Reflections on ‘Equal Justice Under the Law’ in North Dakota’s DAPL-Related Cases

Remember the security worker who posed as a water protector at the Dakota Access Pipeline (DAPL) protest, the guy with AR-15 assault rifle?

It turns out that Kyle Thompson, 30, was just arrested for domestic violence, carrying a concealed weapon, and possession of marijuana and methamphetamine paraphernalia, according to an article in the Bismarck Tribune. Thompson did three tours of duty in Afghanistan for the Army, and said he suffers from Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). His sister had been killed recently in a car accident.

He received what could be called a compassionate sentence. Being compassionate is a good thing. At the same time, it is fair to ask how Thompson’s case compares to some of those involving Native American water protectors and their allies.

Let’s take a closer look. Continue reading

White Community Silence in the Theft of Land, Oil from Native Peoples

People in power have a history of taking advantage of Native Americans to profit from their land and natural resources, including oil. It is not just the rich and powerful, however. In order for these things to happen, the majority community has to give its approval, even if it is just through its silence.

Today, large energy companies are pushing for crude oil pipeline projects that affect Native peoples, and do so without their consent. The pipelines cross sacred lands, sacred waters, and/or areas where Native peoples have reserved hunting and fishing rights. Two current examples are the Dakota Access Pipeline (DAPL) in North Dakota and Enbridge Line 3, a proposal to expand and reroute a tar sands oil pipeline through northern Minnesota.

Native American peoples are small in number and do not have a strong political voice. Standing up to large companies, powerful interests, and unsympathetic communities is an uphill battle, with an ugly history.

Continue reading

Healing Minnesota Stories Ventures into Wisconsin

Poster of Oliver La Mere in Wisconsin Capitol rotunda.

Kind of sounds like an April Fool’s Day headline, doesn’t it?

Just sharing that the Madison-based Wisconsin State Journal published an Op-Ed I wrote: Bring back American Indian tour guides to state Capitol.

As those who follow this blog know, for the last few years I have been researching state capitol art and its images of Native Americans and early state history. Not surprisingly, much of this art has negative and inaccurate images of Native peoples. (Minnesota’s Capitol is right up there with its images of Manifest Destiny. See our blog’s Capitol Art page.)

Last month, I visited friends in Madison and toured its state Capitol with my friend Kathy Mathes. The Capitol is celebrating is centennial and large posters recounting the building’s history filled the rotunda. One such poster honored Oliver La Mer (Ho Chunk) who led special Capitol tours on Native American history and culture in the late 1920s. I blogged on it, encouraging Wisconsin to revive the idea:  Wisconsin Once Had Ho Chunk Capitol Tour Guide Focused on Native Cultures, What Happened?

I lived in Madison for a number of years, writing for The Capital Times. I sent the blog to some Wisconsin journalist friends hoping they might pick up on the idea and write about it. My friend Bill Lueders, managing editor for The Progressive, encouraged me to submit my own Op-Ed, and he helped me whip into shape.

Thank you, Bill!

When Simply Wearing “Water is Life” Becomes a Threatening Protest

Little cardboard hats in the shape of canoes lay on the floor near the security screening area at a recent public meeting on tar sands oil pipelines in Bemidji. Officials have not provided an explanation about why children were not allowed to wear them inside. (Photo by Frank Bibeau.)

When did a cardboard canoe hat made by a child with the words “Water is Life” become a protest, something that needs to be suppressed for the public well being?

Quick background: On March 7, the U.S. State Department held a public meeting in Bemidji to consider a border crossing for a Canadian oil tar sands pipeline. There was a strong turnout and over-the-top security. I wrote a blog for the Sierra Club critical of the event. What I didn’t know at that time was Sanford Center security in Bemidji did not allow young children to wear their handmade cardboard canoe hats inside.

Frank Bibeau, an attorney for Honor the Earth, attended the Bemidji event and brought the issue to my attention. In an email exchange, Bibeau wrote:

I noticed that there was a table with confiscated items. On the floor was a bunch of canoe hats kids had made to wear at the public meeting. But the hats were taken from the kids and the security told them it was because they were signs. …

It is apparent that not all of the canoe hats had written words. Some of it is simply kid art on the side … The question is, what lesson are the kids learning?

In a related incident, Indian Country Media Network (ICMN) reports that the National Museum of the American Indian staff recently asked Native American women to remove jackets for a similar reason. The women were in Washington, D.C. for the Native Nations Rise March, and their jackets “were adorned with patches and pins supporting water protectors and the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe.” Some of the patches simply said: “Mni Wiconi: Water is Life.”

The Smithsonian has acknowledged its error. The State Department and Sanford Center security have not. Continue reading

The Sad Story on How North Dakota’s Religious Leaders Are Mostly Ignoring Native Concerns About DAPL

Rev. John Floberg has served as an Episcopal priest on the Standing Rock Reservation for a quarter century. He is one of few religious leaders in North Dakota to play an active role in supporting the water protectors camps and listening to people’s concerns, according to a story in the Bismarck Tribune.

Floberg was the one who invited clergy from around the country to come to the camps last fall, an event that drew around 500 leaders of different faiths to support Standing Rock in its efforts to stop the Dakota Access Pipeline (DAPL). He continues working to support relationships between Native and non-Native peoples, for instance, giving gift cards to his Native American congregants so they can eat with non-native friends in Bismarck-Mandan. Floberg said it was his 25 years on the reservation that gave him the understanding on how to stand his ground in this contentious situation.

Other than the backstory on Floberg, this is a sad article. The Bismarck Tribune reports:

Though support and endorsements have flooded in from religious institutions around the world, few Christian leaders on the Standing Rock Indian Reservation and in North Dakota took an active role. In fact, Floberg was nearly unique in his activism. …

More broadly in North Dakota, the only churches to take on an active role have been the Unitarian Universalists in Bismarck and the Presentation Sisters in Fargo, according to Karen von Fassen, of the UU church. Some did partake individually by coming to rallies or participating in interfaith prayer events.

To be fair, this is a very polarizing issue in North Dakota, not an easy issue for religious leaders to address. (Locally, compare it to the difficult conversations in congregations around Black Lives Matter protesting at Mall of America or blocking  freeways to highlight police shootings.) Yet this is where faith gets tested. Continue reading

MPR Misses the Boat on DAPL Divestment Story

Minnesota Public Radio (MPR) ran a piece today headlined: Protest appeared to misstate U.S. Bank’s role in Dakota Access pipeline.

At best, the story makes a technical point. At worst, the headline casts DAPL opponents in an unfair light, claiming they are “misstating” the facts — that is, misrepresenting them or even lying. The story certainly misses the larger political picture. Continue reading

Minnesota Capitol Restoration: The Awe and the Awful

Minnesota State Capitol reopens after renovation, but final touches still being applied.
Minnesota State Capitol reopens after renovation, but final touches are still being applied.

The Minnesota State Capitol reopened for business on Tuesday after being closed for a $300 million renovation. The restoration is ongoing, but the legislature convened and the show must go on.

The Minnesota Historical Society promotion says: “Come visit your shiny new Minnesota State Capitol—refurbished, renovated and restored from top to bottom. Ooh and aah over its gleaming marble, magnificent murals, vibrant paintings and more, all restored to their original 1905 perfection.” Minnesota Public Radio ran a story on the new look Capitol with the headline: The awe is back.

It’s not that simple. There is both new beauty as well as retained historical ugliness. The MPR story included this telling line: “… planners didn’t want to tinker too much with history.”

That’s a shame. There is some history that we should not continue to glorify, such as the denigration and the genocide of Native Americans. Just because the renovation is over, the criticism isn’t. We should not delight in being frozen in 1905. Significantly, some artwork fails to reflect our values, an unacceptable situation in our the state’s most important public building.

Let’s look at the awe and the awful. Continue reading