The Deep North: Civil Rights Protections for Native Americans

Native American lawyers advising the Oceti Sakowin camp and the elders at the pipeline resistance movement are encouraging all #NoDAPL supporters to call on the Department of Justice’s agency called “Community Relations Services” to intervene on the ground in North Dakota to mitigate the abuses, life-threatening physical attacks, and human rights violations that native Americans and their supporters are facing from State and Local authorities.  E-mail or call the Federal office: (202) 305-2935, or the regional office: (303) 844-2973 and speak to them directly.

A sample statement of request:
“The Oceti Sakowin camp is one of the largest settlements in North Dakota, and it is led by native Americans. People from this camp are facing harassment and life-threatening physical assaults from state and local police because of their cultural and religious positions about protecting water. We urge Community Relations Services to mediate with State and Local authorities to deescalate and prevent the dire physical threats that native Americans and their supporters are facing in the middle of North Dakota’s winter.”

Historical precedent

The vindictive and violent abuses of native Americans in North Dakota by state and local authorities in 2016 have a long precedent in the United States.  They are rooted in harassment and colonial violence based on racial and cultural differences.

The southern states of Alabama, Mississippi, Florida, Georgia, Louisiana, and Texas offer a sordid parallel for these types of abuses, intimidation, and harassment based on race.  During the 1960s, as the winds of modernization and progressivism swept through the Kennedy and Lyndon Johnson administrations, the growing “civil rights” movement was met with great resistance in these southern states.  The Civil Rights law was passed under Johnson’s administration in 1964, followed by the Voting Rights Act.  State and Local officials flexed their muscle against communities of African-Americans who were technically able to exercise their now legal rights to equal treatment in stores, hotels, county offices, schools, and colleges. Things got ugly.  Entire communities of African Americans faced difficulties, while individual African-Americans faced physical threats and attacks on personal safety.  State and Local authorities were implicated in these abuses both directly, and indirectly, by their unwillingness to fully implement civil rights guarantees in the manner in which they were intended, and by allowing crimes against African Americans to go unpunished.

The Federal government’s Department of Justice (DOJ) created a special division called “Community Relations Services” to intervene and mediate in conflicts between authorities and communities caused by race, color of skin, religion, and the other provisions governed by civil rights.  In their own words, Community Relations Services (CRS) “works with all parties, including State and local units of government, private and public organizations, civil rights groups, and local community leaders, to uncover the underlying interests of all of those involved in the conflict, and facilitates the development of viable, mutual understandings and solutions to the community’s challenges.  In addition, CRS assists communities in developing local mechanisms and community capacity to prevent tension and violent hate crimes from occurring in the future.”

This DOJ agency acts as a Federal government watchdog on State officials and organizations.  In dire circumstances (as in the 1960s deep south) it can have the effect of mitigating excessive abuses and threats by State authorities.

We are now at a time when native Americans are facing an incredible range of harassment from the local police and local community, including police advising local businesses not to sell fuel to the native Americans in the middle of brutal North Dakota blizzard conditions.  The aid and monitoring provided by exactly such a Federal watchdog cannot be under-estimated.

The threat of an official State emergency evacuation order on the camp

The latest action by North Dakota state and local authorities to harangue and harass Native Americans and their supporters into backing down from the Dakota Access Pipeline protests came from the Governor of North Dakota on Monday November 28.  Governor Jack Dalrymple issued an “emergency evacuation notice” to the thousands of water protectors camped out near the Cannon Ball River at the Oceti Sakowin camp. It didn’t deter the good Governor that the camp was on federal land, so technically, not entirely under his jurisdiction.

The North Dakota Governor’s evacuation notice was purportedly in the interests of the safety and wellbeing of people who are outside camping in snow and sub-zero temperatures.  The protesters would, he said in bald-faced hypocrisy, be able to congregate in a ‘free speech zone’ a few miles away, as if the dangerous snow and sub-zero temperatures would be magically erased there.

To add more confusion and threat, Morton County Sheriff’s Office told media outlets that the Governor’s evacuation notice would be accompanied by state police stopping and issuing fines of thousands of dollars to anyone bringing food and other supplies to the camp.

The evacuation notice created confusion and fear. It became an opportunity for local law enforcement to create threats and generate harassment against the thousands of native people (and their supporters) congregated in Oceti Sakowin to physically stand between the river and the proposed oil pipeline.  Later press conferences with state officials offered more clarification on the initial communication, saying that an emergency evacuation indicated that the State is ‘advising’ people to leave the area because it is a dangerous area and that there are threats to their health and safety. The Governor’s evacuation order didn’t specify any action to be taken against protesters who wouldn’t comply and a spokesperson said no action would be taken to enforce the eviction order.

This latest action follows on the heels of multiple confrontations with unarmed native people and their supporters in prayer ceremonies and peaceful protests, during which State and Local authorities have unleashed violent physical attacks.

Embed from Getty Images

Unarmed, facing a six hour-long military assault in sub-zero conditions

On Sunday November 20, 2016, unarmed water protectors had been protesting a blockade made of barbed wire and concrete blocks by state police on a state highway, intended as a barrier for people trying to reach the camp.  This blockade also blocks anyone traveling on the road, the most direct route between Bismark, ND where there are hospitals, shops, and services, and a number of rural outposts and communities to the south, including the Standing Rock Sioux reservation. The state blockade directly impacts the safety and well-being of the people at camp and of nearby communities.

That night, State and Local militarized police units used highly dangerous weaponry, including Specialty Impact Munitions (SIM, also known as Kinetic Impact Projectiles or KIP), explosive “blast” grenades, other chemical agent devices, mace, and a water cannon and water hoses in freezing temperatures, directly aimed at people, at point blank range. Rubber bullets were aimed at people’s heads.  Percussion grenades which are supposed to be shot into the air were instead, diabolically, aimed and shot directly at people. For six continuous hours, State police sustained their water cannon and high-velocity munitions attacks, ripping people’s skin off, causing hundreds of cases of hypothermia, and causing some near-fatal injuries which will result in permanent disabilities.  400 people were triaged by the “Medic Council” of the Oceti Sakowin camp.  During this assault, State police deployed an arsenal of dangerous implements and devices, including SIM (such as lead-filled, shotgun-fired ‘beanbags’ and high-velocity plastic and foam rubber ‘sponge rounds’); explosive flashbang-like grenades such as “Instantaneous Blast CS grenades” and Stinger grenades; other chemical agent devices; and a high pressure water cannon and fire hoses, despite the subfreezing temperatures, on unarmed people who defended themselves with plywood.

A month previously in late October, another State police confrontation with Native American and their supporters resulted in hundreds of violent arrests during which unarmed protesters were beaten and chased by police, and medical personnel tending to hurt protestors were shot in the back.  During the arrests, native Americans were strip searched in humiliating ways (for example, male police officers involved in strip searches of female native Americans), kept without cover in dog kennels, inscribed with numbers on their bodies, manhandled with unwarranted force and violence, and subject to traumatic abuse.

There have been numerous instances of native people being harassed by police while driving the roads of North Dakota around Bismarck and Mandan.  People have been aggressively treated for routine traffic stops and even taken to jail and strip searched.  Native people have been stopped by local authorities while driving, simply for the subjective judgement by police of the appearance that there may be some potential illegality.

Given this litany of abuses, it is particularly galling when the North Dakota Governor cites safety concerns for native people, who remain, as they have from the beginning, without weapons, unarmed, standing in prayer in solidarity with earth and with nature against polluting, extractive fracking, and oil pipelines.

It’s the law to protect the human rights of native Americans.  It’s the law to protect the first amendment rights of people enshrined in the United States constitution, to be able to gather and express their opinion, express their religion and spirituality, and assert their right to free movement.  The Department of Justice must be on the ground.


About ansuseye

Blog writer and photographer
This entry was posted in Anthropological, Environment, Fossil Fuels, Indigenous, Uncategorized and tagged , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

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