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  December 2, 2016

The #NoDAPL Struggle in the Context of 500 Years of Indigenous Genocide

Native American historians Roxanne Dunbar-Ortiz and Dina Gilio-Whitaker discuss the historic role of Native American veterans, the significance of the growing movement against the Dakota Access Pipeline, and what a Trump presidency could mean for native struggles
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JAISAL NOOR: Some 2,000 military veterans are heading to Standing Rock, North Dakota, to provide a human shield to water protectors opposing the nearly $4 billion Dakota Access Pipeline. Donald Trump has officially unveiled his position supporting the pipeline's completion. As The Real News has reported, he has extensive financial ties with energy transfer partners. We caught up with indigenous authors Roxanne Dunbar-Ortiz and Dina Gilio-Whitaker who co-authored the new book "All the Real Indians Died Off": And 20 Other Myths about Native Americans.

What's your response to Donald Trump now officially saying that he is going to complete this pipeline? Which is historic for many reasons. I mean, one, of course, that this violates the Treaty of 1851, and it's also brought together... the resistance has brought together the largest convergence of Native American tribes in more than a century to resist this. So, can you put this moment in context?

ROXANNE DUNBAR-ORTIZ: Well, it does have such an important historical context, the Treaty you mentioned, but also the 1858 Treaty -- and not just those Treaties, actually, are with foreign governments, this great Sioux Nation's foreign government, and it's still in effect as a foreign government. But legislation in the meantime created a colonial system and it started pretty quickly creating that colonial system. And my argument is that even if we dismiss the treaties, or dismiss the obligations to consult and so forth, and international law, the US government is going against its own colonial government, the laws it made up of trusteeship, of protection of Indian lives and territories from just this kind of predatory activity. And so, they're shirking, Congress and the Executive, are shirking a duty, a Constitutional duty. This is a part of the Constitution. And so, even with their colonial system, but I think what's happening is this going to go farther than that, 'cause this is going to end up in the, maybe in the International Criminal Court, charges of genocide, making a place where people live, a group of people live, it will no longer be habitable. That is one of the charges of genocide. So, it's very serious. There are crimes involved in this. Not just people's opinions, or "let's work out a quarrel".

JAISAL NOOR: And so, Dina, you just returned from Standing Rock a little while ago. And so, the images from Standing Rock of dogs bloodied with the blood of protestors, of these armoured militarized police unleashing, you know, deadly force or what could be deadly force against the protestors. You know, using water cannons in freezing temperature, it really sort of already evokes these images from the past that have, you know, scarred the American consciousness for hundreds of years. But now Donald Trump is President-elect and, you know, he has empowered white nationalists. He's you know, got endorsement of police unions. Talk about what the Trump Presidency could mean in relation to the struggle and in relation to the Native American Movement, as well.

DINA GILIO-WHITAKER: Yeah, it doesn't bode well and I've been writing about that, too. So, what we have is, as you said, a government or a regime that's coming into power that's unabashedly committed to white nationalism which is really code for white supremacy. And, in that imagination or in that imaginary, Indians are still a problem. And so, I mean, we've heard the language. We've heard rhetoric coming out of people like Newt Gingrich who was, you know, speculated to be chosen for a top cabinet position. Well, that's not happened yet, but I mean, just six months ago he talked about how he'd like to bring back an "American Activities Commission," okay?

You know, we're going back to the McCarthy era. And one of the problems is that people in this country really don't know their history and so, you talk to an average American and ask them what do they know about McCarthyism? Or what do they know about COINTELPRO? And they won't be able to tell you. But people who have been labelled as "un-American", who have been labeled as "terrorists" as American Indians were -- the American Indian Movement was legally considered a terrorist group in the 1970s. This kind of language, this fascist language, is very threatening to the people who are still fighting these battles -- even peacefully, as they're doing in Standing Rock right now. They are committed to a non-violent movement but we've heard the rhetoric coming out of the Morton County Sherriff's Department who are claiming that the Water Protectors have been violent, and they've lied over and over and over again. But, as we know, it doesn't matter. You know, the fact that they're perceived as authority, and they are, you know, given this legitimacy and credibility, so this does not bode well to have a Trump Administration in charge.

JAISAL NOOR: And, Roxanne, you have written extensively about, as you write, "The Inherited Indigenous Trauma" and we've been talking about the lack of historical knowledge of the US actions and treatment of the indigenous population. Can you talk a little bit about that? That the images we see from Standing Rock, how does that fit into this larger picture?

ROXANNE DUNBAR-ORTIZ: Well, the images with the dogs, I know it recalls the Civil Rights, of course. It recalls Mississippi and the early 1960s, which I as a young person, watched on television. But later, I learned that from the beginning, the use of dogs, Columbus himself brought dogs to hunt down the Native people and it began then these presa canarios, these dogs that are bred to kill. And these were used against Native people in North America, against slaves in North America, as well, slave patrols. So, I thought because they brought dogs, I almost felt like it was very purposeful to create trauma because it was almost like it was a performance. And I was very suspicious of it that someone had, you know, they had some kind of deep information from some anthropologist or maybe reading my book, I don't know, that this was a traumatic memory that lives from generation to generation, genocides, just like it does with the Jewish people, the Armenian people. It doesn't just go away. It goes from generation to generation.

JAISAL NOOR: So, Dina, you just got back from Standing Rock, and now there's about 2,000 military veterans headed to Standing Rock right now. And, of course, it was the military that in the past was used to remove Native Americans, to attack them, to carry out war against them. And so, talk a little bit about the historical significance. Now, veterans are coming to the defense. They're going to form a human shield around the Water Protectors.

DINA GILIO-WHITAKER: Yeah, it's pretty amazing. You know, I mean, these veterans have -- especially Native veterans have, I think, kind of an ambivalent relationship with the United States. On one hand, they are committed tribal citizens, most of the time, and on the other hand, they have been preyed upon by the US military. As we know, most of the people who go serve in the military are the poor, the disenfranchised, the people who don't perceive better options for themselves. So, they're in this double bind. So, but I think there is like this rising consciousness, and Roxanne and I have been talking about this. What is this? Is this a new movement? Is this just another political action? Or is this revolution? And I think that word might not be too strong of a word to describe what we're seeing.

And at least we hope. We hope that's what's happening. Especially given the fact that, you know, we do have this sort of fascist government that's about to take over. This fascist regime that will be at the helm of the executive leadership and we're in a moment of like, these critical ruptures, I say, that there's this extreme polarization in the country. We have you know, the rise of white nationalism, white supremacy, and then on the other hand, we have Standing Rock, that stands in direct contrast. So, like these two very extreme things happening at the same time that signify this amazing rupture in the American political body.

JAISAL NOOR: And I think it's interesting because these types of struggles have been happening for generations and this isn't new. But this particular incident has really caught the imagination of people across the country and across the world. And it's really become something unprecedented -- the fact that there is opposition. That they're actually putting their bodies on the line to prevent the construction.

ROXANNE DUNBAR-ORTIZ: Yeah, I think it is really a paradigm-shift in terms of consciousness. That, you're right, these struggles go on all the time, some much more militant, you might say, back in the Northwest, still have the fishing struggles, the struggles against the pipelines there, as well. And it's only really known among Native people --and some environmentalists, not even all environmentalists -- but suddenly, this caught the attention. And I think it was, in part, because it was such a positive breath of fresh air of people really expressing something ethical, moral, human, something about the future, something positive how change could come in this year of toxicity of rhetoric and white nationalism and ugliness and racism. So, I think it's a moment, you know, as a historian you see these moments and you try to reverse-engineer the moment. And you really can't find that... you can find factors about why something catches hold but it's always that way.

You know, it happens but it happens because the groundwork has been done for, I think, generations. I'm talking about since at least World War II, and for Native People for 500 years, you know, that this is the right time. Humanity is now on the edge of survival. Native people have been on the edge of survival for 500 years, and they've found a way to survive and stay intact and have a different vision of the world. And I think that there's this sense, you know, there's something there that people feel they have to learn about. So, I think it's a really pretty remarkable time.

JAISAL NOOR: Okay, thank you both for joining me.



JAISAL NOOR: Go to for ongoing coverage of this story.



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