The cases of Standing Rock, North Dakota and Malheur National Wildlife Refuge, Oregon
On October 27, 2016 a jury in an Oregon federal court found the seven men who invaded the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge last winter "Not Guilty" of conspiracy to prevent federal workers from doing their job. The U.S. Attorney might have been wrong to pursue a conspiracy charge as they are tricky to prove beyond a doubt. I was stunned by the decision.
This was a widely publicized and documented invasion of public lands by men who want federal lands restored to local community control and the ability of farmers and ranchers to utilize the land for private means. These men or some of them have done similar invasions in Nevada.
They had spent time in jail awaiting their trial and then suddenly, they were free to leave the state and to return to their homes and I guess, continued struggles for local control of public lands.
Contrast that decision with the reality of the Native Americans in Standing Rock, North Dakota who have been beaten, tear gassed, fired at with rubber bullets and finally bull dozed off their ancestral land. Why? Because they are protesting the building of a pipe line that will cross their ancestral lands, sacred land to them and has the potential to damage the drinking water from the Missouri River which benefits all in that part of North Dakota.
On Friday, October 28 I heard a radio interview on OPB with a Native American from the Umatilla tribes in Oregon who had just returned from Standing Rock. He drew the parallels between Malheur National Wildlife Refuge and Standing Rock - in the Malheur case, private profit or personal gain won and the white men were freed to continue their fight against public good or public lands. Their occupation also destroyed some sacred places of the Paiute tribe in southern Oregon.
In Standing Rock the police defended the private interests of the pipeline against the peaceful protest of the Native Tribes. The interviewer, Dave Miller, asked the Umatilla tribal member, how he felt about the U.S. government and local county police actions. "Well, I don't have any trust that the U.S. government will defend us - it has been several centuries in which the white man's interests always took priority or precedence over that of the Native American." (Loose interpretation of the interview)
The Native Americans at Standing Rock have reached out to all Native American tribes in the United States, Canada and Central America to join them in their peaceful protest. Last week on November 3 500 clergy of many faiths joined in an interfaith worship service at Standing Rock to honor the sacredness of the land.
The events at Standing Rock are similar to the 1973 "uprising" at Wounded Knee. My then husband Carlo along with several Quakers tried to take blankets, food and non-pharmaceutical medicine from Oregon to Wounded Knee. The caravan for peace and justice made it as far as the Oregon-Idaho border when the FBI stopped the caravan and arrested the participants. The case was thrown out finally by the Oregon U.S. Attorney for lack of substantial evidence but remember that Richard Nixon was President of the United States who began the COINPROTEL, a series of covert, and at times illegal, projects conducted by the United States Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) aimed at surveilling, infiltrating, discrediting and disrupting domestic political organizations.
I believe that the Native Americans at Standing Rock as well as throughout the United States are trying to build bridges - to educate us all about protecting the environment which is more important than oil production or private profit. They are asking us to join them in the peaceful protest or to support their efforts. Here is a link to an article that explains the Native American religion and the relationship to sacred land. grist.org/article/native-american-religion-and-standing-rock-what-you-need-to-know/
Get involved - Ask your local faith community what you can do and what they are doing. Call the President and ask him to stop the pipeline. Check out the various websites working to stop the pipeline - write a op ed piece - educate yourself about the issues.
And remember - think about building bridges not walls.
My life has been about crossing borders and cultures and building bridges across the boundaries that normally divide. Have you crossed any borders in your life?