More than 400 of us gathered outside Minneapolis City Hall October 25 to demand that Hennepin County Sheriff Rich Stanek bring back county officers and equipment sent to North Dakota. Stanek sent the county forces to support North Dakota’s repressive police action against Standing Rock water protectors, aimed at stopping protests against the Dakota Access Pipeline (DAPL).
Thousands of people — mostly Native American water protectors from more than 200 tribes across North America — have come to North Dakota over the past few months to stop DAPL, the “black snake.” North Dakota police responded to protests, including prayer meetings, with violence. Democracy Now reports:
“On Saturday, over 100 people, who call themselves protectors, not protesters, were arrested at a peaceful march after they were confronted by police in riot gear, carrying assault rifles. They say police pepper-sprayed them and then arrested them en masse, and discharged rubber bullets to shoot down drones the water protectors were using to document the police activity.”
Reporter after reporter confirms: the protesters have been nonviolent. Police have not. When protesters stand in prayer, police say they are rioting. When journalists film the protests, police arrest them as rioters.
If prayer is a riot, then prayer is powerful — maybe so powerful that prayer can move the world, can stop the black snake, can save the waters of life for future generations.
Now Hennepin County – and Washington and Anoka Counties – have joined in that repression. The sheriff’s action comes after both Minneapolis and St. Paul city councils passed unanimous resolutions supporting indigenous resistance to the pipeline. (Minneapolis resolution is reprinted below.)
Sheriff Stanek’s office defended his action on Facebook as a move to “assist in maintaining the public’s safety, preserve the peace, and protect the constitutional rights of protesters.”
Really? North Dakota police have not protected the constitutional rights of protesters. Instead, they have acted as forces of repression. Tara Houska of Honor the Earth told Democracy Now:
‘You know, claiming that people praying and drumming is somehow a riot is ludicrous. I’m interested to see how a prosecutor could even bring that and prove that in a court of law. I know that at one of the lockdowns that happened in the last week, there was only four people there. That doesn’t even meet the statutory requirement of their so-called riot, yet they still were all charged with inciting a riot. Four people doesn’t seem like a riot to me, nor does a group of Native Americans peacefully praying and smudging one another.’
Reactions to Stanek’s Facebook post about sending officers to North Dakota were swift and furious, with hundreds of comments opposing the action. At today’s demonstration, State Representative Peggy Flanagan thanked the three Hennepin County Commissioners who have voiced public opposition to the sheriff’s move: Peter McLaughlin, Linda Higgins and Marion Greene.
Flanagan said that resistance to the pipeline is personal for her, as native woman and “as a mother of a young indigenous child who’s paying attention to the times we stand up.”
“We say no,” Flanagan said. “Not with our people. Not with our resources.”
One of the speakers announced that the sheriff had agreed to meet with a delegation on Thursday. Inside City Hall, two young Native American activists delivered pages of petitions to the sheriff’s office – he did not appear.
As she led the crowd in song, Jayanthi Kyle urged, “Let’s open our eyes and pray.” Her song/prayer affirmed
That’s how the river flows,
Not from the highest peak,
But from the depths below …
If the river flows from below, so does the power of people gathered in Standing Rock, gathered in Minneapolis, gathered across the country in solidarity with Standing Rock.
“Your mouth is a muscle,” Jayanthi Kyle said. Use that muscle for prayer, for song, for protest. Use that muscle to protect the waters of life.
City of Minneapolis resolution, September 2, 2016
WHEREAS: The proposed Dakota Access Pipeline would carry as many as 570,000 barrels of fracked crude oil per day for more than 1,100 miles from the Bakken oil fields of North Dakota to Illinois, passing over sensitive landscapes including treaty protected land containing recognized cultural resources and across or under 209 rivers, creeks, and tributaries including the pristine Missouri River, which provides drinking water and irrigates agricultural land in communities across the Midwest; and
WHEREAS: Despite deep opposition from the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe, as well as farmers, scientists, more than 30 environmental advocacy groups, and other Tribal nations along the proposed route, and without Tribal consultation or meaningful environmental review as required by federal law, in July, 2016 the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers issued a permit allowing construction of the fracked oil pipeline to move forward; and
WHEREAS: In a show of monumental cooperation not seen in the 140 years since the Battle of the Greasy Grass or Custer’s Last Stand, members of the Lakota Standing Rock Sioux Tribe have united with the Oceti Sakowin, the Seven Fires Council – which include the confederation of Lakota, Dakota, and Nakota Nations – and established a peaceful encampment in Cannon Ball, North Dakota known as the Sacred Stones Camp to resist the construction of the Dakota Access Pipeline with a cultural and spiritual presence; and
WHEREAS: On August 15, 2016 the Standing Rock Sioux Tribal Council led by Tribal Chairman David Archambault II called on Tribal nations and Indigenous people around the world to issue resolutions in support of the Standing Rock Sioux and the Sacred Stones Camp; and
WHEREAS: Minneapolis is home to the highest concentration of urban American Indian families in the United States and is the birthplace of the American Indian Movement, signifying a legacy of activism and civic engagement which continues to this day as many Minneapolis residents, including youth, and Minnesota Tribal members have been inspired to take action and join the Sacred Stones Camp to protect our environment and mother earth; and
WHEREAS: The City of Minneapolis understands the importance of recognizing the specific challenges facing the original inhabitants of this land and honoring their contributions symbolized through the adoption of the American Indian Memorandum of Understanding, the observation of the Year of the Dakota in 2013 and the declaration of Indigenous Peoples Day each October;
NOW, THEREFORE, BE IT RESOLVED:
By the Mayor and City Council of the City of Minneapolis, that we stand in support of the Indigenous opposition to the Dakota Access Pipeline and we call on all residents of Minneapolis to raise awareness about this important struggle for Indigenous sovereignty and environmental justice and to support the Sacred Stones Camp efforts in any way they can.