Editor’s Note: This open letter to President Obama was generated by women of the Brave Heart Society, White Buffalo Calf Woman Society and Stone Boy Society.
OCETI SAKOWIN TERRITORY—A revived traditional society of Ihanktonwan women, the Brave Heart Society, is calling on President Obama to intervene in the horrific incident at Standing Rock in which vicious dogs and pepper spray were used by Dakota Access Pipeline security to attack protectors of sacred sites near Cannon Ball, North Dakota.
A pregnant Native woman and child were attacked and six people were bitten by pit pulls and German shepherds, while 30 others were pepper-sprayed by DAPL security. This could have resulted in a crime of infanticide if the protectors had not stood their ground in a peaceful manner.
Infanticide is a crime that has been a part of Indigenous Peoples’ lives for the last 500 years in the Americas. Brave Heart’s demand for justice is joined by two other Lakota Women Societies: the White Buffalo Calf Woman Society on the Sicangu Reservation in Rosebud, S.D. and the Stone Boy Society on the Oglala Lakota reservation in Pine Ridge.
It is no accident in ancestral memory that attacks by security dogs occurred on the anniversary of the September 3, 1863 Whitestone Massacre where more than 250 women and children were killed in a surprise attack by General Alfred Sully in a campaign sweep from the Minnesota Wars. Many of the descendants of Cannonball, Crow Creek and Ihanktonwanna/Ihanktonwan bands are descendants of the Whitestone Massacre.
The video released by media, including Democracy Now producer Amy Goodman, demonstrates the security company provoking water protectors, which included many women. This escalation is an example of the war of “bio-politics” being waged on indigenous homelands all across the Americas.
Bio-politics occurs when human life processes are managed under regimes of authority over knowledge, power and “subjectivation.” In other words, our indigenous bodies, which are essentially a direct reflection of Mother Earth, have been and continue to be controlled by corporations and governments that operate for profit without regard for human life.
The North Dakota and area public utility companies reflect a brand of “settler colonialism” which has no regard for the lives of Native people who resided in these lands before they were stolen in government-sponsored land thefts or condemnation. In order for settler colonialism to exist, Indigenous Peoples have to disappear—whether that’s graves, land, water or our bodies.
A prime example is the destruction of the rare cultural sites near the Oceti Sakowin Protector Camp, which are of a multi-component, multi-nation and multi-generational nature. They were simply erased by a bulldozer. Imperialism of the worst kind. The test on September 6 was to see whether a federal court judge would understand cultural impacts of this destruction. We prayed for justice but once again the court reflected Manifest Destiny, giving free license to DAPL to continue destroying sacred sites on private lands. North Dakota burial laws were not even addressed.
The cries of the protectors heard at the Cannonball on September 3 are the cries of past and current trauma and genocide. All of this is endorsed by North Dakota Governor Jack Dalrymple and local North Dakota county officials. This assault with dangerous methods against our people is justified by state, county and city officials. It is criminal behavior, nothing less. We remember that the Spaniards in 1493 used dogs to attack Natives—nothing has changed.
As a Dakota/Nakota Okodakiciye (society) we are compelled to condemn this severe attack of unbelievable proportions, as it is a repeat of our history. It is common knowledge that one out of three Native women will be raped or assaulted by abusers who are not Native.
Although DAPL has not promoted man camps as Keystone XL did, we know that many of these workers have been absorbed into surrounding campgrounds and present a threatening presence to an already impacted population. The rates of young Native women involved in sex trafficking in areas impacted by oil development is often as high as 40 percent of those identified as being trafficked.
The Violence Against Women Act was enacted to enable tribal courts to prosecute domestic violence offenders who are non-Native. Perhaps the VAWA language should be amended to include prosecution against non-Natives who attack pregnant women and children with deadly weapons. A Michigan Court has established that causing a dog to attack and harm another individual is an attack with a deadly weapon. That’s exactly what occurred on the anniversary of the Whitestone Massacre.
Perhaps the “bad man clause” of the 1868 Ft. Laramie Treaty should be invoked. The clause states that “If bad men among the whites … commit any wrong upon the person or authority of the Indians, the United States will … be tried and punished according to its laws.” In this case, the United States chooses to protect those who destroy sacred sites.
The Brave Heart grandmothers are reeling from the blatant destruction of sacred sites by DAPL after these sites were identified according to National Historic Preservation Act standards, relating to Section 106. Brave Heart is personally shaken, because in the old days this Society retrieved the dead from battlefield and re-interred relatives into the ground from the old scaffolds and oversaw the protection of remains. One had to have a Brave Heart to do so.
The Brave Heart Society was an important presence in the defeat of Keystone XL and also oversaw the protection of remains at White Swan on the Missouri River in 1999–2000 and, along with the Yankton Sioux Tribe, won a Section 106 foreclosure for the protection of the White Swan burial area. The Yankton/Ihanktonwan are close dialect relatives of the Cannonball Ihanktonwan and camped near each other throughout the Oceti Sakowin history and share cultural sites. We share the hurt and anger by the destruction of these most sacred sites. However, we stand with a sense of peace achieved through spiritual activism and deep prayer grounded in non-violence.
We will never be erased.
We are mindful that in this historic rebirth of the Oceti Sakowin, each and every camp member has a role to play. Brave Heart’s and other women societies’ roles are to give voice to the protection of women and children, who often are on the frontlines, to stop theft and destruction of our sacred water and land, as was done against Keystone XL.
White Buffalo Calf Woman Society, founded nearly 40 years ago, was the first Native women’s domestic violence shelter in the nation, and was a presence in promoting the Violence Against Women Act. Stone Boy Society is a culture-based traditional society dedicated to preserving and teaching the culture of the Lakota peoples for the future. We are at a dangerous intersect in history where a security company has been given permission to attack women and children; this is unacceptable. Brave Heart Society has been contacted by a Chicano group in Los Angeles who are outraged at the use of dogs, triggering their own ancestral experience with the Spanish.
Naca (leader) Sitting Bull of the Hunkpapa voiced his concern while he was a prisoner at Fort Randall. He said he feared most for the women and children, as he knew the consequences of war. In war, women and children are disposable. The Native nations of the Oceti Sakowin and beyond know that we are in a war to save our land and water. Without safe water we are nothing.
As Ella Cara Deloria, Yankton ethnographer of the early 1900s, said: “We are not afraid. We have relatives.” This is reflected by the thousands of Native peoples showing up at the Cannonball camps who have responded to the need to protect water, cultural and ceremonial sites, and preserve the human rights of all tribes.
The grandmothers, our Kunsi of Brave Heart, White Buffalo Calf Woman Society and Stone Boy Society, are asking President Obama to require the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and other federal agencies to live up to their trust responsibility and stop this pipeline immediately. Our children deserve a thorough Environmental Impact Statement based on meaningful tribal consultation.
We are not invisible and will not be erased. We invite nations with large indigenous populations to support our rights defined in the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples. Tell the United States to stop the destruction on sacred lands and water. We further strongly invite municipal water districts that draw on the Missouri River as a drinking water source to gain courage and protect the very water that they are selling.
If there ever was a time to recognize trust responsibility with tribes, it is now, and we invite Presidential Candidate Hillary Clinton to do so. Our ancestors are proud of us, stand with us. Honor your relationship with the first medicine, Mni Wiconi, Water of Life.
—Brave Heart Society, White Buffalo Calf Woman Society, Stone Boy Society