Journalism Fail: Standing Rock arrest puts the First Amendment on trial

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Native American media have been quick to jump to the defense of journalist Jenni Monet. She was arrested near Standing Rock last week. But most of the press has been silent about the charges she faces (and the implications for the First Amendment). Photo: Aboriginal People’s Television Network.

Jenni Monet faces criminal trespass and rioting charges

Mark Trahant / Trahant Reports

Jenni Monet, a Native American journalist, was arrested last week while covering Standing Rock. You’d think that would trigger a lot of support from the national and regional news media. 

There is an idea in law enforcement called the “thin blue line.” It basically means that police work together. A call goes out from Morton County and, right or wrong, law enforcement from around the country provides back up.

You would think journalism would be like that too.

When one journalist is threatened, we all are. We cannot do our jobs when we worry about being injured or worse. And when a journalist is arrested? Well, everyone who claims the First Amendment as a framework should object loudly.

Last Wednesday Monet was arrested near Cannonball, North Dakota. She was interviewing water protectors who were setting up a new camp near the Dakota Access Pipeline route on treaty lands of the Great Sioux Nation. Law enforcement from Morton County surrounded the camp and captured everyone within the circle. A press release from the sheriff’s Department puts it this way: “Approximately 76 members of a rogue group of protestors were arrested.”  Most were charged with criminal trespassing and inciting a riot.

As was Monet. She now faces serious charges and the judicial process will go forward. The truth must come out.

But this story is about the failure of journalism institutions.

The Native press and the institutions that carry her work had Monet’s back. That includes Indian Country Media Network, Yes! Magazine, and the Center for Investigative Reporting’s Reveal. In Canada the Aboriginal People’s Television Network reported on the story during its evening news. And, The Los Angeles Times has now weighed as well in with its own story written by Sandy Tolan who’s done some great reporting from Standing Rock. The Native American Journalists Association released a statement immediately: “Yesterday’s unlawful arrest of Native journalist Jenni Monet by Morton County officers is patently illegal and a blatant betrayal of our closely held American values of free speech and a free press,” NAJA President Bryan Pollard said, “Jenni is an accomplished journalist and consummate professional who was covering a story on behalf of Indian Country Today. Unfortunately, this arrest is not unprecedented, and Morton County officials must review their officer training and department policies to ensure that officers are able and empowered to distinguish between protesters and journalists who are in pursuit of truthful reporting.”

Yet in North Dakota you would not know this arrest happened. The press is silent. (UPDATE on Feb. 7: Bismarck Tribune reports on the arrest.)

I have heard from many, many individual journalists. That’s fantastic. But what about the institutions of journalism? There should news stories in print, digital and broadcast. There should be editorials calling out North Dakota for this egregious act. If the institutions let this moment pass, every journalist covering a protest across the country will be at risk of arrest.

After her release from jail, Monet wrote for Indian Country Media Network, “When Democracy Now!’s Amy Goodman was charged with the same allegations I now face—criminal trespassing and rioting—her message to the world embraced the First Amendment. ‘There’s a reason why journalism is explicitly protected by the U.S. Constitution,’ she said before a crowd gathered in front of the Morton County courthouse. “Because we’re supposed to be the check and balance on power.”

The funny thing is that journalism institutions were not quick to embrace Goodman either. I have talked to many journalists who see her as an “other” because she practices a different kind of journalism than they do.

Monet’s brand of journalism is rooted in facts and good reporting. She talks to everyone on all sides of the story, including the Morton County Sheriff and North Dakota’s new governor. She also has street cred … and knows how to tell a story. Just listen to her podcast — Still Here — and you will know that to be true.

So if we ever need journalism institutions to rally, it’s now. It’s not Jenni Monet who will be on trial. It’s the First Amendment. Journalism is not a crime. 

Mark Trahant is the Charles R. Johnson Endowed Professor of Journalism at the University of North Dakota. He is an independent journalist and a member of The Shoshone-Bannock Tribes. On Twitter @TrahantReports

Reposting or reprinting this column? Please credit: Mark Trahant / TrahantReports.com

 

The president’s logic on the Dakota Access Pipeline: Because I said so.

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Announcement of order by Acting Army Secretary was posted on the web site of North Dakota Sen. John Hoeven on Jan. 31. (Screenshot of Senator’s home page.)

Tribe says Corps does not have authority to stop environmental review

 

**Updated Feb. 8, 2017

Mark Trahant / Trahant Reports

Cognitive scientist George Lakoff once described the process for Republican thinking. It’s a set of assumptions built on the idea of a strict father.

He wrote in his classic book, Don’t Think of an Elephant, “The strict father model begins with a set of assumptions: The world is a dangerous place, and always will be, because there is evil out there in the world. The world is also difficult because it is competitive. There will always be winners and losers. There is an absolute right and an absolute wrong. Children are born bad, in the sense that they just want to do what feels good, not what is right. Therefore they have to be made good.”

Donald J. Trump is the strict father who runs his family — and in this case, the United States — on the model that all he needs to say to defend any action is “because I said so.” The president’s executive memorandum on Standing Rock is exhibit one.

“Today, the Acting Secretary of the Army Robert Speer informed us that he has directed the Army Corps of Engineers to proceed with the easement needed to complete the Dakota Access Pipeline,” North Dakota Sen. John Hoeven said in a news release. “This will enable the company to complete the project, which can and will be built with the necessary safety features to protect the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe and others downstream. Building new energy infrastructure with the latest safeguards and technology is the safest and most environmentally sound way to move energy from where it is produced to where people need it.”

Just like that. The Corps is supposed to walk away from a process already underway, the Environmental Impact Statement and the public comment period that is open until Feb. 20, 2017. (The Army has since announced that it is withdrawing its environmental review and approving the easement immediately.)

This is now a test of the federal courts. Will that institution follow the order of the acting secretary, and the president, or will it insist on the conclusion of the environmental review that’s underway.

First: It’s interesting that th announcement came from a U.S. Senator and not the agency itself.

The Federal Register, the rule book for government, published a plan for the review process on Jan. 18. Yes, there is a new administration, but that does not (or should not) change the rules. The notice, unlike the president’s memorandum, cites the statutory authority for moving forward. This is more than you want to read … but here goes: “This notice is published in accordance with sections 1503.1 and 1506.6 of the CEQ’s Regulations (40 CFR parts 1500-1508) implementing the procedural requirements of NEPA, as amended (42 U.S.C. 4321 et seq.), and the Army and Corps’ NEPA implementation policies (32 CFR part 651 and 33 CFR part 230), and exercises the authority delegated to the Assistant Secretary of the Army (Civil Works) by General Orders No. 2017-1, January 5, 2017.”

Of course this action will also open a new round of litigation. That will be the test of the independence of the federal judiciary. Will federal judges tell the president no? Will litigation even be allowed (strange as those words sound)? The Trump administration and North Dakota certainly hopes not. That process takes too long in a world run by oil gadzillionaires.

A statement by the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe Tuesday said: “The Army Corps lacks statutory authority to simply stop the EIS and issue the easement. The Corps must review the Presidential Memorandum, notify Congress, and actually grant the easement.We have not received formal notice that the EIS has been suspended or withdrawn. To abandon the EIS would amount to a wholly unexplained and arbitrary change based on the President’s personal views and, potentially, personal investments. We stand ready to fight this battle against corporate interest superseding government procedure and the health and well being of millions of Americans.”

Sen. Hoeven said “we need to bring (this dispute) to a peaceful resolution.” Yet the president’s action, the order by the acting secretary of the Army Corps of Engineers, and the very idea of a strict father shouting, because I said so,” is not how to make a peaceful resolution.

Mark Trahant is the Charles R. Johnson Endowed Professor of Journalism at the University of North Dakota. He is an independent journalist and a member of The Shoshone-Bannock Tribes. On Twitter @TrahantReports

Reposting or reprinting this column? Please credit: Mark Trahant / TrahantReports.com

 

Juneau for president? As Trump interviews administration candidates

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Denise Juneau, Montana’s Superintendent of Public Instruction, is a potential candidate for President of the University of Montana.

 

Mark Trahant / Trahant Reports

The period between an election and a new presidential administration is nothing short of frantic. There is just not enough time to fill all the positions that open up on Jan. 20, 2017, some 8,000 posts that are political in nature. About 1,200 of those jobs require Senate confirmation. President-elect Donald Trump is interviewing a lot of people, moving fast to staff his administration.

The extraordinary thing is that this huge federal hiring spree opens up prospects up and down the line.

At every newspaper I have worked at over the years there were always those December stories about prospective appointments from back home to DC. North Dakota, for example, has several candidates ranging from Rep. Kevin Cramer to Sen. Heidi Heitkamp. Sen. Heitkamp makes sense as Energy Secretary in a Trump administration because she’s supported the oil and gas industry, including the Keystone XL pipeline and the Dakota Access Pipeline. (Let’s be clear here: No one against pipelines or demanding a quicker transition to green fuels is going to get this job.) Her appointment would also mean one less Democrat in the Senate (and two years ahead of schedule).

Cramer has a lot of options. His side won. He can move up to the Senate. He can take a post in the administration. Or he can be the reliable voice for oil and gas in the House (as if that’s an underserved community). Any of the North Dakota seats that open up would be long-shot prospects for Chase Iron Eyes, Ruth Buffalo or Marlo Hunte-Beaubrun. All three learned a lot during recent statewide campaigns. But a special election in a deep red state is especially difficult. Then again. Stranger things have happened.

Another potential Trump appointment is Cathy McMorris Rodgers, possibly as Interior Secretary. (She’s being considered as is Oklahoma Gov. Mary Fallin.) A couple of points. First, McMorris Rodgers has shown little interest in Native American issues while in Congress. She almost always sides with opponents. On the other hand, a McMorris Rodgers appointment opens up the House seat. And former Colville Chairman Joe Pakootas already has an organization and name identification. In this case, a special election could be an advantage. Fallin, however, would have the ear of many Oklahoma tribes who have worked with her in the past. If she were to head Interior, many of the appointments in Indian Affairs would be familiar names.

And one potential job shift that’s outside of politics: Yesterday Royce Engstrom, the president of the University of Montana, resigned. The Board of Regents has appointed an interim leader and a search committee will begin looking for a spring hire. But one name is already surfacing: Denise Juneau. She will soon end her time as the state’s Superintendent of Public Instruction. A petition from change.org calls Juneau “a rising star” who is well suited to reform the university and taking on the challenges of declining enrollment, budgets being slashed, and students not being able to take the courses required for graduation.

Mark Trahant is the Charles R. Johnson Endowed Professor of Journalism at the University of North Dakota. He is an independent journalist and a member of The Shoshone-Bannock Tribes. On Twitter @TrahantReports

Reposting or reprinting this column? Please credit: Mark Trahant / TrahantReports.com

 

 

 

A powerful idea: The Rule of Law

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Four words that still matter

Mark Trahant / Trahant Reports

The Rule of Law. Four words that are cited over and over as the reason why the water protectors at Standing Rock should back away from their efforts to stop the Dakota Access Pipeline. The reasoning goes: The Rule of Law makes it ok to stand over there, hold a sign, until this dispute goes away. Shhh! Be quiet. The pipeline will be built as planned.

And on Monday, using a snow storm as an excuse, the governor dipped into his legal tools and called on the most powerful words in his arsenal. “I, Jack Dalrymple, Governor of the State of North Dakota, order a mandatory evacuation of all persons located in areas under the proprietary jurisdiction of the United States Army Corps of Engineers located in Morton County …”

The Rule of Law. The governor issued this proclamation knowing full well that none of the people at the camp will leave after his lofty proclamation. He knows that in order to enforce The Rule of Law there will have to be a massive law enforcement action where hundreds of people are rounded up and incarcerated.

And the word from the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe and its allies is as expected. “This state executive order is a menacing action meant to cause fear, and is a blatant attempt by the state and local officials to usurp and circumvent federal authority,” Chairman Dave Archambault II said in a news release. “The USACE has clearly stated that it does not intend to forcibly remove campers from federal property. The Governor cites harsh weather conditions and the threat to human life. As I have stated previously, the most dangerous thing we can do is force well-situated campers from their shelters and into the cold. If the true concern is for public safety than the Governor should clear the blockade and the county law enforcement should cease all use of flash grenades, high-pressure water cannons in freezing temperatures, dog kennels for temporary human jails, and any harmful weaponry against human beings. This is a clear stretch of state emergency management authority and a further attempt to abuse and humiliate the water protectors. The State has since clarified that they won’t be deploying law enforcement to forcibly remove campers, but we are wary that this executive order will enable further human rights violations.”

But that’s it. Every time the state of North Dakota and Morton County have had the opportunity to de-escalate, they favor the more violent course. Instead of crossing the bridge, acting as a governor of all the people, Dalrymple responded to the crisis by calling up the National Guard and then writing checks as fast as he could for more law enforcement to act as a military. The state’s clear and consistent message is comply or else.

And that’s because there is an urgency that’s driven by the corporate sponsors of the Dakota Access Pipeline. Truth be told: The Rule of Law takes too long. The pipeline has a schedule. So any disagreements about interpreting that rule of law must be accomplished as a matter of academic debate. The pipeline must be built. Now. (The company can’t even seem to wait for a court to rule on its own action.)

Then, The Rule of Law is such a funny phrase. One I have heard many times. It’s what was said in Washington, Oregon and Idaho when Native Americans insisted that treaties gave them the right to fish for salmon. The states disagreed and used the power of government to arrest people. Many, many Native people. Until finally the courts said, wait, the rule of law has to include the Constitution of the United States and the powerful article six that declares “treaties as the Supreme Law of the Land.” In the end the states were wrong. One idea that came out of that litigation was that treaties had to be read as the tribal negotiators would have understood the words.

Imagine that. So the Rule of Law means that the tribal interpretation of treaty language is critical to understanding, and implementing, that sacred agreement.

There is another parallel between the salmon fishing treaty battle in the Northwest a generation ago and the fight for clean water by the Standing Rock Tribe. There is no way that salmon would have survived as more than a curiosity had the tribes lost their treaty claims in the 1970s. States and tribes were forced to work together so that salmon could prosper. Before the courts weighed-in, there was an imbalance, caused by overfishing, over-building, and a lack of respect for the natural world. But the treaty forced the states to get serious about working with tribes and managing a scarce natural resource. The Rule of Law won.

And that is exactly what upholding a treaty could do for water in the Great Plains. Especially if the state subscribes to The Rule of Law.

Mark Trahant is the Charles R. Johnson Endowed Professor of Journalism at the University of North Dakota. He is an independent journalist and a member of The Shoshone-Bannock Tribes. On Twitter @TrahantReports

Reposting or reprinting this column? Please credit: Mark Trahant / TrahantReports.com

#NativeVote16 – Driving turnout, early votes from Alaska to North Dakota

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Selfies: A get out the vote rally in New Town, North Dakota. Facebook photo via North Segment of the Three Affiliated Tribes.

Mark Trahant / Trahant Reports

Across Indian Country there are rallies, phone banks, forums, and social media pitches that are repeating one message, vote. Native American voters can make the difference in key states from the presidential race to county commissions.

And what does it matter? In a paragraph: One presidential candidate, Donald Trump, favors completion of the the Dakota Access Pipeline as well as resurrecting the Keystone XL Pipeline. He would support legislation to repeal the Affordable Care Act, a law that includes increased funding for the Indian Health System as well as the Indian Health Care Improvement Act. Clinton, on the other hand, would be more of the same. She generally supports President Obama’s policies on energy, climate, and on federal-tribal relations. (Previous: Native Vote tips the Electoral College.)

And this election there are so many talented Native American candidates whose very presence makes this country better. This is why we need to vote. This is why we vote.

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Denise Juneau’s Montana get out the vote tour started on the Confederated Salish and Kootenai Tribal Nation. (Photo via Twitter)

In Montana, Democrats, including congressional candidate Denise Juneau, include tribal nations in that last minute push. The five-day, statewide tour stretched from the Confederated Salish and Kootenai Tribal Nation to across the state to Wolf Point and the Fort Peck Assiniboine Sioux Tribes. Juneau told Montana Public Radio: “We are on this swing around the state, 17 communities we’ll be hitting all across Montana to talk to voters to know that what we stand for and know our records and that we are going to really talk about the future of this state and what it looks like and draw the stark contrasts that are necessary. I plan to hold my opponent accountable to his lack of a non-record of looking out for Montana, and win over the voters of Montana, and that’s really the excitement around this last push across the state with all these statewide candidates. We’re going to work really hard to get out the vote and make sure that when we wake up after election day the headlines read that we win.”

 

Juneau also picked up another newspaper endorsement, The Missoulian. “Montanans need a strong voice in the U.S. House who is focused on serving her constituents,” the paper said. “Let’s see what Denise Juneau can do for Montana – for our economy, our public lands and our access to health care – as our U.S. representative.”

Elections were once about turnout on at the polls. But in this era most people will vote early and that changes the focus. Juneau said she already voted and is encouraging everyone in the state to vote early. “You never know what’s going to be happening on Election Day.”

Juneau, of course, is a member of the Mandan Hidatsa Tribes (and Blackfeet). The Three Affiliated Tribes have a lot going on this election with candidates running across the country. Another tribal member, Laurel Deegan-Fricke, is in a tight state senate race in North Carolina. And closer to home, citizens Ruth Buffalo is on the ballot for State Insurance Commissioner and Cesar Alvarez is a candidate for the state House of Representatives.

A Thursday rally in New Town included Buffalo, Alvarez, and a broad section of North Dakota candidates, including Chase Iron Eyes, Marlo Hunte-Beaubrun, as well as other candidates for state, regional and tribal offices.

The outreach to Native Voters in North Dakota also included stops at the United Tribes Technical College and Fort Yates. Iron Eyes and Hunte-Beaubrun are Standing Rock Sioux tribal members.

Iron Eyes posted on Facebook: “I feel good about our campaign. I love being the underdog. North Dakota is about underdogs. We are all looked over and counted out. We all meet challenges head on. We all #FaceTheStorm. Only the strong survive. I ask for the strength to Walk Without Fear. We don’t win unless you vote! It’s that simple.”

The Native Vote is critical in Arizona both in the presidential race and in the U.S. Senate race. Jamescita Peshlakai, who is running for the Arizona state Senate, posted on Facebook that “our next US Senator, Ann Kirkpatrick, is talking Navajo on KTNN. Wow. 2 years ago President Obama ended his campaign commercial with “Ahehee!” Our language can be learned by non-Navajos. If there is a will, there is a way.”

On Saturday the Inter Tribal Council of Arizona is doing a phone bank with the goal of reaching 10,000 Native voters before the election.

There is also a Native Vote rally scheduled for Election Day starting at 11:30 am in Tempe on the campus of Arizona State University.

And in Alaska the early vote is breaking records. The Alaska Dispatch News reports that 22,114 early votes have already been cast, five days before Election Day. “Early in-person votes go right into the ballot box and are counted on Tuesday, along with ones turned in at the polls,” the Alaska Dispatch News said.”Since the ballots aren’t tallied until Tuesday, there’s no real way to tell how people are voting. And it’s not entirely clear what’s driving the increased early turnout.”

On the Facebook page, Get Out the Native Vote-Interior Alaska, there is this remarkable story posted by Wilmina Daisy Stevens: “When it comes to voting, I always have to think of my mother, Hannah Paul Solomon. On the very last day that she was with us, my sister told her that she had received her GwichyaaZhee Corporation ballot. She wanted to vote it and she did. She never told anyone how she voted but she knew how important it was to vote. My sister sealed the envelope and we watched for the mailman. Once the mailman came, I said ‘The mailman just picked up your ballot, Mom. Your vote is counted.’ She had a smile on her face. Three hours later, my mom passed away. I vote because my Mom showed me how important it is to vote whether its Tribal, Corporations, City, Village, School Boards, or National: Please exercise your rights to vote. Its the only way to voice your opinion. Mahsi’ Mahsi Choo Shalak Nai.”

Five days to go.

Mark Trahant is the Charles R. Johnson Endowed Professor of Journalism at the University of North Dakota. He is an independent journalist and a member of The Shoshone-Bannock Tribes. On Twitter @TrahantReports

Reposting or reprinting this column? Please credit: Mark Trahant / TrahantReports.com

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

#NativeVote16 – North Dakota forges a new history from pipeline to ballots

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History in North Dakota: Marlo Hunte-Bueaubrun, Standing Rock, running for the Public Service Commission, Chase Iron Eyes, Standing Rock, a candidate for the U.S. House of Representatives, and Ruth Buffalo, Mandan, Hidatsa and Arikara, is campaigning for state Insurance Commissioner. (Jaynie Parrish photo)

 

Mark Trahant / Trahant Reports

It’s an understatement to say that North Dakota is making history.

The rush to build a new oil pipeline from the Bakken oil fields to Patoka, Illinois, was supposed to be routine. It was designed to avoid most regulation, especially federal oversight, and get built without fanfare. But when that route was moved so that it crossed under the Missouri River near the water source of the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe everything changed. The issue united Indian Country in a way that’s unprecedented. While the state and the company are making history, too, by writing a soon-to-be case study about how not to handle a crisis.

History.

But there is another chapter. No state in the history of the United States has ever had three Native Americans running as major party nominees for statewide offices. To put that in perspective in recent years: Larry EchoHawk, Pawnee, ran for attorney general (he won) and governor of Idaho (he lost). Byron Mallott, Tlingit, is the Lt. Gov. of Alaska, and Denise Juneau, Mandan Hidatsa Arikara, is Supt. of Public Instruction in Montana. There have been a few others candidates, but my point is they are scattered, one candidate is a big deal. So three Native American candidates is beyond extraordinary.

I have been criss-crossing North Dakota in recent days with Chase Iron Eyes, Ruth Buffalo, and Marlo Hunte-Beaubrun for public conversations on a range of issues. We started in Bismarck Thursday, Fargo on Friday, Grand Forks Saturday, and we will conclude in Minot today. Iron Eyes is running for Congress. Buffalo for the state’s insurance commissioner. And, Hunte-Beaubrun is running for the Public Service Commission, the agency that would regulate pipelines. They are running on the North Dakota Democratic-NonPartisan League Party ticket.

North Dakota is a huge state. Thursday night’s event alone meant I had to return home at about 1 am (and getting up again a couple of hours later to write). I want to point that out for one reason: These three candidates have kept this kind of schedule for months. The sacrifice of time, money, and just the stamina required, is remarkable.

Iron Eyes travels the state’s roadways pulling a cargo trailer with his campaign signs inside and on display outside. It’s probably his most visible campaign advertising. On Saturday he made certain to park his vehicle where the University of North Dakota was playing football. More eyeballs. His fundraising is authentic grass roots. He posted on Facebook: “16,227 people have contributed an average of $3.80 to our campaign. Send $3.80 today!”

Three. Dollars. Eighty. That’s it. Think of what that means in a world where the wealthy write checks and buy access to politicians from both parties.

Ruth Buffalo may be the hardest working candidate in the history of North Dakota. Every time you open Facebook you see her knocking on doors, making telephone calls, or supporting the other candidates running. When people look at her resume, her background, she is clearly prepared for this job. As Greg Stites, a former counsel for the North Dakota Insurance Commission, wrote in The Grand Forks Herald: “Ruth Buffalo is the best candidate for the job, with an academic background essentially built for the role of insurance commissioner. She holds a master’s degree in public health from North Dakota State University. Her depth of knowledge of the health and insurance needs of our state are unmatched by her opponents. And her accomplishments do not end there.”

Indeed.

And there is not only history, but irony, in Hunte-Beaubrun’s candidacy for the very agency that would regulate pipelines in North Dakota. She’s from Cannonball. This dispute is her community; her water. Imagine how history would be different if on a regulatory agency there was one person who could object to a routine pipeline drawing.

The rules would be different “because we would have a seat at that table,” Hunte-Beaubrun said. “We’d be able to aid in the process of creating those rules and regulations (and) we would be able to help everyone understand culturally where we’re coming from.”

There could have been a solution without a controversy. Win, win.

And that’s why representation is so critical. We have so many states, counties, cities, where decisions have been made without even hearing a Native voice, let alone considering what’s said. That’s not democracy. And will no longer work in a country where the demographics are changing rapidly.

Yes, it’s historic that three Native Americans are running for statewide offices. But what you know what’s cooler than that? The trend is only beginning. Even better think about what history  that could still be created. What if everyone in Indian Country, every ally, everyone who wants change, saw the merit of voting for a candidate who’s proud of contributions measured in pocket coins instead of the million-dollar access that we’ve come to accept as normal?

History.

Mark Trahant is the Charles R. Johnson Endowed Professor of Journalism at the University of North Dakota. He is an independent journalist and a member of The Shoshone-Bannock Tribes. On Twitter @TrahantReports

Reposting or reprinting this column? Please credit: Mark Trahant / TrahantReports.com

Video interviews are here.

Chase Iron Eyes.

Marlo Hunte-Beaubrun.

Ruth Buffalo.

 

 

 

 

 

 

#StandingRock – Dakota pipeline schedule is one more story of injustice

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Law enforcement is there to protect a pipeline schedule. Water protectors are there for water. And treaties. And justice. (Photo by Dallas Goldtooth via Facebook.)

Mark Trahant / Trahant Reports

This morning politics is crowded out by injustice.

Every preposterous and painful image from North Dakota is another reminder of injustice: The massive police, military-style occupation of Standing Rock Treaty lands, the rush to protect the frantic construction schedule for the Dakota Access Pipeline, and the brutal law enforcement march against people who are fighting for the simple idea that water is life.

I’m angry. How shall I say this without ranting? Tell stories.

Last January when a gang of gun-toting, Constitution mis-quoting, anti-government militia occupied the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge the reaction from federal law enforcement was patience. Days went by. Oregon Gov. Kate Brown (sounding very North Dakota-like) urged the federal government to crack down on “the radicals” before more arrived.

The lands involved were Paiute lands. Months ago, Jarvis Kennedy, a Burns Paiute Tribal Council member, asked: “What if it was a bunch of Natives who went in there and took it?”

We now know. And back in Oregon a jury of peers found the Bundy gang not guilty. 

Stories to tell. Injustice.

Since the beginning of the Standing Rock crisis there has been a call for President Obama to get involved. After all, there is a clear federal issue: The Oceti Sakowin Camp is on treaty land now claimed by the Army Corps of Engineers.

And, President Obama has a direct emotional connection with this tribe and this place. “I know that throughout history, the United States often didn’t give the nation-to-nation relationship the respect that it deserved.  So I promised when I ran to be a president who’d change that, a president who honors our sacred trust, and who respects your sovereignty, and upholds treaty obligations, and who works with you in a spirit of true partnership, in mutual respect, to give our children the future that they deserve.”

How could he have done that? Mutual respect could have, should have, started with a federal presence that made talking more important than acting. The action at Standing Rock is not over. But the federal government’s absence is not productive.

Indeed, if you listen to any politician, Democrat or Republican, you’ll hear them talk about respect for the treaties. Of course. The Constitution says treaties “shall be the supreme law of the land; and the judges in every state shall be bound thereby, anything in the Constitution or laws of any State to the contrary notwithstanding.”

The word “shall” is like a commandment. But if that’s true then how does any treaty tribe have less land than what’s in the document? Legally, morally, a treaty trumps a congressional act or an executive order. A treaty claim to the land is not preposterous.

If the United States lived up to its own ideals there would be no stolen water, land, and dams on the Missouri River and the Army Corps of Engineers would have a long history of real negotiation with the tribes instead of a pretend consultation.

Then every tribe in the country has its own Standing Rock story. Often several stories. Vacant lumber mills that promised jobs but left behind toxic debris. Phosphate clean-up plans that were too expensive, so the waste is buried instead. Or three million gallons of heavy metal sludge released by the government into the Animas River where water flowed into Navajo farms and communities.

Stories to tell. Injustice.

There have been calls to get the presidential candidates involved. To visit. To see for themselves the love of the land, the water, and how this moment has brought Indian Country together.

Donald Trump wouldn’t be much help. He’s in the same boat as most of the politicians in North Dakota. They hope to profit from this pipeline project and a future where oil remains more important than water. “Trump’s financial disclosure forms show the Republican nominee has between $500,000 and $1m invested in Energy Transfer Partners, with a further $500,000 to $1m holding in Phillips 66, which will have a 25% stake in the Dakota Access project once completed, The Guardian reported.

And Hillary Clinton? We know from the WikiLeaks that she was inclined to approve Keystone XL pipeline but then flipped because there was so much attention on her email server. It was a way to change the story. Or so the campaign hoped.

Then election season is a terrible time to actually engage in public policy. Campaigns should be talking about issues and what they might do. But not when that decision is influenced by money, large voting blocs, and an intense election schedule. Eleven days out a campaign is more worried about winning the election than anything else. Period.

Now I’ll be polite: The statement by Hillary Clinton on Standing Rock was awful. The second I read it my heart dropped. I can see this being crafted at a table where folks weighed in from a variety of constituent groups and the writing was designed to not offend. “Secretary Clinton has been clear that she thinks all voices should be heard and all views considered in federal infrastructure projects. Now, all of the parties involved—including the federal government, the pipeline company and contractors, the state of North Dakota, and the tribes—need to find a path forward that serves the broadest public interest. As that happens, it’s important that on the ground in North Dakota, everyone respects demonstrators’ rights to protest peacefully, and workers’ rights to do their jobs safely.”

So in the spirit of reconciliation, Energy Transfer Partners put out its own statement, “all trespassers will be prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law and removed from the land.”

There is a schedule to keep. Investors have been promised the pipeline will flow with oil soon. No matter what. Another story to tell. Injustice.

Mark Trahant is the Charles R. Johnson Endowed Professor of Journalism at the University of North Dakota. He is an independent journalist and a member of The Shoshone-Bannock Tribes. On Twitter @TrahantReports

Reposting or reprinting this column? Please credit: Mark Trahant / TrahantReports.com

#NativeVote16 – North Dakota’s three statewide challengers pitch to voters

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Chase Iron Eyes in Fargo for state’s congressional debate. He said: “We are creating a 21st century North Dakota.” (Photo via Facebook)

Mark Trahant / Trahant Reports

We’re about a month away from this election season being over — and so there is a lot going on in the #NativeVote16 universe. (Previous: Make no mistake, Standing Rock is on the ballot.)

Let’s start in North Dakota where three Native American candidates are on the ballot statewide, plus five more for state legislative offices. Chase Iron Eyes, Ruth Buffalo and Marlo Hunte-Beaubrun are essentially running as a team. Almost a Indigenous version of the Democratic Party (which says something about the regular party). To me this race shows how much better our politics would be if campaigns were publicly funded because then it would only be a debate about the issues. And there would be a more equal platform for that discourse.  As it stands: Iron Eyes and his colleagues are campaigning by selling t-shirts and small donations. While their opponents have all the resources they need (plus a very Republican state as a base of support). On Facebook, Iron Eyes posted, “Congressional races are just as important as the presidential race. If I can hit you up for 5$ go here www.ironeyesforcongress.us I need some basic ads to make this real.”

Last week the one moment of equality was Face To Face: North Dakota US House Debate on Prairie Public Broadcasting. This was important because the difference between U.S. Rep. Kevin Cramer, R-North Dakota, and Iron Eyes could not be more stark. Cramer was pitch perfect in his support of big oil and the Dakota Access Pipeline. said that the Standing Rock Tribe did have consultation, nine times, but that was not the same as consent. He said his biggest concern is that the administration changed the rules after they were followed. (My view of that logic in an earlier piece, “Who gets to tell the Standing Rock story about what happens next?”)

“I just think we need to be respecting each other,” Iron Eyes said in the debate. “I just don’t feel we should be putting our water resource at risk … pipelines need to move our oil to market, but Energy Transfers lied to the American people saying this was American oil to be consumed on American soil, and they have since backed away from that.”

Ruth Buffalo is running to be the state’s Insurance Commission. She also debated last week on Prairie Public Television.  She said it’s a critical post because it’s the advocate for the people of North Dakota to hold insurance companies accountable for following through on their promises. Her campaign is largely public appearances (she crosses the state a lot, and that’s not easy in North Dakota) as well as social media. Her campaign manager recently posted on Facebook: “Election day is less than FIVE weeks away! Our page has over 3,000 likes, which is phenomenal! This is a true grass roots effort. Today, and for the rest of the campaign, I am going to ask you a favor: spread the word to your contacts about Ruth and her vision as Insurance Commissioner of North Dakota. If everyone who likes this pages reaches and convinces at least 50 new people, we will have a real shot to bring Ruth’s experience in health and business, as well as her unique and compassionate voice, to the insurance branch of North Dakota.”

Marlo Hunte-Beaubrun is campaigning for the office that would regulate pipelines such as the Dakota Access Pipeline. In a campaign video she said many North Dakotans know that the regulatory process is unfair and she’s like to restore balance. “But I can’t do that alone. I need your vote,” she said. “Let’s give North Dakota a chance at success.”

The world is watching what is happening at Standing Rock. And these campaigns represent a chance for those same voices to have a say in the political process from pipelines to health care. And if you think it’s impossible for the impossible to happen, consider this, with the Trump-implosion, all bets are off. Seats that were supposed to be safe might not be. Elections are all about who shows up.

Mark Trahant is the Charles R. Johnson Endowed Professor of Journalism at the University of North Dakota. He is an independent journalist and a member of The Shoshone-Bannock Tribes. On Twitter @TrahantReports

Reposting or reprinting this column? Please credit: Mark Trahant / TrahantReports.com