We're Not Going Anyplace - Report From The Sioux Nation at Standing Rock

By Michael Monasky | October 4, 2016

To hear Dennis Banks talk about it, this is the worst election in US history; unless you count the 1828 election of Andrew Jackson, and the 1830 Indian Removal Act he signed into law. It depopulated the southeast and sent the native peoples on a Trail of Tears to Oklahoma. Banks is on the ballot in California as the vice presidential candidate for the Peace and Freedom Party. He opined: “America is a sick country.” He reasoned that neither major party candidate is liked, and that this will be an election of the “least hated.”
Dennis Banks is running for vice president on the Peace and Freedom Party ticket with Bay Area labor and anti-war activist Gloria LaRiva. Banks is a co-founder of the American Indian Movement, made famous by the 1973, 71-day stand-off against the FBI at Wounded Knee. Lately, attention has been cast upon Sioux Nation peoples at the reservation at Standing Rock. The Dakota Access Pipeline is a commercial venture which impinges upon their lands; it plans to send fracked oil from North Dakota to southern Illinois. Aging rocker Neil Young just last month recorded “Indian Givers” documenting the struggle over the development of the pipeline. http://www.vulture.com/2016/09/neil-young-releases-new-song-indian-giver.html

About 1800 indigenous people reside on these lands; another 4,700 supporters have assembled with them in a planned winter camp. Banks met with Governor Jerry Brown today to discuss the protest against the fracking pipeline. So far, the group has garnered warm clothing, trailers with wood, food, cash, and buffalo. They've been joined by cooks, firefighters, and other professionals; they even have a fire rig. Sweat lodge ceremonies are scheduled five times each night. Women, young and old, join in to protect these sacred sites.
Wounded Knee, an elder Miwok warrior, accompanied Banks. He said “Native people still hurt, and are in pain.” He told the story of how his mother was taken to a boarding school 500 miles from his Tuolumne home, beaten, her hair cut, and denied her language. He talked about HR 9054 which devastatingly and thoroughly terminated Indian treaties during the Carter/Mondale administration in 1978. https://www.congress.gov/bill/95th-congress/house-bill/9054. Wounded Knee said that the actions at Standing Rock Reservation are not a protest; rather, they are protection of the sacred lands at the confluence of the Cannonball and Missouri rivers.

Wounded Knee said that the protectors fear contamination of the water and land from the fracking process and transmission of the sludge oil products in the pipeline. He reminded the audience that California allows fracking in the Central Valley, which endangers our aquifers when contaminated fluids are injected into wells. Concerns about denigrated water quality go back to Chief Seattle, he said, and cancers are the legacy of the white man's development. He said the meaning of the term “compromise” is muddied when the white man holds a powerful position; the weakened party yields without consent.

Wounded Knee said “Struggle is never over for native people;” only four million indigenous persons remain in the USA. He said “Mother Earth gives us everything we need to survive.” He announced that a cross-country walk, TheLongestWalk.com, will begin at Alcatraz Island in the San Francisco Bay in February 2017. It will terminate at the Lincoln Memorial in Washington, D.C.

Dennis Banks told the audience why he was running for Vice-President on the Peace and Freedom Party ticket; he expressed disdain for the government, declaring that Clinton and Trump are “in the pockets of Wall Street.” He said he wants to halt federal encroachment on Indian lands and to stop expropriation of natural resources. He said “there are five endangered, not threatened, but endangered, species at Standing Rock: two species of cranes, the wolf, the ferret, and the pallid sturgeon [an ancient species going back 70 million years].” Banks said “people don't understand who we are...when I say I'm part mountain...blade of grass...snake...buffalo...the air...we're caretakers of this beautiful planet, Mother Earth...[ours] are awesome duties...as those of our ancestors...that's what Standing Rock means...I'm also part Palestinian...white...black...Asian.” He added, “The FBI tried to convince us with firepower [in 1973 at Wounded Knee]...but they were cowards behind their armored personnel carriers.”

There is a connection between native people's protection of their lands and Elk Grove. Recently, the Wilton Rancheria, a Miwok tribe re-recognized by the Bureau of Indian Affairs, has entered into gambling agreements with a Las Vegas syndicate and the city of Elk Grove. I asked Banks his opinion about such ventures, since he is an addiction counselor for his tribe. Banks said that many games of chance were developed and used by native people in ancient traditions; marble, stick, and moccasin games were accompanied by song. He said that current native casino operations have funded important hospital and community improvement projects. In a sad and somewhat resigned voice, he said that there are 250 years' history of substance abuse and domestic violence for natives. He said that “shame can drive change.”

Afterwards, Wounded Knee weighed in about the desecration of sacred burial grounds. He said “there are 13,000 human remains at the University of California at Berkeley.” This coincides with the struggle for preservation of the sacred lands at the headwaters of the McCloud River, a tributary supplying the Sacramento River above Shasta Dam. The Winnemem Wintu tribe, not recognized by the BIA, is protecting its sacred waters and lands in that area from a proposed raising of the dam spillway. That struggle can be followed by reading the entries by Sacramento's own environmental and sport fishing journalist, Dan Bacher, at various online publications, including Daily Kos.

Meanwhile, as Dennis Banks told the student audience at CSU, Sacramento, “we're not going anyplace.”

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