Tag Archives: Direct Action

Pipeline Fighters Arrested In North Dakota And Iowa After Disrupting Dakota Access Worksites (VIDEO)

Dakota Access Pipeline Fighters Arrested

By Black Powder Red Power Media, Staff, Aug 31, 2016

Arrests were made Wednesday at a Dakota Access pipeline worksite after demonstrators disrupted construction, west of the main protest site ― where hundreds of mostly Native Americans are camped out.

Construction has been stopped for days near the Standing Rock Sioux Reservation in North Dakota, while the Dakota Access company and those opposing its controversial oil pipeline await a court decision on Sept 9th. Dakota Access has agreed not to drill under the Missouri River; However, construction has continued elsewhere. And today, protesters targeted one of those spots.

Sheriff’s deputies spent all morning trying to get down Dale American Horse Jr, who is known as Happy, after he attached himself to heavy machinery at a Dakota Access construction site, near State Highway 6 south of St. Anthony, or about 20 miles west of the main protest site near Standing Rock. Problems in taking apart the equipment slowed his release into custody. The site had to shut down for the day.

The Grand Forks Herald‎ reports, Morton County Sheriff’s Department spokeswoman Donnell Preskey said two protesters, using what appeared to be tape and PVC pipe or casting type of material, bound themselves to a piece of machinery that appeared in the video. Authorities called the Mandan Rural Fire Department to help cut the men free.

Around 11:15 a.m., Authorities pushed a group of protesters surrounding American Horse back 100 yards. At least two were taken into custody.

According to the Bismarck Tribune, Eight Dakota Access Pipeline protesters had been arrested as of 2:05 today

Dallas Goldtooth of the Indigenous Environmental Network, said today’s act to chain themselves to Dakota Access Pipeline equipment was done by members of the Red Warrior Camp.

Goldtooth said the Red Warrior Camp is made up of Dakota and Lakota people residing within the original Sacred Stone spirit camp on the Standing Rock Sioux Reservation.

The Sheriff’s Department arrested protesters for a variety of charges including suspicion of preventing arrest, disorderly conduct, trespassing, and obstruction to a government function.

The pipeline fighters in Standing Rock have so far succeeded in halting construction and the mainstream media has been criticized for lack of coverage on the Dakota Access pipeline protests. Much of today’s action by the Native American activists opposed to the pipeline, unfolded live on social media sites.

Julia Slocum of Ames, Iowa, is placed under arrest on trespassing charges by a member of the Boone County Sherrif's Department on Wednesday, Aug. 31, 2016, in Boone, Iowa. People gathered to voice their opinion against the development of the Bakken Pipeline during a rally on four of the entrances to the pipeline construction site. The Des Moines Register via AP Bryon Houlgrave

Julia Slocum of Ames, Iowa, is placed under arrest on trespassing charges by a member of the Boone County Sherrif’s Department on Wednesday, Aug. 31, 2016, in Boone, Iowa.

30 arrested in Iowa at the Bakken pipeline protest

Meanwhile, after a Judge denied a restraining order, pipeline fighters in Iowa at other end the Dakota Access, ―also known as the Bakken pipeline― met Wednesday morning to learn the techniques of peaceful civil disobedience. In the afternoon, more than 100 protesters converged on the Farm Progress grounds in Boone, and a few dozen blocked four entrances to the construction site grounds. Those who would not move to make way for vehicles coming in and out were arrested by law enforcement officials with the Boone County Sheriff’s Department and Iowa State Patrol.

KCCI’s Mark Tauscheck reported the first arrest happened about 2:48 p.m.

30 arrested protesters were arrested and taken to the Boone County Jail on charges of trespassing, the sheriff’s department said.

Protesters are arrested by Iowa State troopers as they march against the Dakota Access pipeline near Pilot Mound on Wednesday afternoon, Aug. 31, 2016. (Jim Slosiarek/The Gazette)

Protesters are arrested by Iowa State troopers as they march against the Dakota Access pipeline near Pilot Mound on Wednesday afternoon, Aug. 31, 2016. (Jim Slosiarek/The Gazette)

For two years, activists in Iowa have been demonstrating against Dakota Access, which is placing 346 miles of pipeline in 18 Iowa counties, crossing the state on a diagonal from northwest to southeast. It’s part of the interstate route that starts in the Bakken fields of North Dakota, crosses part of South Dakota and the width of Iowa before ending at a distribution hub in Illinois.

Resistance to the Dakota Access Pipeline project has grown fierce as landowners, Indigenous people, farmers, and environmentalists have banded together in opposition.

A person sits in protest at the site of construction of the Dakota Access Pipeline in central North Dakota, Wednesday, Aug. 31, 2016. Authorities say that they have cut free the man who bound himself to construction equipment as part of a protest at a Dakota Access oil pipeline about 20 miles west of a main protest site in North Dakota. The Bismarck Tribune via AP Tom Stromme

Dale American Horse Jr, who is known as Happy, sits in protest at the site of construction of the Dakota Access Pipeline in North Dakota, Wednesday, Aug. 31, 2016. Photo: The Bismarck Tribune via AP Tom Stromme

Occupy Amazonia? Indigenous Activists Are Taking Direct Action – And It’s Working

Winning lots of battles – if not the war. Fernando Bizzera Jr / EPA

Winning lots of battles – if not the war. Fernando Bizzera Jr / EPA

The Conversation

The native peoples of Loreto, in Peru’s Amazon basin, have just ended a month long occupation of 14 oil wells belonging to the Argentine company Pluspetrol. Negotiations are still underway between the oil company and various other communities, represented by the indigenous association Feconaco.

This is not the first time Feconaco has occupied Pluspetrol’s operations. Such actions on the part of indigenous groups are relatively common.

Amazonian people don’t appear to have learned direct action from the occupy movement or from Euro-American protest traditions, despite the similar tactics. In the absence of functioning state protection, native people have always had to stand up for themselves.

Last September, for instance, Ka’apor people of northeastern Maranhão in Brazil published photographs of illegal loggers whom they had captured and tied up. They had taken matters into their own hands because the state was not protecting their territory.

The pioneers of indigenous direct action were the Kayapó of southern Pará in Brazil, who began monitoring goldmining and later logging in their territory, which senior leaders tolerated and indeed profited from. In the early 1990s, environmental destruction and mercury poisoning led many Kayapó people to support a younger generation of leaders who expelled the miners and loggers from their territory. Images of the Kayapó have since become synonymous with indigenous environmentalism.

A history of exploitation

The relative success of direct action in recent decades contrasts with the often bloody encounters that went before, from which poorly-armed Indians invariably emerged badly.

Indigenous people in the Amazon have been the victims of the mining and energy industries for hundreds of years. The earliest colonists were motivated by greed for gold, and successive waves of exploitation have followed. The violent and coercive labour relations of the rubber boom (which ended a century ago) continue to affect how local people view trade and outsiders.

Enslaved indigenous people in the early 1900s rubber boom. Walter Hardenberg (1912)

Fur hunters would shoot native people on sight throughout much of the 20th century. A good friend of mine, one of my principal informants in the field, fled Brazil as a child after his family were killed by fur hunters, and came to live with another tribe in the border area between French Guiana and Suriname. Here, and across the Guiana region (the vast area of northeastern Amazonia bordered by the rivers Negro, Orinoco and the lower Amazon), mining for gold, diamonds and other minerals has led to significant social conflicts.

The region’s small communities are held together by personal ties of kinship and are highly dependent upon local ecosystems for their livelihoods. This makes them particularly vulnerable to the side-effects of extractive industries such as environmental destruction and pollution of rivers and lakes. But there are also social and medical effects: prostitution, alcoholism, drug addiction and the introduction of new diseases such as HIV.

Mining and oil companies generally earn a bad reputation for their Amazon activities, but projects devised in the name of “sustainability” can have a negative impact too. Think in particular of the programme of hydroelectric dams being rolled out across Brazil. Belo Monte, the world’s fourth largest hydroelectric dam, is being built across a southern tributary of the Amazon, for instance. It has already caused the influx of tens of thousands of workers, with severe strain on local social relations. Its impact on a vast ecosystem – a major hydrological basin – will be monumental.

Belo Monte protesters sometimes managed to stop construction work on the dam. EPA

Protests against the Belo Monte dam have failed, as a Brazilian government focused on development ploughed on with its project which is, after all, consistent with the political rhetoric of the “green economy”. Indigenous people are a small section of the electorate, and their voice cuts little sway in the national political scene.

Companies in the crosshairs

Protests against international private companies can arguably be more effective, in so far as the directors of these companies consider a poor public image to significantly affect their profits.

A legal battle raging for nearly two decades between indigenous peoples in Ecuador and the energy giant Chevron, contributed to the corporation earning the title of a Lifetime Award for Shameful Corporate Behaviour by grassroots satirists in Davos earlier this year. Yet the corporate social responsibility activities which result from such pressures all too often seem to be largely cosmetic.

Where direct action has succeeded it is largely thanks to the construction of new kinds of alliances between indigenous leaders, progressive and socially oriented NGOs, and independent activists, including some academics.

Indigenous people in the Amazon basin have gradually, over the centuries, become more adept at getting organised and speaking the language of power. They’re now a key part of a global indigenous peoples’ movement which can call on an increasing number of activists with training in international law, documentary film making, or indeed anthropology, to assist campaigning efforts. On a smaller scale, communities regularly engage with different projects brought by outsiders, including the “partnerships” proposed by extractive industries.

However, they just as often come to regret their entrance into the relationship. Indigenous people come to realise that their understandings of fair exchanges are not the same, and sometimes not even compatible with those of their interlocutors, whether they be loggers, miners, or people looking for more intangible wealth such as traditional designs, music or ecological knowledge.

These experiences show that the conflicts that sometimes arise between native people and outsiders seeking to extract natural resources are not merely conflicts of material interests, and are not structured merely by an imbalance of power. They are on a more fundamental level conflicts of worldviews, ofcosmovisiones, as Afro-Colombians sometimes call them.

Indigenous people have made vast efforts to speak across the gap between themselves and others who live and move in the capitalist world. The onus is now on outsiders, including postcolonial states and transnational organisations, to make a corresponding effort.

Accomplices Not Allies: Abolishing the Ally Industrial Complex


This provocation is intended to intervene in some of the current tensions around solidarity/support work as the current trajectories are counter-liberatory from my perspective. Special thanks to DS in Phoenix for convos that lead to this ‘zine and all those who provided comments/questions/disagreements. Don’t construe this as being for “white young middle class allies”, just for paid activists, non-profits, or as a friend said, “downwardly-mobile anarchists or students.” There are many so-called “allies” in the migrant rights struggle who support “comprehensive immigration reform” which furthers militarization of Indigenous lands.

The ally industrial complex has been established by activists whose careers depend on the “issues” they work to address. These nonprofit capitalists advance their careers off the struggles they ostensibly support. They often work in the guise of “grassroots” or “community-based” and are not necessarily tied to any organization.

They build organizational or individual capacity and power, establishing themselves comfortably among the top ranks in their hierarchy of oppression as they strive to become the ally “champions” of the most oppressed. While the exploitation of solidarity and support is nothing new, the commodification and exploitation of allyship is a growing trend in the activism industry.

Anyone who concerns themselves with anti-oppression struggles and collective liberation has at some point either participated in workshops, read ‘zines, or been parts of deep discussions on how to be a “good” ally. You can now pay hundreds of dollars to go to esoteric institutes for an allyship certificate in anti-oppression.

You can go through workshops and receive an allyship badge. In order to commodify struggle it must first be objectified. This is exhibited in how “issues” are “framed” & “branded.” Where struggle is commodity, allyship is currency.

Ally has also become an identity, disembodied from any real mutual understanding of support.

The term ally has been rendered ineffective and meaningless.

Accomplices not allies.

noun: accomplice; plural noun: accomplices
a person who helps another commit a crime.

There exists a fiercely unrelenting desire to achieve total liberation, with the land and, together.

At some point there is a “we”, and we most likely will have to work together. This means, at the least, formulating mutual understandings that are not entirely antagonistic, otherwise we may find ourselves, our desires, and our struggles, to be incompatible.

There are certain understandings that may not be negotiable. There are contradictions that we must come to terms with and certainly we will do this on our own terms.

But we need to know who has our backs, or more appropriately: who is with us, at our sides?

The risks of an ally who provides support or solidarity (usually on a temporary basis) in a fight are much different than that of an accomplice. When we fight back or forward, together, becoming complicit in a struggle towards liberation, we are accomplices. Abolishing allyship can occur through the criminalization of support and solidarity.

While the strategies and tactics of asserting (or abolishing depending on your view) social power and political power may be diverse, there are some hard lessons that could bear not replicating.

Consider the following to be a guide for identifying points of intervention against the ally industrial complex:

“Salvation aka Missionary Work & Self Therapy”

Allies all too often carry romantic notions of oppressed folks they wish to “help.” These are the ally “saviors” who see victims and tokens instead of people.

This victimization becomes a fetish for the worst of the allies in forms of exotification, manarchism, ‘splaining, POC sexploitation, etc. This kind of relationship generally fosters exploitation between both the oppressed and oppressor. The ally and the allied-with become entangled in an abusive relationship. Generally neither can see it until it’s too late. This relationship can also digress into co-dependency which means they have robbed each other of their own power. Ally “saviors” have a tendency to create dependency on them and their function as support. No one is here to be saved, we don’t need “missionary allies” or pity.

Guilt is also a primary ally motivating factor. Even if never admitted, guilt & shame generally function as motivators in the consciousness of an oppressor who realizes that they are operating on the wrong side. While guilt and shame are very powerful emotions, think about what you’re doing before you make another community’s struggle into your therapy session. Of course, acts of resistance and liberation can be healing, but tackling guilt, shame, and other trauma require a much different focus, or at least an explicit and consensual focus. What kind of relationships are built on guilt and shame?

“Exploitation & Co-optation”

Those who co-opt are only there to advance self interests (usually it’s either notoriety or financial). As these “allies” seek to impose their agenda, they out themselves. The ‘radical’ more militant-than-thou “grassroots” organizers are keen on seeking out “sexy” issues to co-opt (for notoriety/ego/super ally/most radical ally) and they set the terms of engagement or dictate what struggles get amplified or marginalized irregardless of whose homelands they’re operating on. The nonprofit establishment or non-profit industrial complex (NPIC) also seeks out “sexy” or “fundable” issues to co-opt and exploit as these are ripe for the grant funding that they covet. Too often, Indigenous liberation struggles for life and land, by nature, directly confront the entire framework to which this colonial & capitalist society is based on. This is threatening to potential capitalist funders so some groups are forced to compromise radical or liberatory work for funding, others become alienated and further invisibilized or subordinated to tokenism. Co-opters most often show up to the fight when the battle has already escalated and it’s a little too late.

These entities almost always propose trainings, workshops, action camps, and offer other specialized expertise in acts of patronization. These folks are generally paid huge salaries for their “professional” activism, get over-inflated grants for logistics and “organizational capacity building”, and struggles may become further exploited as “poster struggles” for their funders. Additionally, these skills most likely already exist within the communities or they are tendencies that need only be provoked into action.

These aren’t just dynamics practiced by large so-called non-governmental organizations (NGOs), individuals are adept at this self-serving tactic as well.

Co-optation also functions as a form of liberalism. Allyship can perpetuate a neutralizing dynamic by co-opting original liberatory intent into a reformist agenda.

Certain folks in the struggles (usually movement “personalities”) who don’t upset the ally establishment status quo can be rewarded with inclusion in the ally industry.

“Self proclaiming/confessional Allies”ally-badge

All too often folks show up with an, “I am here to support you!” attitude that they wear like a badge. Ultimately making struggles out to feel like an extracurricular activity that they are getting “ally points” for. Self-asserted allies may even have anti-oppression principles and values as window dressing. Perhaps you’ve seen this quote by Lilla Watson on their materials: “If you come here to help me, you’re wasting your time. If you come because your liberation is bound up with mine, then let us work together.” They are keen to posture, but their actions are inconsistent with their assertions.

Meaningful alliances aren’t imposed, they are consented upon. The self-proclaimed allies have no intention to abolish the entitlement that compelled them to impose their relationship upon those they claim to ally with.


Parachuters rush to the front lines seemingly from out-of-nowhere. They literally move from one hot or sexy spot to the next. They also fall under the “savior” & “self-proclaimed” categories as they mostly come from specialized institutes, organizations, & think-tanks. They’ve been through the trainings, workshops, lectures, etc., they are the “experts” so they know “what is best.”

This paternalistic attitude is implicit in the structures (non-profits, institutes, etc) these “allies” derive their awareness of the “issues” from. Even if they reject their own non-profit programming, they are ultimately reactionary, entitled, and patronizing, or positioning with power-over, those they proclaim allyship with. It’s structural patronization that is rooted in the same dominion of hetero-patriarchal white supremacy.
Parachuters are usually missionaries with more funding.

“Academics, & Intellectuals”

Although sometimes directly from communities in struggle, intellectuals and academics also fit neatly in all of these categories. Their role in struggle can be extremely patronizing.

In many cases the academic maintains institutional power above the knowledge and skill base of the community/ies in struggle. Intellectuals are most often fixated on un-learning oppression. These lot generally don’t have their feet on the ground, but are quick to be critical of those who do.

Should we desire to merely “unlearn” oppression, or to smash it to fucking pieces, and have it’s very existence gone?

An accomplice as academic would seek ways to leverage resources and material support and/or betray their institution to further liberation struggles. An intellectual accomplice would strategize with, not for and not be afraid to pick up a hammer.


Gatekeepers seek power over, not with, others. They are known for the tactics of controlling and/or withholding information, resources, connections, support, etc. Gatekeepers come from the outside and from within. When exposed they are usually rendered ineffective (so long as there are effective accountability/responsibility mechanisms).  Gatekeeping individuals and organizations, like “savior allies,” also have tendency to create dependency on them and their function as support. They have a tendency to dominate or control.

“Navigators & Floaters”

The “navigating” ally is someone who is familiar or skilled in jargon and maneuvers through spaces or struggles yet doesn’t have meaningful dialogue (by avoiding debates or remaining silent) or take meaningful action beyond their personal comfort zones (this exists with entire organizations too). They uphold their power and, by extension, the dominant power structures by not directly attacking them.

“Ally” here is more clearly defined as the act of making personal projects out of other folk’s oppression. These are lifestyle allies who act like passively participating or simply using the right terminology is support. When shit goes down they are the first to bail. They don’t stick around to take responsibility for their behavior. When confronted they often blame others and attempt to dismiss or delegitimize concerns.

Accomplices aren’t afraid to engage in uncomfortable/unsettling/ challenging debates or discussions.

Floaters are “allies” that hop from group to group and issue to issue, never being committed enough but always wanting their presence felt and their voices heard. They tend to disappear when it comes down to being held accountable or taking responsibility for fucked up behavior.

Floaters are folks you can trust to tell the cops to “fuck off” but never engage in mutual risk, constantly put others at risk, are quick to be authoritarian about other peoples over stepping privileges, but never check their own. They basically are action junkie tourists who never want to be part of paying the price, the planning, or the responsibility but always want to be held up as worthy of being respected for “having been there” when a rock needed throwing, bloc needs forming, etc.

This dynamic is also important to be aware of for threats of infiltration. Provocateurs are notorious floaters going from place to place never being accountable to their words or actions.

Infiltration doesn’t necessarily have to come from the state, the same impacts can occur by “well meaning” allies. It’s important to note that calling out infiltrators bears serious implications and shouldn’t be attempted without concrete evidence.

“Acts of Resignation”

Resignation of agency is a by-product of the allyship establishment. At first the dynamic may not seem problematic, after all, why would it be an issue with those who benefit from systems of oppression to reject or distance themselves from those benefits and behaviors (like entitlement, etc) that accompany them? In the worst cases, “allies” themselves act paralyzed believing it’s their duty as a “good ally.” There is a difference between acting for others, with others, and for one’s own interests, be explicit.

You wouldn’t find an accomplice resigning their agency, or capabilities as an act of “support.” They would find creative ways to weaponize their privilege (or more clearly, their rewards of being part of an oppressor class) as an expression of social war. Otherwise we end up with a bunch of anti-civ/primitivist appropriators or anarcho-hipsters, when saboteurs would be preferred.

Suggestions for some ways forward for anti-colonial accomplices:

Allyship is the corruption of radical spirit and imagination, it’s the dead end of decolonization.

The ally establishment co-opts decolonization as a banner to fly at its unending anti-oppression gala. What is not understood is that decolonization is a threat to the very existence of settler “allies.” No matter how liberated you are, if you are still occupying Indigenous lands you are still a colonizer.

Decolonization (the process of restoring Indigenous identity) can be very personal and should be differentiated, though not disconnected, from anti-colonial struggle.

The work of an accomplice in anti-colonial struggle is to attack colonial structures & ideas.

The starting point is to articulate your relationship to Indigenous Peoples whose lands you are occupying. This is beyond acknowledgment or recognition. This can be particularly challenging for “non-federally recognized” Indigenous Peoples as they are invisiblized by the state and by the invaders occupying their homelands.

It may take time to establish lines of communication especially as some folks may have already been burnt by outsiders. If you do not know where or how to contact folks, do some ground work, research (but don’t rely on anthropological sources, they are euro-centric), and pay attention. Try to more listening than speaking and planning.

In long-term struggles communication may be ruptured between various factions, there are no easy ways to address this. Don’t try to work the situation out, but communicate openly with consideration of the points below.

Sometimes other Indigenous Peoples are “guests” on other’s homelands yet are tokenized as the Indigenous representatives for the “local struggles”. This dynamic also perpetuates settler colonialism. A lot of people also assume Indigenous folks are all on the same page “politically,” we’re definitely not.

While there may be times folks have the capacity and patience to do so, be aware of the dynamics perpetuated by hand-holding. Understand that it is not our responsibility to hold your hand through a process to be an accomplice.

Accomplices listen with respect for the range of cultural practices and dynamics that exists within various Indigenous communities. Accomplices aren’t motivated by personal guilt or shame, they may have their own agenda but they are explicit.

Accomplices are realized through mutual consent and build trust. They don’t just have our backs, they are at our side, or in their own spaces confronting and unsettling colonialism.

As accomplices we are compelled to become accountable and responsible to each other, that is the nature of trust.

Don’t wait around for anyone to proclaim you to be an accomplice, you certainly cannot proclaim it yourself. You just are or you are not. The lines of oppression are already drawn. Direct action is really the best and may be the only way to learn what it is to be an accomplice. We’re in a fight, so be ready for confrontation and consequence.

If you are wondering whether to get involved with or to support an organization:

Be suspect of anyone and any organization who professes allyship, decolonization work, and/or wears their relationships with Indigenous Peoples as at badge.

Use some of the points above to determine primary motives.

Look at the organizations funding. Who is getting paid? How are they transparent? Who’s defining the terms? Who sets the agenda? Do campaigns align with what the needs are on the ground?

Are there local grassroots Indigenous People directly involved with the decision making?

This article was originally published by Indigenous Action Media


From the Red Power Movement to Idle No More

Indian Power Blockade

Native American protest, 1971

A former member of the American Indian Movement looked back at the days of Red Power and said, “I didn’t think of it as ‘a string of successes’ at the time, but I guess that’s what it was.  It was a time when you questioned things, when what you hadn’t really thought about became pretty obvious. It was a time when you could make a difference.

Red Power stands for mass, united, militant action. Red Power, like Black Power, set off a wave of action and a level of consciousness in both the indigenous and non-indigenous communities, which has never really ended. Before we get to the parallels between the Red Power movement and Idle No More, let’s look at the international context in which it took place, some of the key events of the older movement, some of the debates that arose during this period, as well as the legacy left behind by this movement.

Most scholars date the movement as roughly between 1969 and 1978, covering events that took place in North America. The end of the 1960s marked the end of the post-war economic boom, and the beginning of a series of recessions. When the economy is in crisis, the corporations and the governments that serve them need to obtain their profits in increasingly aggressive ways. In Canada, the search for new sources of oil, gas and electricity, led to a head-on collision with indigenous communities.

At the same time, there was inspiration from anti-war and liberation movements. As one historian of the movement described the Alcatraz occupation: “The occupation and the Red Power Indian activist movement that followed in its wake took their places alongside the civil rights movement, the black power movement, the anti-Vietnam War movement, and the many other movements dramatizing the grievances of and demanding rights for women, Latinos, Asians, gays, the poor, and the disabled.”

Members of the Black Panther party in Oakland, California protested a new ban on firearms in front of the California capitol building. Over 30 members were arrested and co-founder Bobby Seale was taken into custody.

Members of the Black Panther party in Oakland, protested a firearms ban in front of the California capitol building. Over 30 members were arrested.

American Indian Movement

As early as June 1961, representatives from more than 60 tribes met in Chicago and issued a “Declaration of Indian Purpose”, and growing out of this was the National Indian Youth Council” (NIYC) of young, mainly urban native activists. It was one of the first native activist organizations formed during the civil rights era. Indigenous people adapted the civil rights’ sit-in’s to “fish-ins”: fishing “illegally” in waters traditionally used by native people, and the precipitating events were court restrictions on native fishing. The fish-ins resulted in legal victories, but equally important organizational lessons including alliances between local tribal groups and national organizations, and attracting media attention to influence popular opinion and the courts.

In 1968, The American Indian Movement, best known as AIM, was formed in Minneapolis Minnesota.  It was inspired by the Black Panthers and was set up to address similar problems: police harassment, racism and poverty. It had its strongest bases in urban settings, but quickly became known on large reserves across the US and Canada. The best known AIM leaders were Russell Means, Dennis Banks and Leonard Peltier.

The 1969 occupation of Alcatraz Island in San Franciso, was a turning point: led not by local tribes but by a “national” or supra-tribal organization (in this case the “Indians of All Tribes”), and activists began targeting urban centres and/or national monuments or property as “surplus” government land that belonged to the indigenous people.

The occupation began with just over 80 indigenous people on November 20, 1969. Due to the high level of political consciousness that had developed by 1969, there was tremendous solidarity with the occupation—because of the success of battles fought by other minorities, e.g. blacks, and the Vietnamese abroad, and the awareness of the hypocrisy of government policy. The native activists also drew in celebrities like Dick Gregory, Marlon Brando (who refused his Oscar because of the federal government’s treatment of native people), Johnny Cash and Buffy Sainte-Marie.

The Alcatraz occupation lasted 19 months. The impact was electric and widespread. As one person said, “Every once in a while something happens that can alter the whole shape of a people’s history. This only happens once in a generation or lifetime. The big one was Alcatraz.”

Another important event was the “Trail of Broken Treaties”, a caravan of hundreds of indigenous activists from across the country to the federal Bureau of Indian Affairs (BIA) building in Washington in November, 1972, immediately prior to the presidential election.

There was also a shift to longer-term occupations in the early 1970s.  The most famous of these was at Wounded Knee in the Pine Ridge reservation in South Dakota (the place of the US massacre of the Lakota Sioux in 1890). The conflict in Wounded Knee was related to the internal divisions in the tribe (Oglala Lakota Sioux) over its chair, Richard Wilson, who some saw as corrupt and totally co-opted by the BIA. Wilson’s opponents, supported by 250 AIM members from outside Wounded Knee, led a siege for 71 days.

An American Indian Movement (AIM) guard posted at a roadblock outside Wounded Knee, South Dakota, in February 1973.

An American Indian Movement (AIM) guard posted at a roadblock outside Wounded Knee, South Dakota, in February 1973.

Subsequent tribal-based occupations occurred in 1974 and 1975, and were of varying duration, in locations everywhere from New York state, to Wisconsin, New Mexico, South Dakota and Washington.

In the early 1970s, there was a shift from “supra-tribal” events to issues more rooted in specific communities, and AIM re-focussed from the city to the reservations. By 1975, AIM began to make a priority of establishing or strengthening connections with indigenous peoples internationally, leading to an AIM offshoot called the International Indian Treaty Council.

Red Power movement

The precipitating event for the Red Power movement in Canada was the federal government’s release of its “Statement of the Government of Canada on Indian Policy” or a “White Paper” for discussion, in June, 1969—the same year as the Alcatraz occupation. This document sought to extinguish all distinct status for First Nations people, the very status guaranteed under existing laws. The White Paper would have been the death knell of distinct First Nations cultures and rights, as paltry as these rights were under the Indian Act (enacted in 1876). The assimilation goal that underpinned the White Paper represented a continuation of longstanding colonial policy of the Canadian state.

As the First Nations writer James Burke noted: “Given all this , one would think that the Indian’s special status is more of a millstone than a crutch. Not from the Indian’s standpoint, though, for poor housing is better than no housing, inadequate education is better than no education, and inferior medical care is better than no medical care…But there’s more to it than that. There’s the land – the land upon which thousands of Indian people reside and believe to be theirs, as well as other vast tracts which they claim belong to them due to treaty or aboriginal rights. Without land, Indians would be unable to sustain the idea of native nationhood. As they would put it: where there’s land, there’s hope. Hope for independence both cultural and economic.”

But Red power was already evident in Canada before the release of the White Paper. In March, 1969 at a conference of the Manitoba Indian and Metis Conference, Jeannette Corbiere from Toronto stated: “the only way to gain equality is not to ask for it, but rather to lay claim on it… We will not only rock the boat, we will sink it if need be.”

Key events

What is striking about the Red Power era, and what distinguished it from other periods of native resistance, is the frequency of actions taken, and the direct action focus they took—as opposed to the lobbying efforts which were the main tactic used previously.

In January 1970, 200 Indians and Metis occupied the Alberta “New Start” Centre in Lac La Biche because the government cancelled its research programs. The summer of 1973 saw the occupation of the office of the Department of Indian Affairs in Ottawa, and the occupation of the Minister of Indian Affairs office in Kenora. The summer of 1973 also saw the Cache Creek, BC highway blockade to protest poor housing conditions on reserve. On October 16, 1973, hundreds of Mohawks fought police and smashed windows of band council offices on the Caughnawaga reserve in Quebec.

The 1974 armed occupation of Anicinabe Park, near Kenora, Ontario.

The 1974 armed occupation of Anicinabe Park, near Kenora, Ontario.

The year 1974 was seen by some as the turning point in the Red Power movement in Canada. One of the key events was the occupation of Anicinabe (municipal) Park in Kenora, Ontario, in July 1974. Louis Cameron from the nearby White Dog reserve organized a conference in the park, but participants decided they needed to do more to assert their rights and make their demands heard. An Ojibway group said the park had been wrongfully taken from them by the city of Kenora in 1959, to whom it had been sold by the federal government without Ojibway permission.

But the July conference created an atmosphere to articulate other demands e.g. an end to police harassment in Kenora, better medical and dental services, removal of a particular judge (S.J. Nottingham), creation of a police college for First Nations peoples and cultural training for white police, creation of a local human rights committee, and appointment of First Nations justices of the peace.

This occupation was the first time in this period that First Nations people used arms to increase pressure to ensure their rights.  The occupation lasted 39 days, involving a stand-off between 100 First Nations participants (including support from members of AIM) and police. There were dozens of arrests but subsequent acquittals, and the leaders of the main national First Nations political bodies spoke out against the action as condoning violence.

The next main event that year occurred on Parliament Hill in September 1974 immediately after Anicinabe. The event was planned as a demonstration to raise awareness of the plight of indigenous people.  To build support, Louis Cameron, a leader with the Ojibway Warriors Society and of the Anicinabe occupation, went around Canada and launched the Native People’s Caravan to get people to Ottawa by Sept. 30. He succeeded in attracting 900 people.

On Parliament Hill, there were three lines of police. Indigenous people were unarmed, but police had bayonets and tear gas, and charged on the native people.

1974 Occupation of Anicinabe Park. 2/2

1974 Occupation of Anicinabe Park. 2/2

As Cameron observed, “I think that the event of the riot police attacking the people of the demonstration was a retaliation of the federal justice department of Canada and also particularly the Province of Ontario to retaliate on the native people for their armed insurrection at Anicinabe Park…We took up guns and freed ourselves from that (government dictatorship) but in return, the police and the government came running down with guns and clubs.”

There were numerous events in BC as well. For example, in 1975, there were five different protests. In March, 250 people from the Nazko and Luskus bands near Quesnel declared themselves sole occupants of hundreds of square miles of land in central BC. In April, Quatsino band members threatened to shut down the copper mine at Port Hardy, Vancouver Island, unless the company agreed to make $600,000 payments twice a year to compensate for the destruction of marine life in Quatsino Sound.

In April, 60 native people demonstrated on Highway #3 in the southern interior of BC near Hedley, over cut-off land claims discussions. Those from the Kitsegukla band set up a blockade on the road leading to the Kitsegukla Valley logging operation over land claims. A hundred members of the Seton Lake band blocked the BC Rail in near Lillooet, halting a Vancouver-based passenger train. The April conference of the Union of BC Indian Chiefs saw 188 chiefs renounce all federal aid, and give a statement that their members would no longer apply for government permits to hunt and fish.

There was also opposition to government energy plans. The James Bay Energy Corporation was diverting major rivers to create hydro power, but there was resistance by the James Bay Cree and Inuit communities. There was also the fight of the Dene people against the MacKenzie Valley pipeline in the Northwest Territories. The Dene resistance arose in response to the process, and to the fact that they had a land claim of some 400,000 square miles in the area.  The NWT Indian and Metis Federation stated it would use “any means necessary” (à la Malcolm X) to defend the claim.

In 1975 the Dene people called for independence and self-determination within the country of Canada.  This struggle evinced considerable support from the Canadian population. As described in one sympathetic newspaper – “Native activists have also sought support from organized workers and northern whites who are concerned about the land and the environment.  In a most significant development, the Oil, Chemical and Atomic Workers Union and the United Auto Workers have taken a stand in favour of a just land settlement BEFORE the pipeline is built. “

Debates within the Red Power movement

One debate was about tactics. One objection to AIM was that it was not sufficiently rooted in local communities to have credibility e.g. its members wouldn’t know local habits or culture. Disagreement about tactics was somewhat related to generational differences, and somewhat related to lack of real inclusion.

In Canada, another debate emerged between some First Nations men and women. First Nations women were discriminated against under Sec. 12 (1) (b) of the Indian Act whereby First Nations women who married non-First Nations lost their status as registered Indians (vs. First Nations men who married non-First Nations women did not).  Jeanette Lavell took the case of discrimination up legally. In 1974 she went to the Supreme Court of Canada and she lost the case, which led her to form Indian Rights for Indian Women-which led to debate within native communities. This particular struggle was later won through Bill C-31 passed in 1985.

Other debates took place between Red Power and government-funded Indian organizations. Government relied on the organizations they funded to minimize the effects of the Red Power movement, to dampen militancy.

For example, at a March 1969 Manitoba conference, Dave Courchene from the Indian Native Brotherhood denounced Red Power as “swelled heads”, and media depicted INB as the “reasonable” ones. These government-funded leaders were referred to as “uncle tomahawks”–though people like Courchene himself would denounce the government five years later when its “partnership” initiatives did not live up to their name e.g. only token native involvement in education programs.

Other debates were created by conservative thinkers within the native community. The best example comes from a lawyer, William Wuttunee, from Alberta. He wroteRuffled Feathers: Indians in Canadian Society, and agreed with those on the right that the best way forward for native people was to assimilate into Canadian economic and political life.  He supported the 1969 White Paper and, not surprisingly, was called upon frequently by the federal government to act as a native spokesman.

Relationship with other progressive forces in Canada

Many native people understood the links between their oppression and corporate greed. There were explicit anti-capitalists in the movement, just as there are today with groups like Idle No More.


Idle No More National Day of Action

Some Red Power activists were heavily influenced by nationalist struggles for self-determination happening in Africa and Vietnam, and in their ideological explorations found that Marxist explanations of the causes of oppression and imperialism made the most sense.

Maoist thought and maoist groups in Canada, like In Struggle and the CPC-ML, attracted some native activists like Vern Harper, who offered the following analysis of events in 1974:  “One of the key factors that made ’74 a turning point was that native activists, for the first time in their generation, realized that there was non-native support for their cause.

The isolation of the natives, used by the state, is no longer effective…We see trade unions, progressive left groups, church groups such as the Quakers, even liberal elements give support, such as funds, telegrams, participating in demonstrations, letters to Members of Parliament denouncing the tactics of the state, to help us. There’s a more militant and revolutionary theme emerging, which is beginning to get support from all elements of the native movement…Native and non-native people are seeing that capitalism doesn’t serve the masses.  It only protects the capitalists’ interests…”

Another native Marxist was Howard Adams from Saskatchewan. In 1975, he wrote: “If Native organizations are not politically active on a regular basis they cannot come together with non-Native people – it institutionalizes special status and gives a message to non-Natives that says ‘our problems are different form yours and our solutions are different.’ However, in fact, the problems are the same in the end; a small number of rich people get all the benefits of the capitalist society, and the vast majority, Native and non-Native, face constant insecurity and poverty.”

Native people and non-native people had lots of hope whenever the NDP was elected. In 1972, the NDP was elected in BC. Premier Dave Barrett appointed a First Nations leader Frank Calder to his Cabinet, but as a “minister without portfolio” – so Calder had no effective mandate. This same duplicity was shown by the NDP in Manitoba. During the Berger inquiry into the MacKenzie Valley pipeline meeting in Winnipeg, the NDP declined to make a submission. They knew that if they supported the pipeline, they would be unpopular with ordinary people. But if they spoke out too loudly against the pipeline, they would be hypocritical, as such opposition would fly in the face of their own behaviour towards native people, e.g. through support of hydroelectric projects in northern Manitoba (flooding of South Indian Lake) and forced relocations.

Challenges, successes, and decline

Historically, and to this day, federal and provincial governments divide indigenous people by alternating their point of contact between national leaders and Band leaders, whatever will help the government get through its agenda the easiest. Outside the movement, both the NDP and labour leadership failed to consistently support indigenous struggles in a vocal, visible way, even though individual members of NDP and labour were counted as allies by activists. Internally, there was a lack of structure (e.g .AIM to this day prides itself on its loose structure), illusions about international law and the UN, and a belief that self-determination on its own would solve the problems of poverty and inequality.

But the challenges faced by the Red Power movement were far outweighed by the tremendous legacy left by the actions in the 1970s. There was a high level of activity coinciding with self-determination movements in Africa and Asia and liberation movements in North America, greater regional and national coordination, greater independence from government funding, and recognition of native bureaucracy as part of the bigger problem.

Among the victories were: forcing the government to withdraw its 1969 White Paper (in 1973), cultural renewal (which also affected non-indigenous people), funding for social programs, increased access to education and increased content (e.g. native studies programs), increased confidence to resist with greater frequency and militancy of actions.

The end of the movement in the late 1970s and into the 1980s coincided with a downturn in struggle internationally, and across various movements that had been ignited after 1968. The decline of Red Power was also due to government co-optation, by including indigenous “leaders” in policy consultation, and police repression (similar to what happened to the Black Panthers). The US arrested AIM leaders Leonard Peltier and Anna Mae Aquash, and infiltrated the organization, and Canada repressed warrior groups with surveillance, police break-ins and arbitrary arrests.

Comparison with Idle No More

The thread between the Red Power movement and Idle No More is with the 1990s confrontations in Oka and Gustafsen Lake, plus the native youth movement and warrior societies of the early 2000s. Indigenous activists look to the histories of both their own peoples, as well as struggles elsewhere. Red Power activists were inspired by the Black Power and Vietnam struggles.

The Warrior Societies were inspired by the Zapatistas, the Palestinian Intifada, and by the analysis of capitalist globalization and the need for alliances among indigenous peoples, students, workers and all oppressed people. Idle No More comes on the heels of the Arab Spring, Occupy movement, and the “printemps érable” in Quebec.

Mohawk Warriors in Kanesatake in the summer of 1990.

Mohawk Warriors in Kanesatake in the summer of 1990.

There are also a number of differences. First, Red Power was led more within the US while INM began within Canada.  Second, like the civil rights, Black Power and anti-war movements, the public face of Red Power was male-dominated—whereas the public face of INM is much more female, alongside other movement leaders like Naomi Klein, Vandana Shiva, Arundhati Roy, Maude Barlow, etc.

Third, whereas Jeanette Lavall was opposed by many Chiefs and Councils for fighting discrimination against First Nations women, there is more unity today between men and women—with women leading the movement, challenging the oppression of indigenous women (like the missing and murdered aboriginal women), with support from INM men. Fourth, while both movements had a level of support from non-indigenous people, INM has explicitly called for, and achieved greater support—including internationally. Fifth, the root causes of the issues people are facing are increasingly being identified with capitalism, to a greater degree than took place in the movements of the 1960s and 70s. Finally, there is a greater connection between militants in one movement and another, e.g. in the climate justice movement.

All of these factors mean that the potential for non-indigenous activists to link arms with their indigenous sisters and brothers is higher than when Red Power first made its mark. As Quebec students wrote in solidarity with Idle No More: “Indigenous peoples have been the greatest victims of this elite’s agenda to plunder resources in Quebec and Canada. But in the territories of the Algonquins, the Innu, the Mohawk, the Atikamekw, and elsewhere, they have also been this agenda’s fiercest opponents.

Because of their aboriginal rights, Indigenous peoples have the best chance to stop the destruction of our shared lands and waters and to manage them sustainably. We should support these struggles, in the name of mutual respect. We want to think and act for the generations to come. Now is the time for overcoming old divides by building new alliances. For too long native and non-native peoples have been pitted against another, precisely because this elite feared nothing more than the discovery of our mutual interests.”

Written by: Valerie Lannon at socialist.ca

Photos included by Black Powder, RPM Staff