DAVE VORLAND: It Occurs To Me — Little Crow

One of my favorite places is the Minneapolis Institute of Art. Dorette and I are frequent visitors. She’s out of town, so I drove to the MIA on Saturday and wandered around for a couple of hours.

It’s truly a world class institution.

Photography is allowed, not the case in many museums.

Among the works of art I’m most drawn to is this one of Little Crow, painted in 1863 by Henry H. Cross, 1837-1918. Little Crow was the leader of the U.S.-Dakota War of 1862.

I was reminded of the fairly recent series about the war by Minneapolis Star Tribune reporter Curt Brown. It was titled “In the footsteps of Little Crow 150 years after the U.S.-Dakota War of 1862.”

Powerful stuff that ends with the chief’s remains being returned from South Dakota to Minnesota many decades after the conflict.

As the procession began, one of the Elders pointed upward and a murmur rose from the mostly Native American crowd. A huge flock of birds was circling overhead, then headed east. Many of those present believed they were accompanying Little Crow’s spirit home.

I searched Amazon today, but a print version of Brown’s history is unavailable. It is on Kindle, however, now on my “to-buy” list after I upgrade my device .

Amazon did display a few pages from the book, including one with this photograph of Little Crow.

TOM DAVIES: The Verdict — Now’s The Time To Speak Without Fear

Many don’t have the desire nor the time to keep up with to the national news on the life and times of the associates of Donald J. Trump. If you’re not interested, that’s fine … but if you are, you can read the entire federal complaint against Paul J. Manafort Jr., and Richard W. Gates III at https://www.justice.gov/file/1007271/download. I have no comment, other than this: Special Counsel Robert Mueller has just started to “Make America Great Again.”

I’ve often wondered how the minds of some people work. In my articles in the Moorhead Extra and online at unheralded.fish, I’ve commented on a lot of things, including but not limited to the protests across the nation. On Facebook, I may be less diplomatic, to be sure, but have never lost track of what I was trying to say.

Take the NFL football players who have taken a knee during the National Anthem, or the display of the flag before the start of each game. Half of those who criticize the players say they are disrespecting the flag, and the remainder are split between disrespect for the national anthem and insulting our military.

Some refer to what the military wear as “uniforms” and the players as “costumes.” Well, my friends, the military do in fact wear military uniforms. Meanwhile, the players wear athletic uniforms. Those who say the players wear “costumes” are plenty brave on Facebook, but they wouldn’t dare say that to any football player’s face, much less a professional athlete.

I look at this whole situation from an American standpoint. Folks say the military fought to protect or honor the flag. I believe it was, in fact, to honor what that flag stands for: our Constitution, our way of life, and — most importantly — our individual freedoms.

Those who complain that the flag is being dishonored obviously forget (or don’t know) that flag etiquette prohibits the flat display of the flag, the very thing that occurs during NFL games and other events.

Our Constitution guarantees that we all have the right to peacefully protest. There are a lot of protests I don’t like … but I tolerate them because that’s what the law demands. (Of course, if the protest is designed to elicit injury, like yelling “fire” in a theater, it’s not protected, and one should not stand idly by when an act inciting to violence occurs.)

Some in the NFL have legally exercised their right to protest what they perceive to be police violence against minorities. (Yes, it does occur too often nationally — but not in this area.) They drop to one knee, just as one would do, for example, when one enters the catholic church. It is not an act of disrespect.

At no time have the NFL players indicated anything but real respect for our military; yet some have concluded that taking a knee is an act of disrespect. That assumption is not only a stretch; it amounts to absolute nonsense. I cannot conceive how the military comes into play in the NFL protests. But I’ve lost friends on Facebook because they conclude that something I said somehow insults the military.

I don’t consider honoring the right of the players to silently protest to be the equivalent of a genuine insult to our flag or our military or our country.

Lord, if one wants to complain about disrespect — to the flag, to the military, to the national anthem — just watch the spectators in the stands. They talk, keep their hats on (even in hot weather), laugh, eat and drink. And where is the outrage? There is none … because the spectators aren’t mostly black, and they aren’t on the field.

I may be wrong, but I suspect that if those players were all white and doing the same thing, no one would say a word! Does that make me racist? Or just a law-abiding observer?

Anyone who thinks I don’t respect and honor our military either has never read my articles or is so incredibly narrow-minded that I’m best off without them. I have relatives who have served and friends who have been killed in action. I have a friend who was a World War II prisoner of war. While I have never served, I am deeply indebted to those who have.

* * *

I’ve recommended in the past that Native American history be included in our history books and that we support the Native American Museum of History.

On Dec. 29, 1890, the final chapter of America’s long Indian wars came to a close in South Dakota. There, the U.S. Cavalry killed 146 Sioux at Wounded Knee on the Pine Ridge Reservation. Most believe that was the worst massacre in Native history. But it wasn’t.

On Jan. 29, 1863, the U.S. Army’s 3rd California Volunteers, under the command of Col. Patrick E. Connor, rode down the frozen bluffs overlooking the camp of the Northwestern Shoshone Indians along the Bear River in Idaho and massacred more than 490 men, women and children. My research shows it was the largest slaughter of Native Americans in the history of this country. They called it a clash of two diverse cultures trying to share the same land, and the Shoshone lost.

In reviewing the history of other Native American massacres, it seems that many occurred when the men were out hunting, leaving women and children behind in camp. That’s who were raped, brutalized and killed. Yet none of the histories I’ve reviewed has disclosed any white man being charged and convicted of his violent, murderous behavior.

That might well be an important reason why Native American history is sadly absent from our textbooks. That omission in itself is a historical crime.

We are long past the time when we must acknowledge what our original Americans endured — who did what and when — and admit we had no valid excuse for the murders of innocent people.

We have no difficulty talking about what the Nazis did to the Jewish population in Europe. It now time to admit what the white man did to the Indian in the Americas, and address what can be done to provide the Natives with the support they so richly deserve.

In light of history, I for one have no difficulty understanding the emotions that boiled over last year at Standing Rock in North Dakota. First, we murdered the people; now we attempt to murder the land they survive on. Not pleasant to think about … but if you do, you can understand their position.

Right off the bat, someone will complain now that I dishonor law enforcement when I comment on Standing Rock. If so, they are the same type who argue I don’t honor the military by supporting legal, constitutional protest. No man on this earth has more appreciation of sound law enforcement than I do. But just as judges might rule incorrectly on occasion, individual officers can and do err. There’s nothing disloyal about commenting on either.

We are all capable of overreacting. That’s a simple fact of life. After 55 years of the law and 45 years on the bench, I think I’m a good judge of people. We have a great way of life in Fargo-Moorhead, but that doesn’t make us perfect.

The recent demeaning of immigrants and their worth to the community is driven by the same type of people who judge Americans by their color — wrong when the Natives were being massacred, and wrong now.

As a people, we have always been better than the bad that sometimes happens. In some cases, the general population had no idea that bad things were happening out of sight. Far too often, however, good people did know and said nothing.

Given who currently occupies the White House, now is not the time to be silent. Now is the time to speak up without fear and to loudly complain about wrong; to complain about prejudice; to complain with a sure, strong voice about lawlessness.

We as a people are much better than the national image 45 seems to portray. Be heard. Amen.

TOM DAVIES: The Verdict — Replace Columbus Day With Indigenous Peoples Day

As children, most of us learned about Christopher Columbus discovering America, and the celebration continues today. The truth, however, was not shown in our history books when I was a child, and I don’t know if is being taught today.

For those of you who were as uninformed as I was, here’s a little historical truth.

Columbus Day was invented by the Catholic Knights of Columbus, a fraternal service organization, back in the 1930s. They were looking for a Catholic hero their children could look up to.

As a result of their lobbying, in 1934 Congress and President Franklin Roosevelt signed Columbus Day into law as a federal holiday to honor “this courageous explorer.”

We’ve since learned that it was not Columbus who discovered this country. It was the Viking, Leif Ericson, who founded a Norse village on Newfoundland 500 years earlier.

Not stated in the history books of my youth was the fact that the Native Americans actually discovered North America about 14,000 years before Columbus was even born.

When he landed in the Bahamas in October 1492, he found the islands were inhabited by friendly, handsome, smart people who possessed no weapons. They were known as the Arawaks. He subsequently enslaved them to work the gold mines, sold native girls into sex slavery and, when they refused or could no longer work, he had their hands cut off and tied to their necks.

He enslaved these people. Conditions were so intolerable that at one time, 100 committed mass suicide. Catholic law prohibited enslavement of Christians, so Columbus simply refused to baptize the native people.

There are pages and pages of history documenting examples of his cruelty. I’ve cited just a few. It should also be noted here that most of his income came from slavery.

And this is the man who in some quarters is looked upon as a hero. In fact, he was not. No day should be set aside in his honor.

Some states have dropped Columbus Day as a holiday and replaced it with Indigenous Peoples Day. This entire country should do likewise to honor the peoples who truly discovered and settled this country, the people I refer to as Native Americans.

But Columbus simply set the tone for settlers who subsequently arrived in this country. The settlers and the government murdered, cheated, stole from and enslaved the Native Americans.

The Natives had their lands confiscated, were forced onto reservations that weren’t fit for human habitation, were deprived of their weapons and horses and were made to till land that could not grow crops.

Most of the western movies depicted the “Indians” as bloodthirsty renegades who raped and plundered, when in fact that type of activity usually took place in response to the atrocities committed upon them by settlers, reservation bosses and the military sent in to quash their various rebellions (which were attempts to live like the human beings they were.)

As recently as the 1970s, Indian children were being taken from their families on a huge scale. About 25 percent to 34 percent of all Native American children were removed from their homes on either a temporary or permanent basis and passed into the system of federal schooling, foster care or adoption. The non-Native American children removal rate was 5 percent.

In 1978, Congress passed the Indian Child Welfare Act. It took into consideration Indian customs and religion and stated that maintaining family and cultural bonds was of utmost importance. It also required that tribal governments be involved in all such rulings.

The Natives had their heroes, too. Many in our current era deserve recognition, but I’m sticking with earlier history to show where we are now.

Sitting Bull (the name given him by the white man) was a great Sioux chief and holy man. He was killed by Indian police at the Standing Rock Reservation in South Dakota. His Indian name was Tatanka Iyotake. He had resisted white efforts to destroy him and the Lakota people. He felt the whites wanted to undermine the strength and identity of the Lakota and would lead to their ultimate decline.

Sitting Bull, as he aged, simply wanted to be left alone to pursue traditional ways. But Anglo settlers’ interest in the land resulted in confinement of Indians to government-controlled reservations. That led to inevitable conflict.

When told to move, Sitting Bull refused. The Battle of the Little Big Horn was the outcome, during which the confederated Lakota tribes and Northern Cheyenne wiped out Custer’s 7th Cavalry.

History says Sitting Bull and his followers fled to Canada for four years before his return to the U.S. and his surrender in 1883.

He enjoyed considerable power on the reservation to which he was assigned, Standing Rock. But when the spiritual revival movement known as the Ghost Dance began to grow in popularity, Indian agents thought Sitting Bull was the driving force behind it. They attempted to arrest him. A scuffle ensued, and he was shot dead, as were 12 other Indians; three were wounded.

Two weeks later, the U.S. Army brutally suppressed the Ghost Dance movement with the massacre of a band of Lakota at Wounded Knee. This was supposedly the final act in the history of the American war against the Plains Indians.

In addition to abolishing Columbus Day, we should pay tribute to the Native Americans and the horrors they suffered at the hands of the white man. In my opinion, the holocaust museum that has been suggested would only be appropriate, considering what our original Americans suffered. The museum should be built at the expense of the federal government that participated in and fostered the situation Native Americans find themselves in today.

There are those who say the past is the past. To them, I’d add, “And payback’s a bitch.”

We owe it to the original Americans to restore their rightful place in history.

Fast forward to modern day Fargo. A young, beautiful, pregnant Native woman is murdered and her baby taken from her. Multiple days go by before the authorities launch a search. The facts relating to her disappearance are clear, and to my knowledge, nothing could have been done by authorities to prevent the murder.

I do pose the question — if, instead of Native American, she had been the daughter of a well-placed, influential Fargoan, and using the same facts … do you think the search itself would have started in earnest much sooner? It is my belief that it certainly would have. While that wouldn’t have stopped the murder, it would have saved the family and friends prolonged searching and grief.

As humans, we stand or fall together. Fargo-Moorhead has its own racial problems and people fomenting discrimination. We in the majority must continue the fight to end discrimination against any individual or group based on race, color, lifestyle or religion.

And on a personal note … this past weekend while I was at the lake, I looked out the back door and spotted a fawn. I grabbed my camera and trotted to the side of my neighbors’ garage, creeping up on the little bugger. It didn’t move … not even when I came within 10 feet.

Thanks, Brad and Sheila Klose, for not telling me you’d installed a fawn statue in your back yard. I felt like an idiot but did laugh. Amen.

CLAY JENKINSON: The Fallacies of the Dakota Access Pipeline ‘Argument’

There is a dreary predictability about the Dakota Access Pipeline controversy, especially in the words that come out of people unsympathetic to the protest. I’m listing those I hear most often:

“Outside agitators” pretending to be oppressed African-Americans in Memphis.
“Outside agitators” pretending to be oppressed African-Americans in Memphis.

1. There are lots of non-Indians down there. They have no business here. They discredit (here’s the special kicker in this argument) “what otherwise would have been a perfectly legitimate protest.”First of all, the people who talk this way don’t actually think the Lakota have a legitimate reason to protest, so this is just posturing. But why do protest detractors get to decide who gets to show solidarity with the Lakota?

Does this mean NO white person has a right to join the protest? Does that mean that only Americans got to protest the Sept. 11 attacks or only Jews got to protest the anti-Semitic laws in Hitler’s Germany? Does that mean no male can walk in a women’s protest march? Does it mean that no German or Brit or Canadian can protest the treatment of Tibet by the People’s Republic of China?  I’m with John Donne: “No man is an island, entire of himself … any man’s death diminishes me because I am involved in mankind.” I’m with Martin Niemoller: “First they came for the Socialists, and I did not speak out — because I was not a Socialist. Then they came for the Trade Unionists, and I did not speak out …”  Etc.

It’s inconvenient to get to North Dakota, to live in a primitive camp, to be away from work, family, one’s own bed. It’s expensive to join such a protest. The weather in North Dakota, even in the temperate months, is often severely inhospitable. The wind blows like a son of a bitch. My view is that the overwhelming majority of the “outsiders” who have come to join the protest are idealists, not opportunists. Are there some schnooks? Of course. Does that discredit the protest?

Boston white people pretending to be Indians protesting economic oppression — because they dumped tea into the bay are they never allowed to drink tea again? Besides, you are polluting the bay: How can we believe you love liberty and lower taxes? When you clean up the harbor we’ll talk, OK?
Boston white people pretending to be Indians protesting economic oppression — because they dumped tea into the bay are they never allowed to drink tea again? Besides, you are polluting the bay: How can we believe you love liberty and lower taxes? When you clean up the harbor we’ll talk, OK?

2. The legitimate sovereignty protest has been hijacked by the anti-carbon crowd and they have discredited the protest. Well, yes and no. I would have liked the protest to stay focused on the issues of Native American (Lakota) sovereignty and the responsibilities of true intergovernment consultation. But once the word went forth that the Lakota were protesting an oil pipeline being sited on the northern perimeter of their sovereign-nation-state reservation, a wide range of people who believe the first world’s carbon addiction is not just damaging historically colonized places and peoples but impairing the health of the planet Earth, decided the Standing Rock crisis was an opportunity to gather people from the U.S. and worldwide to protest the continuing growth of the carbon-based economy at a time when we should be backing away from gross carbons.

The fact that the larger carbon debate could be coupled with the protest of a historically oppressed people was bound to get the nation’s and the world’s attention. So, from a strategic point of view, the anti-carbon forces made a very intelligent decision. Whether this was truly in the best interests of the Standing Rock Lakota is a question that cannot yet be sorted out, but I see nothing illegitimate about the widening of the protest.

For the Lakota the resource issue is more about water quality and the Idea of Water (white people don’t use those capital letters) than about oil per se, but it is after all a Natural Resources debate and oil is a very important natural resource, exploited by non-Indians as dis-spiritedly as water, grass, the buffalo, etc.

Hey! How dare you white guys protest on behalf of African-Americans!!! You are damaging the purity of the black resistance movement.
Hey! How dare you white guys protest on behalf of African-Americans!!! You are damaging the purity of the black resistance movement.

3. Unless you got to the Cannonball River on foot or horseback, you are nothing but a hypocrite. Really? The Al Gore Gambit again and again and again? According to this argument, you cannot legitimately worry about the effect our industrial carbon is having on the biosphere of the Earth unless you renounce carbon altogether.

This is formally known as the “law of the occluded middle,” or “reductio ad absurdam.”
Believing that professional football causes concussions and must be reformed does not mean that you can never watch an NFL game again. Believing that alcohol is a source of liver disease, domestic violence, and lethal driving does not mean you can never again have a beer or a cocktail. The most enlightened First World countries are addressing the carbon problem with intelligence and creativity. Germany has the most vibrant economy in Europe, and yet it has dedicated itself to a deeply significant investment in green technologies.

Very few individuals are arguing that humans should stop using carbon. The argument is rather that we must find ways to transition sensibly out of our carbon addiction, which has obscenely distorted our foreign policy for generations, increased economic colonialism, permitted an unwise and unsustainable product manufacture and delivery system, encouraged us to be much more sedentary (with all the ill effects that come with sedentariness), and — yes — unmistakably contributed to global climate change in ways that have already adversely affected third world populations that have the least ability to adjust. The argument of the “Al Gore = hypocrite” crowd seems to be “that you are either all in or entirely out of the carbon economy.” The truth is that moderate adjustments of our habits would not only attenuate the deterioration of our biosphere, but permit a more equitable distribution of the world’s limited resources and increase our physical and spiritual well-being. If you believe we ought to move toward a smaller dependence on carbon, buying a hybrid vehicle is better than driving a Humvee. Driving a hybrid almost certainly makes more sense than walking to New York or Los Angeles. Wanting to lower your carbon footprint and save money might inspire you to turn your thermostat down or wear a sweater, but it would not be intelligent to take your furnace to the dump to prove your purity.

There are, of course, hypocrites in all areas of human endeavor, but if you think someone you never met is indisputably a hypocrite for flying to a protest rally, you had better take a look at the hypocritical logs in your own eye before condemning — like Pavlov’s reactionary — the motes in the eyes of those you disagree with.

Dr. Benjamin Spock, you misguided celebrity: Listen up: How does writing the nation’s most important book about raising children entitle you to have an opinion about Vietnam?
Dr. Benjamin Spock, you misguided celebrity: Listen up: How does writing the nation’s most important book about raising children entitle you to have an opinion about Vietnam?

4. Celebrities have no right to protest. What is Leonardo diCaprio doing at Standing Rock? What can Bono or Sean Penn possibly have to say about current events worth knowing? What? They cease to be citizens because they are famous? These are people we follow in the gossip magazines and permit to shape a wide range of our habits: the jeans they wear, the cars they drive, the yoghurt they eat, the way they groom their hair, the computers they endorse. We feel free to make pronouncements about their mating habits, the appropriateness of the film and TV parts they take on, the wisdom of their subscribing to Scientology or Roman Catholicism, Islam or Quakerism, but at the same time argue that they are not permitted to use their hard-earned fame as a bully pulpit to advocate the world they wish to live in?

Of course some celebrities are vapid cultural faddists (unlike the rest of us), but most of them have actually done more homework about the causes they espouse than the great bulk of talking-point citizens. I would very gladly hear a debate about carbon or Native American sovereignty or sexual trafficking or Haitian poverty or Edward Snowden or Russia’s policies in the Ukraine between Leonardo diCaprio (or Sean Penn) and a right-wing talk radio host. Let’s see who has a better command of the evidence.

5. The misdeeds of the most extreme protestors discredit the Lakota pipeline protest. They certainly don’t do it any good, and I commend Chairman Dave Archambault, the Standing Rock tribal council and the elders of the Lakota for doing everything they can to keep the peace, to press for nonviolence and to insist upon respect for property and the law.

Any protest phenomenon of this magnitude is going to attract some undesirable people, perhaps even undesirable elements. We should all insist upon respect for private property, respect for legitimate law enforcement authorities, respect for our courts, respect for innocent people who are just going about their daily business. But we can hardly discredit the entire protest movement based on such irresponsible deeds as are inevitable in any large gathering, from Woodstock to a Clinton, Sanders or Trump rally.

I don’t remember the people who now make this “bad apple” argument using the same logic with those UND hockey fans who showed disrespect for the Lakota during the prolonged “Fighting Sioux” controversy. Logo and mascot defenders rightly said that the behavior of the larger community should not be condemned merely because a few drunk or irresponsible people misbehaved at ballgames. I don’t remember the “drill, baby, drill” crowd (or the conservationists) condemning the oil boom because of a few spills or the misbehavior of some of the oil workers who flocked to North Dakota. Quite the opposite: the adamantly pro-development crowd argued strenuously that we must look upon irresponsible behavior as a minor problem that must not be regarded as representative of the boom.

6. Until American Indians, including the Lakota, solve their drug and alcohol problems, their violent crime and domestic abuse problems, their truancy and school dropout problems, we do not need to take their protest seriously. In the last six months,  I have heard dozens of people say, “So there are your great environmentalists, leaving trash around the encampment, using drugs, drinking and hurting innocent animals.” Whatever dysfunction exists in Indian Country is not without some pretty serious historical dynamics — displacement, colonization, conquest, cultural genocide, forced assimilation, etc. And the argument that Indians have no point of view “until they get their act together” is a little threadbare in a state where the white community has the highest youth binge drinking rate in the country, a serious meth and crack cocaine problem and a significant problem of domestic violence and spousal abuse.

If most white folks are responsible and law-abiding, so too are most Native Americans. We must all fight against the stereotypes and the optics of our tragic history. When an American Indian is drunk in a bar s/he is often seen as “a typical Indian.” But when a white farmer is drunk in a bar he’s just relieving tension or he’s just some guy making a fool of himself. But we don’t chalk it up to “typical white man.” Can we keep the focus here?

This is not the time to debate the dysfunctions of the Indian populations of America but to try to sort out the government-to-government responsibilities of the state of North Dakota and the Lakota Nation. There will be time to talk about social ills later. There is a significant history of drug and alcohol abuse in my family. I just did Ancestry.com and I have learned that I am entirely non-Indian. I doubt there are many non-Indian North Dakota families that don’t have some traces of drug and alcohol abuse — the stuff of human nature, the stuff of poverty, the stuff of mental illness, frankly the stuff of rural America.

On the other hand:

1. I also want to combat the argument, by those who are wholeheartedly sympathetic to the Lakota protest and Native American causes generally, that non-Indians are invariably wrong and American Indians are invariably right. In this, as in most human crises, there is no unambiguous right, no unambiguous wrong, no simple dichotomy between the Good Guys and the Bad Guys. This is a very complicated situation.

Nobody is 100 percent right or innocent, and nobody is 100 percent evil or oppressive. There is plenty of responsibility and even blame to go around. My own sympathies are complicated and mixed; and my attitudes toward the pipeline controversy have wild mood swings. My analytic mind is often at odds with the workings of my heart. My critical thinking skills wax and wane. My capacity to make sense of a kaleidoscopic and fast-changing situation comes and goes, and every time I think I know what a responsible and caring North Dakotan or American should think about this crisis, some new information or rumor or statement or incident upsets my best thinking. On some days I have no idea what I really think about all of this.

But I know this much: I want to try to respect every point of view, even those that make very little sense to me. Because this land was theirs before we took it — almost entirely by chicanery and deception and broken treaties — and because American Indians have been historically oppressed (can anyone really deny that) and because I would not want an oil pipeline to be sited by Canada or Mexico one mile from my nation’s borders and because American Indians have been so unbelievably patient in the face of what Jefferson called “a long train of abuses and usurpations,” my basic sympathies lie with the Lakota.

But I also have great sympathy with the hard-working law enforcement officers who have tried to keep the peace in southern North Dakota in very challenging and frustrating circumstances. I have sympathy with state government officials who have tried to stay on top of this shape-shifting crisis. I have great sympathy with non-Indian property owners near the encampments who have lost property, livestock, gasoline, fences, their accustomed mobility and peace of mind over a crisis that they did nothing to create. Truth told, I even have sympathy for the pipeline company that just wants to fulfill its contract to site and build a pipeline to carry the oil we all use in great quantities to market. I believe that everyone and every entity has a point of view that we must respect, even when we disagree.

I certainly cop to my own deep addiction to carbon in every one of its industrial and chemical applications, and I know without question that my home sits on land that was once the very center of the Mandan Nation. I know that not everyone who reads this will agree with my point of view, but I remind all of us of Voltaire’s statement: “Madam, I disagree with what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it.”

CLAY JENKINSON: The Lakota Protest — Head and Heart

This is just going to be a personal meditation, and I apologize to anyone who would rather have more analytics and argumentation. When I was still a teenager, my best friend gave me a copy of “Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee” by Dee Brown. I read it hard and fast, cover to cover, and it changed my life. It’s basically a 20th century version of Helen Hunt Jackson’s classic “A Century of Dishonor.”

For me, it’s this simple really. Europeans began coming to the New World (“tis new to thee!”) in 1492. Almost the first thing Columbus wrote was (literally), “It would be easy to enslave them all.” It was clear from that moment, and indeed perhaps inevitable, that white Europeans were going to take the continent away from the several hundred nations and many millions of aboriginal owners of America.  And they did. Even the expansionist Thomas Jefferson had the decency to admit, in his Second Inaugural Address, “The aboriginal inhabitants of these countries I have regarded with the commiseration their history inspires. Endowed with the faculties and the rights of men, breathing an ardent love of liberty and independence, and occupying a country which left them no desire but to be undisturbed….”

You cannot read even the least impassioned history of the Conquest of the Americas without feeling almost unbearably sad: smallpox, measles and influenza killed millions, probably tens of millions. When the steamboat St. Peter was venturing up the Missouri River in 1837, the boat’s officials discovered that there were personnel on board infected with smallpox. But instead of just turning back, they ventured on hoping they could somehow still trade with the Mandan, Hidatsa, and Arikara without spreading the infection. This of course failed — because only a racist or a moron would believe that smallpox could be contained — and the population of the Mandan people collapsed from around 1,250 to something between 125-150.

But there’s more to the story. When Lewis & Clark appeared in October 1804, the population of the Mandan was 1,250, down from approximately 20,000 just a generation previously. The white man’s smallpox had reached the Mandan homeland around today’s Bismarck, N.D., well before the American emissaries, and it had shattered the heart of a once-mighty people.

Imagine for a moment a plague, whose origins you cannot fathom, sweeping 18 out of every 20 people off the face of the earth in a matter of a few months. Remember the national panic a few years ago when the Ebola virus arrived in America. And how many were killed: two. That’s one for every 115 million Americans.

"Four Bears" by George Catlin, 1832.
“Four Bears” by George Catlin, 1832.

How can anyone read these words without just wanting to sit down on the ground, hang your head and weep for humanity? It would be foolish to blame white Europeans for the macro problem of accidentally introducing diseases for which American Indians had little or no resistance. But how can anyone justify the commercial decision of the captain of the St. Peter in 1837? If you have never read the dying speech of the Mandan leader Four Bears, now would be the time.

Treaties fraudulently undertaken. Treaties whose fine print was never explained. Treaty provisions translated by incompetent or drunken or corrupt interpreters. Treaties that were cynically undertaken as temporary stopgaps before a more ruthless conquest could occur a few months or a few years later. Treaties broken. Treaties simply ignored. Treaties undertaken with a handful of tribal “leaders” who had been liquored up for the occasion. Treaties solemnly sworn but then implemented by way of corrupt agents, corrupt purveyors, cronies, hucksters, younger brothers of failed politicians, incompetents, all of whom, certainly almost all of whom were openly racist. That is, they cheerfully believed they were superior to the Native Peoples they were paid to supervise.

William Clark, the better of the two great explorers, a “friend to the Indian,” said late in his life that if he went to hell it would be for the Osage Treaty he negotiated in 1808, a treaty so appallingly unfair, a grotesque land grab for fractions of a penny per acre, that even a white expansionist quavered to think of its karmic implications.

Treaties as a sham, pretending to have constitutional validity and status, but treated as temporary cynical fictions by the white governments of the United States. And if you read old the Yankton, S.D., newspapers, or the Bismarck Tribune, or other frontier newspapers, the actual settlers of the frontier were virulently more racist than such national figures as William Sherman or Philip Sheridan or even George Armstrong Custer could ever be. Those newspapers called for actual extermination, and the terms they used to describe the Native Americans were more horrific than terms the Nazis used in the 1930s, worse than the terms U.S. soldiers sometimes used in Vietnam. If you don’t believe me, read “Thieves Road” by Terry Mort.

Ah, but there is so much more.

Laws prohibiting expressions of Native American religion, like the sun dance. Laws forcing Indians to jettison their concept of property overnight and adopt an alien one that, coincidentally, would “open up” millions of surplus Indian reservation acres to white landlusters. That was called the Dawes Act, 1887.

Executive orders that unilaterally reduced the Mandan, Hidatsa and Arikara homeland from approximately 12 million acres, solemnly guaranteed forever in the 1851 Fort Laramie Treaty, to around a million. Those who wrote the executive order engaged in no consultation of any sort with those tribes. Decimation of a people’s homeland by way of an executive order signed by the president, a man who never visited the Indians of North Dakota.

And then in the late 1940s, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers took 155,000 of the best acres of the little fragment that remained, the acreage on which the three tribes farmed in the bottomlands of the Missouri River, without consulting the peoples whose lives they shattered. Nine towns flooded out, nevermore to return.

And when an individual, Thomas Spotted Wolf, challenged Lewis Pick in the town of Independence, he flew into a rage and swept away from the reservation in his government car and vowed to punish the Mandan, Hidatsa, and Arikara for the effrontery of standing up to protest the theft of their best lands, the desecration of their cemeteries and sacred sites, the flooding of their homesteads, the fracturing of their reservation and, of course, the violation not only of the Fort Laramie Treaty of 1851, but even the executive orders that shrank the reservation in the decades that followed.

The overt racism of popular culture. The structural racism of the courts, law enforcement agencies, schools, prisons, businesses, malls, ball games and coffee klatches throughout America.

A young Lakota friend of mine was working as a clerk in a convenience store in Washburn, N.D. A man from Montana came in with his three children, saw my friend, and said to his children, “I didn’t know they let prairie n…..s work in these places.” And left.

I have seen unintended racism perpetuated by schoolteachers trying to teach Native American studies in our schools; and overt racism practiced (to perfection) by those who turn every moment of Indian assertiveness into a plebiscite on littering at pow wows or alcoholism in Indian communities. And, of course, willful refusal to shut the hell up and just listen for once.

You cannot read about checker-boarding on the reservations, or white government regulation of gambling on the sovereign ground of the reservations, or the ways in which security guards follow Native American people around the malls and grocery stores, or the insensitive cultural appropriation and racist stereotyping practiced by the Washington Redskins or Cleveland Indians. When people defend the Redskins, I always say, “Great, next time the governor of Wyoming addresses a group of Native Americans, I hope he will say, ‘Hey you Redskins, I’m so glad to speak to you today.’”

I have heard more racism from white people toward Native Americans in the past six weeks than in the past 16 years. Some of it is purposeful. Most of it is seemingly unintentional. We all need our consciousness raised.

You may wonder why the pipeline crisis — which is not without some very important perplexities and ambiguities, some of which undermine some elements of the Sioux protest — has grown into this national and international pan-Indian renaissance and solidarity movement.

The answer seems to me to be pretty simple. Non-Indians have kicked the living Jesus out of American Indians and other colonial people for centuries, often with glee, with a Eurocentric arrogance that is staggering in its dimensions.

Some think “the Indian Wars” ended at Wounded Knee on the last day of December 1890, but that is not so. There has merely been a Clauswitzean morphing from Gatling Guns to bureaucratic findings or bribes or corruption in the BIA or high pressure industrial emplacements, like the Dakota Access Pipeline.

When will it end?

My head finds ways to understand the tragic history of white-Indian relations in America, and I never think that all of the justice is on one side of virtually any crisis. But my heart just aches. I want to heal. But I know we cannot heal until we open our hearts and minds to the nightmare of the white conquest of the Americas.

That does not necessarily mean there will be no pipeline. It doesn’t even mean the pipeline must be moved. But it all does make me almost unbearably sad.

And I’m not directly involved in this, except that I am a citizen of the state of North Dakota and the United States. And I’m with those who say that America cannot be truly good for anyone unless and until it is good for everyone.

Tony J Bender: That’s Life — Protesters Force Bulldozers Off Sacred Site

The following is a report on the events that are unfolding south of Mandan, N.D., near the boundary of the Standing Rock Indian Reservation. The story is by Tony Bender and his son, Dylan, and appeared today in the Ashley (N.D.) Tribune and Wishek (N.D.) Star. The accompanying video was shot by Dylan, who is a student at Bismarck State College.

An estimated 300 activists halted construction of the controversial Dakota Access Pipeline during a Saturday protest. Six bulldozers and other pipeline workers retreated in the face of marchers who breached a fence at the worksite. One protester narrowly escaped being crushed by heavy machinery.

The conflict took place at what Standing Rock Sioux tribe officials said is an ancient burial site. They reported significant artifacts had been destroyed by bulldozers, including ancient cairns (stacked stones used as burial markers) and stone prayer rings, an act that might be compared to running a bulldozer through a community cemetery.

Standing Rock Chairman David Archambault II said the desecration was intended to provoke protesters. The bulldozers destroyed the site one day after the Standing Rock tribe identified the site’s cultural significance in court documents.

With a DAPL helicopter and an unidentified plane circling overhead, 14 private security officers, most clad in black, confronted marchers with attack dogs and mace.

Several people reported being bitten by the dogs. One handler was also bitten by the excited animals. Some protesters fought off the dogs with sticks. While those maced were attended to, the rest of the protesters, which included four young horsemen riding bareback, refused to back down.

Security team members later told Morton County officials that protesters had eight large knives. Available video footage did not bear that out. Law enforcement was on the scene, late, after the action had subsided.

The $3.8 billion pipeline, owned by Energy Transfer Partners, is to be horizontally drilled some 90 feet under the river, on its way from Bakken oilfields in northwest North Dakota through South Dakota and Iowa to Patoka, Ill.

From there, the oil will travel to Nederland, Texas. In Iowa, protests from farmers about the use of eminent domain for private enterprise have further complicated the project.

The 30-inch pipe will have the capacity to transport 500,000 barrels of crude a day, about half the production of the Bakken. Railcars will continue to transport the rest. The site is located just north of the Standing Rock reservation, near the South Dakota border.

The reservation sprawls across both Dakotas. The pipeline has received approval from the Public Service Commission in North Dakota.

The Sacred Stone Camp lies at the confluence of the Cannonball and Missouri rivers. It includes the Strong Heart Camp and the Red Warrior Camp, on the north side of the Cannonball River, and the Sicangu and Sacred Stone camps, on the south shore. Before the protest, three boys splashed in the water on the south shore. Canoes glided past silently. One man erected a tipi.

The two-mile uphill protest march was comprised of men, women of all ages and even toddlers, whose parents carried them when they tired in the 90-degree heat.

Pickups loaded with bottled water provided a reminder of what this fight is about.

Pipeline opponents say all pipelines leak and worry a spill would devastate their way of life and those of future generations. Signs read, “Water is life,” or “Mni wiconi,” in Lakota. One mother walking with her young daughter cheerfully repeated the mantra.

The group was comprised of indigenous people from North America — including two Canadians who had promised a husband and a daughter, respectively, not to get arrested. There was at least one representative in the march from Mexico, women in flowing skirts, someone with a Grateful Dead T-shirt and a number of gray-bearded men moving slowly up the hill. Non-natives from around the country made up perhaps a third of the marchers.

The protest began April 1. There have been dozens of arrests, mostly for trespassing. The construction site is on private property. A couple of activists, one of them Dale American Horse, attached themselves to heavy equipment to delay construction. Not everyone agrees with those tactics. Most tribal elders favor a peaceful, nonconfrontational, spiritual protest.

Paula Antoine, an organizer of the Sicangu Camp for Rosebud reservation members and friends, was a central figure in stopping the Keystone XL Pipeline in South Dakota. She reported at least 120 letters of support from tribes around the world. It is difficult to guess how many were physically represented at the camps.

Gifts and supplies have poured in to the campsites. One tribe sent more than 700 pounds of buffalo meat. Another sent a totem pole. Firewood, batteries, water and bathroom tissue came in.

Tipis, conventional tents and other camping equipment are spread over acres. Cooking smells waft through the camps.

Each day is punctuated with prayers and ceremonies. There are sweat lodges. Calvert Swallow, from the Rosebud reservation, helps organize spiritual activities at the Sioangu Camp. “We pray for seven generations,” he said. Schoolchildren and a teacher from the Lower Brule reservation were there to support the movement.

Some youthful protesters provide security. Dirk Wells, 17, from Lower Brule and his cousin, Wyatt Flury-Wells, 20, from the Crow Creek reservation, were already bone tired at the start of the day Saturday. They had been there for two weeks, inspired to join the cause by Dirk’s father, Bill Wells, who proudly counts a number of chiefs among his ancestors.

Wyatt had gone 26 hours with no sleep. Kirk, in his trademark leather fisherman’s hat, was coming off a 20-hour day. Tasks include efforts at the gates to keep out alcohol, drugs and weapons. (Before the march, gatekeepers reported turning away suspicious visitors.)

Peacekeeping was the highest priority. “Every now and then, things get dicey,” Wyatt said. But, he noted, they had not once had to resort to force to break up a dispute.

As they see it, the bigger fight is for the future. Wyatt imagines a time when he might be a father. He wants the river to be there. “I grew up living next to the river — fishing, swimming, tubing. When I heard this pipeline was coming, I had to take a stand.”

Pipeline officials tout the importance of the pipeline for energy independence. Skeptics wonder how serious politicians and oil companies are about that, especially since a 40-year ban against oil exports was lifted in December.

“This is all about money and greed,” Archambault II said. Archambault II, who was arrested Aug. 12 for disorderly conduct during a protest, is frustrated by the politics of the pipeline. A route north of Bismarck was considered before being sited near Cannonball, just a mile north of his reservation. He said, “If it’s so safe, why don’t they put it in Bismarck?”

Proponents say putting the pipeline 90-feet below the river will ensure safety. Archambault II counters by pointing out hydraulic fracking has caused manmade earthquakes in Oklahoma. If it happens here, he warned, “Who’s going to be impacted — the people downstream.”

He is a strong advocate of renewable energy. As the original caretakers of the land, he said this protest is about preserving the earth for everyone.

It’s not just Native Americans who stand to lose if the pipeline fails. The Missouri River supplies water to numerous districts, including the South Central Rural Water District, based in Linton, N.D. The rural water district is covered by North Dakota’s Source Water Protection Program. Inexplicably, the pipeline crosses into the protection zone. If completed, 360 miles of pipeline will pass through Mountrail, Williams, McKenzie, Dunn, Mercer, Morton and Emmons counties.

Pipeline supporters say the tribes should have contested the pipeline during North Dakota PSC hearings — something Paula Antoine and others did successfully with the South Dakota Public Utilities Commission in stopping the Keystone XL pipeline.

She points out tribes are sovereign nations and under the 1868 Treaty of Fort Laramie, it is the U.S. government’s obligation to consult tribes regarding traditional Indian lands. Of course, the treaty also guaranteed the Lakota ownership of the Black Hills — until gold was discovered.

Critics who say Big Oil always gets rubber-stamp approval from North Dakota officials argue the PSC should have reached out to tribal officials. Activists have been critical of what they see as an overreaction by Gov. Jack Dalrymple’s declaration of a State of Emergency on Aug. 19. A roadblock on N.D. Highway 1806 between Bismarck and the protest site remains in effect.

Law enforcement officials reported Aug. 22 that someone directed a laser into the eyes of a pilot surveilling the camps, something organizers dispute. “We have had incidents and reports of weapons, of pipe bombs, of some shots fired,” Morton County Sheriff Kyle Kirchmeier said. Organizers are convinced an announcement for (peace) pipe holders to gather to load their ceremonial pipes was misconstrued.

For government officials, the buffalo in the room is the echo of the 1972 American Indian Movement’s Wounded Knee standoff with the FBI. Although tribal officials say they are committed to a peaceful, prayerful protest, the presence of AIM leader Clyde Bellecourt, now 80, served as a reminder of the continuing conflict between two nations.

The divide between cultures is wider than the Missouri. The narrative on conservative radio and websites is decidedly pro-pipeline. Some support calling out the National Guard. Others point to the oil-rich Fort Berthold reservation as evidence of hypocrisy.

Joseph Marshall III, a pre-eminent Lakota author and scholar from the Rosebud reservation, said traditionalists are driving the pipeline opposition, while progressives favor a more modern mainstream approach. “There’s always that divide,” he said. “There’s always going to be that. The progressives think the traditionalists are stuck in the past.”

Marshall said Manifest Destiny is alive and well in America. “It comes with a sense of impunity, the powers that be can say and do what they want to and with us (natives) because they know no one cares, and they break the law to do that because no one, not even the feds, are going to hold them accountable,” he said. “It’s always been an uphill battle for us.”

For traditionalists, one thing has not changed. They are still fighting to save their land. An old Lakota prophecy warns of a black snake that will bring great sorrow and destruction. Many believe the pipeline is the black snake.

Bill Wells gazes thoughtfully at the sunny sky and the helicopter hovering above. “I had a call from my oldest son,” he said. His son told him, “I had a dream that the river was all black.” It is a premonition Wells does not take lightly. He talks about the many unrecorded atrocities suffered by his predecessors. He feels their energy. “There’s more than you see here,” he said. “There’s a spiritual battle going on.”

At the construction site, where the prairie was scraped bare, the air was filled with celebratory whoops and cheers when the security guards and their dogs retreated. It was not the sound of a conquered people.

There is some unfinished legal business. The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers has not issued a formal written easement to build the pipeline on corps property — the river.

All eyes are on federal Judge James Boasberg, who has delayed a decision on the Standing Rock tribe’s injunction request until Sept. 9. Appeals are already planned. This fight appears far from over.

Addendum:

• The Department of Justice issued a temporary restraining order against the pipeline Monday, saying concerns about the company “engaging or antagonizing” resistors warranted the order.

• A photograph issued Tuesday by the Morton County Sheriff’s Department showed a security guard pushed up against his truck by protesters. At least one of the protesters was attempting to protect the man. The photo appeared to show someone trying to poke the guard with what appeared to be a lathe board. A protester was visible in the bed of the pickup holding a steel fencepost.

CLAY JENKINSON: Standing Rock — A Plea To Keep This Pure — And Non-Violent

In the southern heart of North Dakota, we may be witnessing the beginning of a national and international pan-Indian renewal of First Peoples, Indigenous Peoples, Native Americans. Anything that helps rebuild Indian pride, cultural confidence and a firm and solid assertion of Native American rights is a good thing for all of us, for all Americans.

It is past time to bring the Two Cultures into legal and cultural parity, and to end the long train of domination by the Recent Americans over the Original Americans.

Still.

My deep concern has two fronts. First, I have a premonition of violence and a tragic end to this conflict. A tragic end would mean the death of individuals —whether they are Native Americans, allies in solidarity with Native Americans, law enforcement officials, bystanders or employees of the pipeline company. But it would also be tragic if this crisis escalates, by missteps on either side, until the National Guard or federal troops are called in to disperse the encampment.

A troop-imposed end to the protest would set back white-Indian relations yet once again, at a time when we desperately need a new spirit of mutual respect and reconciliation in Indian Country. It would be the same old sad and imperial story — when local Indians get out of hand, call in the cavalry.

After Wounded Knee (1890), former Pine Ridge agent Valentine McGillicuddy declared that he probably could have prevented the massacre had he still been serving on the reservation. He opposed federal troops. He argued, in fact, that the Lakota had a right — guaranteed under the U.S. Constitution — to participate in the Ghost Dance religion, just as Methodists or Baptists have a right to engage in their religious activities. He believed the best way to “manage” the crisis was to let the Native Americans continue their encampment as long as it suited them. He believed that a Plains winter was more likely to diminish the crisis than men with bullets and Hotchkiss guns.

We must not ratchet this thing up to violence. Even if some isolated bit of violence occurs — the work of a panicky individual (as in the death of Crazy Horse in 1877) or the work of a hothead (as in the assassination of Sitting Bull in 1890) on either side — everyone involved in this moment should vow to avoid any further escalation of violence, so that this crisis does not spin out of control.

Meanwhile, the leaders of every stakeholder group (pipeline company, the Standing Rock Sioux (Lakota), pan-Indian gatherers, non-Indian allies of the protest and all white government and law enforcement agencies) must do everything in their power to educate, inform, and restrain their constituencies. It would be better if the rhetoric from all quarters was civil rather than extreme.

The protest at Standing Rock could be the beginning of a new era in white-Indian relations, a new period of creative mutual curiosity, respect, dialogue, negotiation and reconciliation on the Great Plains. We desperately need that. But it could equally be a tragic setback for Native America — in fact, for all of us.

Second, I very much hope that the protest movement remains focused. In my view, it is about three issues:

1. The siting of this pipeline so close to the northern boundary of the Standing Rock Indian Reservation and its potential impact on downstream communities, including the Standing Rock Indian community. It’s a question of what appears to be cynical siting, a siting that expresses disdain and contempt for Indian lives. It’s a question of the legal and political processes by which this pipeline was sited in a location that makes it pass directly over the top of the Lakota nation.

2. Indian sovereignty. The non-Indian governments and their corporate friends appear to think the sovereignty of the Standing Rock Sioux is a kind of pleasant fiction, sovereignty as “monopoly money,” a quaint notion that does not mean what it would mean if this were a dispute between the United States and (say) Canada.

It is time that the United States treat Indian tribes with the respect that Chief Justice John Marshall insisted they deserve, and not as occupied nations that are permitted to talk about their sovereignty just so long as it does not impede non-Indian activities. This is the area, in my opinion, where my fellow non-Indians need the most enlightenment.

3. Transparency and respect. Even if it could be determined that the pipeline will be perfectly safe and secure, the Native American community deserves to be treated with extraordinary respect because the Standing Rock Sioux are not just another county or another state, but another people, even in some respects another culture and civilization. However much we share material habits —consuming some of the same food, driving some of the same vehicles, watching the same popular culture, reading the same newspapers — we are two cultures that look at some very important issues in fundamentally different ways. “Development,” especially water development, means something quite different in Fort Yates from what it means in the offices of the Public Service Commission in Bismarck.

If you think basic mutual respect is not an issue, just listen to the coffee table talk about “what those Indians are up to down there.” I have heard that talk. Some of it is racist, but even where it is just about politics and policy, the conversations tend to discount Indian concerns; to accuse Native Americans of posturing, or (as always) of importing outside radicals); to discount the validity of the protest by looking at perceived social, domestic and other tribal problems entirely unrelated to the issue at hand.

Why is it that when Indians challenge non-Indian high-handedness, the response is invariably to find some unrelated reason to discount the seriousness of Indian perspectives, issues, and concerns?

If we could keep these three core issues in mind, and not get distracted, this crisis would be easier to resolve.

I worry that the fundamental issues may get lost in the morass of much less immediate and, to my mind, much less relevant issues. I do not think this movement should be about whether the carbon economy is evil or inherently exploitative. That’s an important debate, but this is not the arena for that debate, in my view. Nor should this be a forum for a general environmentalist critique of white culture, except insofar as it addresses the core issues that I have tried to outline above.

The more of modernity’s “troubles” that the movement takes on, the more the core issues are likely to be pushed aside, the more diffuse the conversation becomes. To put it another way, there may be tens of thousands of people who feel sympathy with the Standing Rock Sioux in this crisis, but who are not ready to get drawn into a debate about whether the Bakken Oil Boom, for example, has been good or bad for North Dakota. Or whether there should be dams on America’s rivers.

I would hope we could keep this conversation focused on the issues that actually and immediately affect the Standing Rock Sioux — because these issues are of monumental and historical importance, and we must not duck or dilute or derail them. The great encampment on the Cannonball River rose to address specific issues of this pipeline on this location using this political process between these legal stakeholders. I would be sorry if the encampment took on the character of a Woodstock of cross-cultural discontent.

It’s not for me to say what Native Americans should do in this situation. I have respect for Chairman Archambault and his tribal council, and for the individuals who have sacrificed their time and resources to stand up against what they regard as an unjust political and industrial program. I speak only as an interested citizen of the Great Plains.

I have written what I hope will happen because I want this to be a step forward rather than a cultural and political catastrophe. The whole world is watching. This is not Birmingham 1963, but North Dakota 2016. Let’s kennel the dogs and condemn those who would turn them loose on their fellow Americans.

JIM FUGLIE: View From The Prairie — May YOU Live In Interesting Times

Today I am 69. It is a meaningless birthday, in a world and time when numbers that don’t end in zero or five are of little consequence. But it is significant in that I am still here. Males in my family don’t generally live this long. I kind of wish I had planned a little better.

But I am grateful to still be here because the world seems to get more and more interesting each day, and I’d hate to think I was missing it. On birthdays past, I reflected on the state of the world. Each time, I thought that the most interesting times of my life were probably behind me. The ’60s.  Landing on the moon. Vietnam. The U. S. Navy. Nixon. The Environmental Movement. Rock ‘n’ Roll. Nelson Mandela. Tiger Woods. A few wives. Canoe trips.

If someone in China really did say, “May you live in interesting times,” they were surely talking to me.

Looking back, I can see that my most satisfying realization is that I’ve been blessed with good friends, including six who are my siblings, but more importantly, my best friends. They and the friends who are not my siblings have tolerated my shortcomings, for the most part, because they know that at any given time I’m likely to inadvertently do something highly entertaining, and they don’t want to miss that.

But these times, right now, today, right here, may top the list of Interesting Times in my life.

A couple of weeks ago my friend, Darrell Dorgan, called me on a Friday afternoon and said, “There’s a bunch of Indians setting up camp to protest the Dakota Access Pipeline down at Standing Rock, and it’s hot outside. Let’s take them some water.”

We did. Thanks to Darrell’s generosity, we were on hand for a firsthand look at the very first day of a demonstration that has grown into the largest gathering of Indian Nations maybe ever, and what my friend, Clay Jenkinson, who knows much about the history of the Great Plains, calls “the beginning of a continent-wide pan-Indian movement.” Wow. Now THAT’S interesting. I wrote a couple of stories about the beginnings of the demonstrations, which you can probably read by scrolling down a bit on this blog when you’re done reading this.

I wish I could write about this the way Clay Jenkinson has, but there’s no chance of that, so I’m giving you links to his two latest essays, here and here. Please read them.

But I do want to share with you a couple of my own thoughts about this most interesting event. My initial thought, which Darrell and I discussed the day of our visit, was that they ought not to put this pipeline across the Missouri River (actually, Lake Oahe) there. Couldn’t there be, we wondered aloud, a better place, or at least an alternative to running it under the river?

Well, Darrell’s run off now to spend a couple of months working on the presidential campaign. He invited me to come along to Florida with him, but I declined, saying I don’t have that many more hunting seasons left in me, to which he responded, “Yeah, I don’t have that many presidential campaigns left in me either, but this one is pretty important.” You go, Darrell. You rock. Bring home the bacon.

So he’s going to miss the outcome of this extraordinary event, for which we were in at the beginning. But it’s a nationwide, worldwide story now, so he’ll be keeping up with it in whatever morning paper he buys this fall.

There now are really reporters and commentators from every imaginable media on top of this story. I’ve even written a story about it for the coming issue of the magazine I write for, Dakota Country, which is read by hunters and anglers in both Dakotas, and those from outside who like to come here. From a sportsmen’s (I use that term generically) perspective, this is an important issue, I pointed out in my article for one big reason:

Pipelines leak.

I said in my article that since the Bakken Boom began in 2009, there have been 9,844 “environmental incidents” reported to the North Dakota Health Department, most of them either oil, or salt water, or both, leaking from pipes. Some years as many as six a day. People who fish the Missouri River system ought to be concerned and ought to be thanking the people standing up to the pipeline builders.

Don’t misunderstand. I think we need this pipeline. Trains crash. Trucks congest and tear up our highways. We’re going to pump oil in North Dakota for the foreseeable future, and we have to move it to refineries, and I think pipelines offer the best solution.

But Pipelines leak.

So we have to figure out the best possible technology, we need to make them as absolutely fail-safe as possible, and we must put them where, for sure, they don’t disrupt sacred Native American sites. That’s half of Standing Rock’s argument, and the in-your-face game the Dakota Access people played a week ago Saturday, hauling in some big machinery on a weekend and ripping up the ground where identified burial and ceremonial sites were located, out of pure spite, is unacceptable.

That action alone disqualifies them from continuing their project at that location, in my opinion.

Sunday morning, I was listening to my friends Clay Jenkinson and David Swenson discuss this project and the protest on their regular weekly “Thomas Jefferson Hour” radio show. These are two people worth paying attention to. Clay is one of the premier historians of the Great Plains. David knows as much about native culture here as any non-Indian in the upper Midwest. At the end of the show, Clay asked David “What’s the answer? What needs to happen?”

David replied, “Use the best technology possible to make it as safe as possible to cross the river, and then move the pipeline north of Bismarck.”

They’re right. One of the first proposals for this pipeline was to cross the river north of Bismarck. The Corps of Engineers rejected that idea, out of concern for Bismarck-Mandan’s drinking water. Hypocritically, they moved it 50 miles south, where it only threatened the water of a reservation.

I’m with David and Clay. From a technical standpoint, it makes much more sense — the river where the pipeline is proposed now is a mile wide. North of Bismarck it’s just a couple hundred yards wide in some places. That drastically reduces the length of the pipe and the accompanying risk of a leak. Further, it would be a dramatic show of good faith, repairing some very badly damaged relationships with our Native American brothers and sisters, to put the pipeline north of Bismarck. And if the non-Indian population of this area finds that objectionable, then find another place. But not where it is proposed today.

The Corps of Engineers. Sheesh, what a huge disappointment they are in this whole deal. It approved the project, giving short shrift to objections from three fellow federal agencies that said “No! They haven’t done their homework!” People tend to forget it is the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, making this the most important standoff between the U.S. Army and the Indian Nations since 1876. You know what happened that year. (There’s some irony that the law enforcement officers, at the beginning of this situation, set up their command post at Fort Abraham Lincoln State Park, home of the 7th Cavalry.)

The U. S. Army Corps of Engineers ultimately has the final say as to where this pipeline goes, if it needs to cross our nation’s waterways. If the courts don’t intervene here this week, I hope the Commander-In-Chief does.

Finally, there’s the incredible over-reaction and defenseless response by local officials, including local law enforcement and North Dakota’s weenie governor. Their first action, still in place today, was to block the road south of Mandan, hoping to create ill will between recreationists and Indians, swaying public opinion against the tribes.

I don’t think that worked. Neither the governor nor the cops knew much about fishermen and gamblers. Fishermen will just shake their heads and find another place to go fishing. Besides, the bite isn’t that good on Lake Oahe right now anyway. And gamblers won’t be deterred — they’ll just find another way to get to the casino and their beloved slot machines. Both groups exposed the stunt for what it was — a cheap shot by law enforcement and the governor.

What it has done is create hardships for people who live on the reservation. It’s going to be especially trying with the United Tribes Pow Wow coming up this weekend. A gesture of good faith by the governor and the cops is called for here. Lift the roadblock. What’s happening here is way bigger than a phony cry for “public safety.” It’s foolish, and it makes our state look cheap and petty in the face of a very big picture being watched by people around the world.

And that’s what I’m thinking about on my 69th birthday. Interesting Times. I’m so happy to be here to observe them, even to participate in them just a little bit.

Next year, my six siblings are planning a family reunion over Labor Day weekend in honor of my 70th birthday. Our family gatherings always prove to be Interesting Times, so I hope I’m here for that one, too. They say they’re going to have it whether I am or not. I think I’ll stick around. For now, I’m going to take the dog for a nice long run on a cool day. And then eat some of Lillian’s lasagna.

One more thing: There’s a lady blogger down in Louisiana who has really boiled this story down to its essence and provided some great advice, and you can read her short essay here.

CLAY JENKINSON: Standing Rock — A Time to Listen, Not to Spout

Events of historic importance are slowly unfolding south of Mandan, N.D., near the boundary of another nation state, the Standing Rock Indian Reservation.

The Dakota Access Pipeline protest has grown into something much larger and more important for the future of white-Indian relations. It is no longer just about the pipeline. We may be witnessing the beginning of a continent-wide pan-Indian movement. It involves a firm insistence that the larger American culture show much greater respect to Indian lives, Indian concerns, Indian culture, Indian grievances, and Indian sovereignty. But it also represents a renewal of confidence and solidarity in the Native American world.

A new generation of young Indians is observing the protests in North Dakota. They are learning essential lessons about how to live with pride and dignity as Native Americans on a continent overwhelmingly dominated by a more powerful culture that does not understand or admire Native American ways of seeing and making public decisions.

Portrait of Sitting Bull by Catherine Weldon. When he was assassinated in December 1890, Sitting Bull’s portrait was slashed by one of his assailants.
Portrait of Sitting Bull by Catherine Weldon. When he was assassinated in December 1890, Sitting Bull’s portrait was slashed by one of his assailants.

As we in the non-Indian community look on, it is essential that we try to shut up and just listen for a change. The truth is that white people don’t know very much about Indian lives and Indian ways of seeing. What little we know comes through two unreliable lenses: first, the tenacious popular culture stereotype of Indians as whooping savages on horseback; second, the idea that Indians are a merely dysfunctional people living in a morass of poverty, alcoholism, and failed tribal governance.

Time to clear our minds and look at things with fresh eyes.

I know of almost no white people who can really explain how tribal sovereignty works, why it is that the Standing Rock Lakota are a separate nation within the states of North Dakota and South Dakota; just how their land was confiscated by the citizens and the government of the United States; how the reservation system was born, and for what historical purposes; how reservations were shattered by the Dawes Act of 1887, which allowed non-Indians to homestead on tribal lands that were deemed — by white policy makers — as “surplus.” Most white people know nothing about reserved hunting and fishing rights, about Native American spiritual dynamics, or about the ways in which legal systems (county, state, federal, reservation) overlap and interplay in Indian country.

So we should shut up and listen. This is an opportunity for non-Indians to listen to Chairman David Archambault of the Standing Rock Indian Reservation — and many others — who are attempting to explain why this protest movement began and what it means for Indians and non-Indians alike. As the humanist Everett Albers used to say, “judgment is easy, understanding is hard.” You cannot learn when you are talking, and you have nothing much to say if you are basing your talking points on ignorance.

We non-Indians may not always agree with what we are hearing in these intense moments in the autumn of 2016. We may not always even understand what we are hearing and reading. But the important thing is that we try to listen hard and with generosity of spirit and open minds. The protests are no threat to non-Indians. We do not lose something if we listen respectfully. We do not lose something if the petroleum-industrial-government complex finds it possible to accommodate the requests of the Standing Rock nation.

It is time for a new spirit of reconciliation between the two cultures. In 1890 “the non-Indian” Commissioner of Indian Affairs, Thomas J. Morgan, said: “The Indians must conform to the white man’s ways, peaceably if they will, forcibly if they must.”

Morgan lived during the high-water mark of forced assimilation policies. But if you stop to think about it, as events unfold around Labor Day 2016 in southern North Dakota, we are not so far from Morgan’s threat. It is not at all impossible that “forcibly if they must” is one of the options that state and federal authorities are contemplating as they try to manage this crisis and clear the path for the pipeline to move across the Missouri River.

What we know from Wounded Knee 1890 or for that matter Wounded Knee 1973 is that when two cultures that cannot negotiate in mutual good faith and mutual respect find themselves in a highly tense landscape with the threat of violence not very far from the surface, terrible things can happen suddenly and without either side really wanting those things to happen. We need to ratchet this situation down, not up, and both sides need to explicitly renounce the use of violence. And both sides need to police their hotheads to make sure those vows are kept.

The whole world is watching.

Instead of exchanging uninformed platitudes and bravado at coffee shops around the state of North Dakota, we non-Indians should use this opportunity to inform ourselves about the Lakota world. Here are a few suggestions of books that would allow us to understand more and discuss this situation with knowledge rather than hunches and talking points:

  1. Robert M. Utley. “The Lance and the Shield: The Life and Times of Sitting Bull.” You cannot understand the Standing Rock world if you don’t know the life and struggles of Sitting Bull. Besides, North Dakota tourism promotes Sitting Bull as one of the “legendary” figures in North Dakota history. He’s part of our official tourism package!
  2. Thomas Powers. “The Killing of Crazy Horse.” Hint: it’s not really just about Crazy Horse, but rather about the overwhelming thrust of white civilization that he was trying to resist on behalf of the sovereignty of his people.
  3. Edward Lazarus. “Black Hills, White Justice.” The “Sioux” (Lakota) world was centered on the Black Hills. The Sioux reservations as we now see them on maps are the result of land cessions and confiscations that were never agreed to by the Lakota people. In Lakota discontentment, the Black Hills are always a central factor.
  4. Evan S. Connell. “Son of the Morning Star: Custer and the Little Bighorn.” Vastly entertaining, a kind of breezy, sweeping exploration of the ways in which the two cultures could not prevent the Custer debacle.
  5. Paul Van Develder. “Coyote Warrior: One Man, Three Tribes, and the Trial that Forged a Nation.” Why is water so important to the Lakota? One of the principal “myths” white people hold about Indians is that the “Indians wars have been over for a century.” Not so. The damming of the Missouri river in the 1950s and 1960s had a catastrophic impact on Native American culture on the Upper Missouri River. You cannot really understand the passion behind the Dakota pipeline controversy if you don’t know about this episode.
  6. Michael L. Lawson. “Damned Indians: The Continuing History of the Pick-Sloan Plan and the Missouri River Sioux.”

Read any of these books. Read all of them. They are fascinating. They are historical, not polemical. If you only have time for one, read “Coyote Warrior.”  Every North Dakotan should know this story.

We are blessed to live among the Mandan, Hidatsa, Arikara, Ojibwe, Assiniboine, Dakota, and Lakota. North Dakota would be a much less interesting place without its Native American cultures. If we want the 21st century to be great for North Dakota, it is essential that we (all of us) pass this first 21st century test with grace and intelligence.

The whole world is watching, North Dakota.

TOM DAVIES: The Verdict — Tribal Leaders Deserve Our State’s And Leaders’ Respect

After following news coverage of the developing story at Standing Rock, I am saddened by North Dakota’s official response to the legitimate issues raised by the Native protestors north of the reservation.

What North Dakota’s governor, lieutenant governor and Public Service Commission don’t seem to understand is that the Native Americans who are protesting are, in fact, American patriots. Their leaders are entitled to the same respect as our state officials.

These reservation leaders can be equated to either a president or a governor. In any event, they are not to be treated as some minor local political subdivision that state government can kick around.

Though I have never been on the reservation, I’ve read every word written about the Dakota Access Pipeline protest. Between three hours on KFGO Radio last Thursday and virtually nonstop Facebook posts, including articles from a wide range of professional news organizations, I’ve maintained a close watch, even if from a distance.

The Forum and its writer I don’t supPort would be well-advised to read the Bismarck Tribune and some of the excellent national Native news media. They might even want to listen to Lawrence O’Donnell’s “The Last Word — Campaign 2016,” on MSNBC, where O’Donnell recently painted an accurate picture of the situation at Standing Rock.

North Dakota is now dealing with many tribes from across this nation that support of the Standing Rock patriots. These Native nations are not about to forget how non-natives view treaties of the 18th and 19th centuries — or, more precisely, how non-natives ignore them.

Notwithstanding much of the mass media’s grandstanding in support of Big Oil, when one considers the numbers involved in protecting the waters of the Missouri River — I admire the mostly peaceful families and individuals involved. Almost all have been respectful. They are self-policing the clods who came to make trouble.

I maintain the roadblocks, the positioning of SWAT trucks by federal buildings in Bismarck and the reported police escort for students are gross overreactions.

Depriving the encamped protectors of water reminds me of Wolrd War II Gestapo tactics. It’s impossible for me to fathom it in these United States of America.

Another point to consider is the overblown notion that the Indian nations are supposedly occupying private lands. This is Corps of Engineer land they occupy … not, as suggested by the crap that oil industry supporters are putting out, individually owned private farms and ranchland. Asking rhetorical questions about “what would you do if they were occupying your property” is just throwing up propaganda based on false assumptions.

The courts are now involved. Amnesty International has sent representatives to monitor the situation. The ACLU is providing counsel for some of those arrested, and the protest’s leaders are represented by former U.S. Attorney Tim Purdon, who is well-versed in the law and Native issues.

It’s time to calm down out there. Work with legislators (if you can find one to work with). Let the courts do their thing. And hope this all ends peacefully, as I know it can. Enough of the military show of force! Enough with the withdrawal of essential services like water. A first step might be to instruct Homeland Security to remove its head from its posterior and return the water and other necessities it removed.

If you are reading this in North Dakota, there’s another positive step you can take. If this matter drags on through the November election, elect Marvin Nelson governor. No one owns him. He’s the only candidate with legislative experience. He knows and understands our farm economy better than all the others combined … and he will represent, not the 1 percent and the and oil interests, but you and me. We the people — Amen.