encampment, Cannonball, North Dakota and promised the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe he would be a president who “respects your sovereignty, and upholds treaty obligations, and who works with you in a spirit of true partnership, in mutual respect, to give our children the future that they deserve."
Many have called upon Obama to honor these promises via social media and even tribal council resolutions, and apparently the video and photos of private security dogs with peaceful protesters’ blood in their mouths finally spurred the administration to some action.
And what does it mean when the state or state-backed corporate conquistadors use dogs and violence to suppress the will of the people peacefully expressed? For many, the brutality of Energy Trust Partner’s hired security forces, with law enforcement’s tacit support and given favorable coverage by the mainstream media, is a sign that this pipeline is yet another example of the forced occupation of Océti Sakówin (the Great Sioux Nation) lands.
“Dakota is our name—it means allies, friends,” Faith Spotted Eagle, Ihanktonwan elder and founder of the Brave Heart Society who has been camping at the Océti Sakówin camp at Cannonball to oppose the pipeline told TeleSUR. “How can they use it for their pipeline? They are not being allies to us or to our Mother Earth.”
The malicious use of dogs on the people, the allies, the true Dakota, simply underscores the impunity of the corporate power to use other peoples’ lands as they see fit with little or no regard for the wellbeing of people or nations.
The use of violence in the service of American domination has a bloody and well-remembered history among the Dakota/Lakota people of the Great Plains and Minnesota. In 1863, the Dakota rose up as their treaty provisions were denied and their children were starving in what is called the Minnesota Sioux Uprising. They were quickly put down and 4,000 fled to join their relatives among the Dakota and Lakota and Nakota bands in the Dakotas and in Canada. Thirty-eight Dakota men were hung by President Lincoln in the largest mass hanging in U.S. history in Mankato, Minnesota.
And this latest assault with dogs by an oil company on Océti Sakówin and their allies takes place exactly 153 years to the day since the Whitestone Massacre which occurred on September 3, 1863 not far from the present day protest at Cannonball, North Dakota.
In an article for Yes! Magazine, Brave Bull Allard recalls what her great-great grandmother, Mary Big Moccasin, a Santee survivor of that violent attack (Big Moccasin’s father was one of the 38 hung at Mankato) remembered about that day:
“The attack came the day after the big hunt, when spirits were high. The sun was setting and everyone was sharing an evening meal when (Colonel) Sully’s soldiers surrounded the camp on Whitestone Hill. In the chaos that ensued, people tied their children to their horses and dogs and fled. Mary was 9 years old. As she ran, she was shot in the hip and went down. She laid there until morning, when a soldier found her. As he loaded her into a wagon, she heard her relatives moaning and crying on the battlefield. She was taken to a prisoner of war camp.”
This history of violence begs the question, what was Manifest Destiny? What was the United States of America built on? Is it this genocide and impunity, this belief that everything here, everything belonging to the nations of people that already were here, even their very lives, are free for the taking? Has everyone who came to America come here to partake in this barbarism?
I compare this to the terms my Dakota ancestors used to describe themselves. Dakota, allies/friends versus Dakota Access—which clearly means access to everything that belongs to us, a latter-day Manifest Destiny, a latter-day expression of this genocidal impunity. And to another term, Ikce Wicasa, variously interpreted as “free” and “humble people.” It may seem odd that a people known around the world by the exploits of Sitting Bull and Crazy Horse would think of themselves in those terms—indeed regard those terms as the highest terms of humanity that could be expressed. For them, to be humble was to be truly free. To be allied with each other to preserve the lives, their relationship to the each other and to the Earth was what it meant to be human.
I can’t help but compare Ikce Wicasa to the term “Pioneer” which is derived from the French term for peons, lower class folks who were considered expendable and sent ahead of the regular army as cannon fodder. And I remember the story recorded by my great-great aunt Ella Deloria, a Yankton Dakota ethnologist from elders she interviewed 100 years ago, of how the railroad once dumped white people off in North Dakota with nothing but a box to live in. They were left along railroad lines to act as a buffer between the railroad and the “Indians.” Ironically, it was our people that often had to come to their aid because they were basically left to starve by those railroad tycoons.
There was a term in our language my Lala (grandfather) once told me that meant “that which looks human but is not” and when I look at a photo taken of Energy Transfer Partner’s CEO Kelcy Warren watching a #NoDAPL protest outside his Texas corporate offices on Friday smirking the day before he ordered dogs to bite Native Americans and even children and pregnant women, I can’t help but wish I remembered what that word was.
Because that is what he is.
Jacqueline Keeler is a Navajo/Yankton Dakota Sioux writer living in Portland, Oregon. She has been published in Salon, Indian Country Today, Earth Island Journal and the Nation. She is finishing her first novel "Leaving the Glittering World" set in the shadow of the Hanford Nuclear Reservation in Washington State during the discovery of Kennewick Man.