Tag Archives: American Indian

North Dakota Pipeline Protest Turns Violent After Tribe’s Sacred Sites Destroyed

A Native American protester holds up his arms as he and other protesters are threatened by private security guards and guard dogs, at a work site for the Dakota Access Pipeline (DAPL) oil pipeline, near Cannonball, North Dakota, September 3, 2016. Hundreds of Native American protestors and their supporters, who fear the Dakota Access Pipeline will polluted their water, forced construction workers and security forces to retreat and work to stop. / AFP PHOTO / Robyn BECKROBYN BECK/AFP/Getty Images ROBYN BECK / AFP - Getty Images

A Native American protester holds up his arms as he and other protesters are threatened by private security guards and guard dogs, at a work site for the Dakota Access Pipeline (DAPL) oil pipeline, near Cannonball, North Dakota, September 3, 2016. / AFP PHOTO / Robyn BECKROBYN BECK/AFP/Getty Images ROBYN BECK / AFP – Getty Images

The Associated Press, Sept. 4, 2016

Standing Rock protesters confronted construction crews working on the Dakota Access pipeline on Saturday, after the demolition of American Indian burial and cultural sites.

BISMARCK, N.D. — A protest of a four-state, $3.8 billion oil pipeline turned violent after tribal officials say construction crews destroyed American Indian burial and cultural sites on private land in southern North Dakota.

Morton County Sheriff’s Office spokeswoman Donnell Preskey said four private security guards and two guard dogs were injured after several hundred protesters confronted construction crews Saturday afternoon at the site just outside the Standing Rock Sioux reservation. One of the security officers was taken to a Bismarck hospital for undisclosed injuries. The two guard dogs were taken to a Bismarck veterinary clinic, Preskey said.

Tribe spokesman Steve Sitting Bear said protesters reported that six people had been bitten by security dogs, including a young child. At least 30 people were pepper-sprayed, he said. Preskey said law enforcement authorities had no reports of protesters being injured.

There were no law enforcement personnel at the site when the incident occurred, Preskey said. The crowd dispersed when officers arrived and no one was arrested, she said.

The incident occurred within half a mile of an encampment where hundreds of people have gathered to join the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe’s protest of the oil pipeline that is slated to cross the Missouri River nearby.

The tribe is challenging the Army Corps of Engineers’ decision to grant permits for Dallas-based Energy Transfer Partners’ Dakota Access pipeline, which crosses the Dakotas and Iowa to Illinois, including near the reservation in southern North Dakota. A federal judge will rule before Sept. 9 whether construction can be halted on the Dakota Access pipeline.

Energy Transfer Partners did not return phone calls and emails from The Associated Press on Saturday seeking comment.

The tribe fears the project will disturb sacred sites and impact drinking water for thousands of tribal members on the Standing Rock Sioux Reservation and millions farther downstream.

The protest Saturday came one day after the tribe filed court papers saying it found several sites of “significant cultural and historic value” along the path of the proposed pipeline.

Tribal preservation officer Tim Mentz said in court documents that the tribe was only recently allowed to survey private land north of the Standing Rock Sioux reservation. Mentz said researchers found burials rock piles called cairns and other sites of historic significance to Native Americans.

Standing Rock Sioux chairman David Archambault II said in a statement that construction crews removed topsoil across an area about 150 feet wide stretching for 2 miles.


Protesters march toward private security guards and works as they retreat, on a work site for the Dakota Access Pipeline (DAPL) oil pipeline, near Cannonball, North Dakota, September 3, 2016. ROBYN BECK / AFP – Getty Images

“This demolition is devastating,” Archambault said. “These grounds are the resting places of our ancestors. The ancient cairns and stone prayer rings there cannot be replaced. In one day, our sacred land has been turned into hollow ground.”

Preskey said the company filmed the confrontation by helicopter and turned the video over to authorities. Protesters also have posted some of the confrontation on social media.

Morton County Sheriff Kyle Kirchmeier said in a statement that “individuals crossed onto private property and accosted private security officers with wooden posts and flag poles.”

“Any suggestion that today’s event was a peaceful protest, is false,” his statement said.


American Indian Activist, John Trudell Dies At 69

John Trudell, Buffy St. Marie

FILE – This March 7, 1975, file photo shows John Trudell, left, national chairman of the American Indian Movement, AIM, flanked by singer Buffy St. Marie during a news conference in Los Angeles. (AP Photo/Wally Fong, File)

By Associated Press

LOS ANGELES, Calif. – John Trudell, who was a spokesman for American Indian protesters during their 1969 occupation of Alcatraz Island and later headed the American Indian Movement, died Tuesday. He was 69.

Trudell, who also was a poet and actor, died of cancer at his home in Santa Clara County in California, where he was surrounded by friends and family, said Cree Miller, a trustee for his estate.

In some of his last words, Trudell said expressions of concern and love for him have been “like a fire to my heart,” according to Miller.

“Thank you all for that fire,” he said.

“John Trudell and his family ask for people to celebrate love and celebrate life. He asked that people pray and celebrate in their own way in their own communities,” Miller said in a statement.

Trudell was born Feb. 15, 1946, in Omaha, Nebraska. His father was Santee Sioux, and Trudell grew up near the Santee Sioux Reservation.

He became involved in Native American activism after a stint in the U.S. Navy, serving in a destroyer off the Vietnamese coast.

In 1969, Trudell joined American Indians who had occupied Alcatraz Island in San Francisco Bay to demand that the former federal prison should be given to Native Americans under treaty rights.

Trudell, who studied radio and broadcasting at a college in San Bernardino, California, became spokesman for the group that called itself the United Indians of All Tribes, and he ran a radio broadcast from the island called Radio Free Alcatraz.

The protest eventually dwindled, and the last demonstrators were removed by federal officers after 19 months.

Trudell went on to serve as national chairman of the activist American Indian Movement from 1973 to 1979.

In 1979, while Trudell was demonstrating in Washington, D.C., his pregnant second wife, Tina Manning, three children and mother-in-law were killed in a fire at her parents’ home on the Duck Valley Indian Reservation in Nevada.

Trudell and others long suspected government involvement, but the cause of the fire was never determined.

Trudell later had a relationship with Marcheline Bertrand, the mother of actress Angelina Jolie, before her 2007 death from cancer. She was an executive producer of a 2005 documentary about him called “Trudell.”

Trudell was a prolific poet, combining spoken words and music on more than a dozen albums, including one released earlier this year.

His fans included Kris Kristofferson, who paid tribute to Trudell with the 1995 song “Johnny Lobo,” a tune Kristofferson still frequently performs live.

Trudell also acted in several movies, including 1992’s “Thunderheart” starring Val Kilmer and 1998’s “Smoke Signals” starring Adam Beach.

In 2012, Trudell and singer Willie Nelson co-founded Hempstead Project Heart, which advocates for legalizing the growing of hemp for industrial purposes as a more environmentally sound alternative to crops used for clothing, biofuel and food.


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Does Canada Have Courage To Call What They Did To Indigenous Peoples Genocide?

The National Museum of the American Indian in Washington, D.C. ERIC LONG / NATIONAL AIR AND SPACE MUSEUM

The National Museum of the American Indian in Washington, D.C. ERIC LONG / NATIONAL AIR AND SPACE MUSEUM

By Dan Lett

Commission’s report will offer stark evidence

In the elegant confines of the Smithsonian’s National Museum of the American Indian in Washington, D.C., the bias is pretty clear for all to see.

The content in this government-run facility is robustly pro-Indian rights and unabashedly political. Elaborate displays of cultural art and culture are laid alongside shocking and graphic descriptions of seminal legal battles involving, and the atrocities committed against, indigenous peoples in the U.S.

Most striking is the frequent use of a quote from former U.S. Supreme Court justice Hugo Black who, in 1960, argued in a minority opinion on a treaty rights case that “Great nations, like great men, should keep their word.” That is a stark missive to a government from a government-run museum.

What you will not find in this facility is the word “genocide.” It is not completely absent; the museum and its website both reference activists, academics and other supporters who believe American Indians were the victims of a state-sponsored genocide. The U.S. government, however, has declined to officially adopt the label.

That is not, in and of itself, an unusual condition. Nation states often struggle to accept an incident in their history meets the criteria of a genocide. Most acknowledged genocides come as the result of legal decisions, either from a domestic or international court. In the absence of those decisions, voluntary self-labelling is very rare.

Canada, however, could find itself in the rare position of becoming one of only a handful of nations to admit to a historic genocide when the final report of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission is tabled June 2.

Struck as part of the Residential Schools Settlement Agreement between the federal government and victims, the commission has spent the last five years collecting evidence on the atrocities committed in residential schools.

It is not within the mandate of the commission to formally attach the term genocide to residential schools. That would come from a court or from Parliament. However, that has not stopped Justice Murray Sinclair, a judge from Manitoba and chairman of the TRC, from reaching his own conclusions.

In interviews and published arguments, Sinclair makes it clear residential schools were part of a process of aggressive colonization of aboriginal people. And that this process is consistent with international legal definitions of genocide.

Sinclair’s argument will be bolstered by new, stark details of just how badly we treated aboriginal children sent to residential schools.

The broader Canadian public has always conceded the schools tried to eradicate aboriginal culture. And that some of the children were victims of sexual and physical abuse so severe, some died. At the outset of the TRC, it was believed about 4,000 of the 150,000 children who went through the residential school system died from mistreatment of one form or another.

However, as the TRC has gone through its work, other, more troubling incidents have been revealed, some by the commission itself and others by academics doing parallel research into Canada’s treatment of aboriginal people.

Deadly tuberculosis outbreaks in overcrowded school dormitories. Medical experiments on malnourished aboriginal children, who were kept in a state of starvation to serve the needs of researchers. Dozens of unexplained, unmarked graves of aboriginal children near a residential school in Brandon.

The total number of aboriginal children who died while in the care of a residential school is expected to rise exponentially when the TRC tables its final report. And that alone should create an opportunity for a national debate about whether it’s time to use the term genocide to describe what went on.

Whether the current Conservative government accepts that opportunity is unclear. In 2008, Prime Minister Stephen Harper made a formal apology to aboriginal people for their treatment in residential schools and offered financial compensation. In addition, Harper launched the TRC to look more deeply into the reality of residential schools.

There will be those who will argue Ottawa has done enough to address this issue and any debate over labelling residential schools a genocide is gratuitous. They will be wrong.

Whether or not the prime minister had this in mind when he created the TRC, the final report will serve as an indictment of Canada’s role in residential schools and provide the evidence necessary to back up a charge of genocide.

The politics of the TRC report is difficult to anticipate. The country is still keenly aware of concerns surrounding missing and murdered aboriginal women and the calls for a national inquiry.

Those calls have already become fodder for campaigning parties. Will the TRC report itself become an election issue this fall?

Regardless of how politicians wade into the issue, we should be confident that for the first time in our history, we will know the full truth about residential schools. What we choose to do with that information will either define us as a courageous nation or a cowardly one.

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press story, Do we have courage to call what we did to natives genocide? by Dan Lett, May 21, 2015

Fired National Park Worker Says She’s A Scapegoat For Damage To Sacred Burial Site

In this Nov. 8, 2010 file photo are the "Three Mounds" site at at Effigy Mounds National Monument in Harpers Ferry, Iowa. Former Effigy Mounds superintendent Phyllis Ewing contends in an age discrimination lawsuit filed in federal court last week that she was unfairly blamed and fired for illegal construction projects that damaged one of the nation's most sacred American Indian burial sites. (The Des Moines Register via AP, Justin Hayworth)

In this Nov. 8, 2010 file photo are the “Three Mounds” site at at Effigy Mounds National Monument in Harpers Ferry, Iowa. Former Effigy Mounds superintendent Phyllis Ewing contends in an age discrimination lawsuit filed in federal court last week that she was unfairly blamed and fired for illegal construction projects that damaged one of the nation’s most sacred American Indian burial sites. (The Des Moines Register via AP, Justin Hayworth)

By Ryan J. Foley | Associated Press

IOWA CITY, Iowa — A former National Park Service official in Iowa says she was unfairly blamed and fired for approving illegal construction projects that damaged a sacred American Indian burial site.

In an age discrimination lawsuit filed last week, former Effigy Mounds National Monument superintendent Phyllis Ewing contends the agency made her a “scapegoat” to appease interest groups and protect other officials’ reputations. After being removed as superintendent in 2010 and transferred to the National Park Service’s regional office in Omaha, Nebraska, Ewing claims she worked for 3½ years with barely any official duties before she was fired in 2013.

A federal investigation made public last year found that Ewing and a subordinate, Tom Sinclair, repeatedly violated laws that required archaeological studies and input from tribes before they built boardwalks, trails and a maintenance shed.

The projects, costing $3 million over a decade, removed stone artifacts and impacted scenic views at the site in northeast Iowa, which contains burial and ceremonial mounds affiliated with 12 tribes. Tribal groups and some environmentalists were outraged by the damage at the park, which was created in 1949 to preserve “a significant phase of mound building culture of prehistoric American Indians.”

Ewing, now 73 and living in Valley Forge, Pennsylvania, contends in the lawsuit she was provided very little training on the mandatory reviews before she became superintendent in 1999 and that it was unfair for the National Park Service to expect her to perform them appropriately. The lack of training, exacerbated by tight funding and travel budgets, was “epidemic in the agency,” the lawsuit says.

Ewing’s superiors at the regional office uncovered violations of the National Historic Preservation Act in 2009 during construction of one of three boardwalks. After the problems continued, the agency gave Ewing the option in April 2010 of retiring or transferring to a position as a curator at the Omaha office.

Once in Omaha, Ewing alleges she learned that co-workers were instructed not to communicate or cooperate with her and generally treated her with disdain and disrespect.

“(Ewing) was forced to walk on egg shells, never being able to feel welcome or at home there,” the lawsuit says. “The fact is, Plaintiff never had an official job, barely official duties, and believes that the agency was biding time as it planned an opportunity to remove her.”

Federal prosecutors declined to file charges in 2012 after a two-year criminal investigation. The National Park Service fired Ewing in November 2013, saying she failed to perform her duties and follow guidelines while superintendent. The lawsuit, which seeks compensation for lost wages and benefits and additional damages, claims those allegations were false and unfair and a pretext for age discrimination.

National Park Service spokeswoman Christine Powell declined comment Monday. In response to the scandal, the agency has said that it “ramped up its training program” for superintendents to understand how to comply with federal law.

Critics of Ewing and the National Park Service’s handling of the case said they were skeptical of her claims.

“Everyone knew she was going to pull this ‘I’m an old lady’ defense,” said Tim Mason, a former park ranger who filed a complaint in 2010 that sparked the criminal investigation. “Now it will drag through the process and the American taxpayer will pay more. Hopefully, the feds don’t lay down and give up.”

Jeff Ruch, executive director of the watchdog group Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility, said the park service’s decision to allow Ewing to transfer was an attempt to keep the problems quiet but ended up making them worse.

“This whole affair showed a monstrous lack of judgment,” he said of the construction. “And after the park service confirmed all of it, they refused to confront it and tried to shut her away some place in hopes that she would retire.”


The Future Generations Ride

Photography by Ken Machionno

Photography by Ken Machionno


Every December, hundreds of American Indian riders pay tribute to those who died in The Wounded Knee Massacre by tracing the path of their ancestors.

It is called Oomaka Tokatakiya, the Future Generations Ride, and it is an epic journey spanning nearly 300 miles of historic and sometimes hostile territory. It will take place this year as it has for the last quarter of a century, with some 300 riders and their horses departing in mid-December to trace the paths of their ancestors across the South Dakota landscape, and find in themselves a strength and power that will change their lives.

Our history books in school would tell us that it was the last armed conflict of the American Indian Wars. Today we know it as the Wounded Knee Massacre. On December 29, 1890, the Seventh Cavalry opened fire with Hotchkiss cannons on 350 Indians, mostly women and children. Followers of the peaceful Big Foot, the Miniconjou and Hunkpapa Lakota people were traveling in the dead of winter in an effort to reach Red Cloud in Pine Ridge, where they hoped to find a safe respite and avoid further conflict with the United States.

The soldiers of the Seventh Cavalry, numbering approximately 500, intercepted the fleeing people and made them camp near Wounded Knee Creek on the night of December 28. In the morning, they gave the order for all of the Lakota people to surrender their arms, which they did — except for one. A deaf man named Black Coyote refused. There was a struggle and a shot was fired. Within moments, the Hotchkiss guns, which encircled the camp, blazed down on the unarmed Lakota and the soldiers.

In less than an hour it was over. The Indians who were not killed by the guns were murdered by hand. The dead and dying were left on the ground as a blizzard closed in. Their frozen bodies would be buried days later in a mass grave when the blizzard finally passed.

Twenty Congressional Medals of Honor were given to members of the Seventh Cavalry who participated in the massacre. For the Lakota people, in many ways it was the end.

“I did not know then how much was ended,” Oglala Lakota medicine man Black Elk wrote decades later in his memoir, Black Elk Speaks: Being the Life Story of a Holy Man of the Oglala Sioux.

“When I look back now from this high hill of my old age, I can still see the butchered women and children lying heaped and scattered all along the crooked gulch as plain as when I saw them with eyes still young. And I can see that something else died there in the bloody mud, and was buried in the blizzard. A people’s dream died there. It was a beautiful dream … . [T]he nation’s hoop is broken and scattered. There is no center any longer, and the sacred tree is dead.”

In 1986, almost a century after the tragic massacre, the scars remained heavy on the hearts and lives of the Lakota people. “It was a sad time in our lives; depression was strong,” recalls Alex White Plume, former tribal president of the Oglala Sioux Tribe of the Pine Ridge Reservation. “Our [traditional Lakota] way was not here.”

Oglala Sioux member Karen Ducheneaux recalls how that began to change. “Before the first ride in 1986, several people began having dreams about following the path taken by our ancestors in 1890 before their massacre at Wounded Knee. One of these people was Birgil Kills Straight, the organizer of the first Si Tanka Wokiksuye Ride.”

Nineteen riders, including White Plume and his younger brother Percy, and one woman, Vevina White Hawk, committed themselves to that vision. They retraced the journey of Big Foot and his band on horseback in the dead of winter and called it Si Tanka Wokiksuye, or the Big Foot Memorial Ride. “We rode the spirit trail to bring back all our ceremonies,” White Plume says.

The second year, the group of riders grew to include Ducheneaux and her family. “We were supposed to go on the first ride but couldn’t get our horses to Bridger [Montana],” she explains. “I was 16 years old the first year we went on the Big Foot Ride; my little brother was only 3 and had to ride in the wagon.”

From 1986 to 1989, the riders prepared for the Wounded Knee centennial. And then, in 1990, they undertook the Wiping the Tears of Seven Generations ride.

“The ride was extended to include the route Sitting Bull’s people took after his assassination in 1890,” Ducheneaux says. “The reason the ride was so important was because the Lakota usually do a ‘wiping of the tears ceremony’ a year after a loss. But after what happened at Wounded Knee, we were a broken people who were herded back onto our reservations virtually without protest.

What they did to our people was so unthinkable that we were too damaged to do the wiping of the tears after a year — and really, we remained in mourning for those people who died in that horrific way for 100 years. The ride in 1990 was an attempt to move forward from that time of mourning and healing and face the future as a recovered people.”

Today the annual ride is called Oomaka Tokatakiya — the Future Generations Ride. The young people who participate are now the sixth and seventh generations of Lakota since that dark time in American history, when massacre was considered the best way to deal with the “Indian problem.” The tribe believes that this is the generation upon whom its future
depends — the generation that elders have seen in visions, the generation that will restore the sacred hoop.

Ducheneaux and her brother have grown up on the ride, and her commitment to it has remained strong. “I went on four of the original Big Foot Rides, a wopila [giving thanks] ride, and seven of the Oomaka Tokatakiya rides. I was one of the organizers for the last six I went on.

“By the time I went on the Oomaka Tokatakiya ride, my little brother was 11. Because being on the ride had taught me so much, and given me the strength I had, I wanted to make that opportunity available for another generation the way it had been provided for me.”

The Future Generations Ride is about spiritual strength and physical sacrifice. It is about healing, honoring the ancestors, embracing one’s own power, coming together as a people. And beneath all of it, carrying both body and spirit, is the horse.

Breath steaming from their nostrils, thick winter coats shrugging the snow, these veterans of the journey lead the way across the frozen terrain in minus-20-degree weather, taking each step with purpose. They come in every color and in a variety of shapes, but the horses all possess heart and stamina.

The stuff of legend and folklore is real on this ride. The people trust their lives to their horses, and their horses carry them across sweeping plains and bristling interstates, through snowdrifts and settlements, sometimes as many as 35 miles in a day.

Large and heavy-boned, many of the equines have a strong quarter horse influence. Others are traditional Appaloosas. There are animals that, beneath their shaggy coats, move with the collected grace of the Spanish Barb. There are beloved family horses whose pedigrees may not be listed in any registry.

“As far as the horses, I always took quarter horses,” Ducheneaux says. “I like their disposition and their build, and that’s the kind my family raises. Some people took Arabians because they claimed they had better stamina. Those horses are amazing; they learn their strength just as the riders do. The first couple of days they are kind of played-out, but they hit their stride and just keep going.

“It’s a beautiful thing to suffer with a horse that you know well. You’re having such a hard time and you just keep thinking, This horse is doing all the work. A good horse is like a good dog: They will give their all for you; they will give their life for you. They are so selfless. I was lucky to have a few good horses in my life.”

Ducheneaux pauses. “It makes me cry to think about my horses and all they sacrificed to carry me to Wounded Knee, over and over.”

On December 15, 2014, the riders will depart again to make the epic two-week journey. They will gather at Sitting Bull Camp, near Bullhead, South Dakota, to ride nearly 300 miles on horseback to the site of the Wounded Knee Massacre.

What began as a small and determined band of American Indian people healing the wounds carried by their nations for a century has become a group of hundreds, devoted to their children and their future.

People from around the world will join them. Native communities will come out to greet them. Children will look up to the riders — some as young as 7 — and see in them positive role models. They will feel proud to be Lakota. They will feel the power of the Horse Nation.