The Native Nations Rise March, held on March 10 in the heart of the nation’s capital, did exactly what it was intended to do.
The Standing Rock Sioux Nation’s David vs. Goliath-like battle against the federal government’s decision to approve the Dakota Access Pipeline to flow through the heart of the tribe’s water source, Lake Oahe in North Dakota, was highlighted in a glorious fashion. Thousands of indigenous marchers from around the globe joined Sioux citizens in letting the U.S. Army Corp of Engineers and President Donald Trump’s White House know that the pipeline is wrong on legal, religious and sovereign grounds. And they resolved to keep highlighting and working on the issue as it continues to wind through the American court system.
At the same time, even deeper issues became a part of the conversation, like tribal disgust for the U.S. government’s legal reliance on the ancient Doctrine of Discovery to overtake Indian concerns, a problem that arises in arguments before federal courts time and again. Standing Rock Sioux Chairman Dave Archambault II and Chairman JoDe Goudy of the Yakama Nation put out statements as part of the march against the doctrine, making the point that the tribal fight for clean water is also a time to raise awareness about an antiquated system of dispute resolution utilized by the U.S. judicial branch that views tribes as lesser institutions under Christian principles. The mainstream media, too, noticed the march with several popular news outlets covering the many pro-sovereignty Native perspectives involved here—which, as many in Indian country know, happens all too infrequently.
Those were all good developments, but there were bad ones as well—ones seemingly rooted at best in a colonial mindset that refuses to believe Indians are alive and well and have their own strongly supported positions on issues of the day—and at worst in racism. One example was a local D.C. story by the FOX 5 news outlet, entitled, Truly fighting for a cause or professional protesters?
In that piece, respected FOX 5 reporter Marina Marraco, seemingly relied on Trump’s penchant for labeling protests against his positions as “fake news,” and organized by rabble-rousers with less focus on his policies and more on their intentions to paint him in a bad light.
When tipis were set up on the National Mall in the days leading up to the march, Marraco’s curiosity was piqued, and she developed a thesis, which FOX News readily reported: “When you see groups of people marching and protesting on the streets, you might assume they are passionate and knowledgeable about their cause. But things are not always as they seem,” she offered.
Indigenous Environmental Network (IEN) staffer Kandi Mossett, a Mandan, Hidatsa, Arikara citizen, told Marraco that the tipis were set up with “help from DC Action Lab, which is a local organizing group that helps.”
“What we try to do is go to a local community and respect whatever protocols they have and so they worked with the National Park Service I believe and worked out everything for the permits,” Mossett, well-known in Indian country for her work on tribal environmental justice issues, further explained. IEN was one of the co-organizers of the event, along with the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe and the Native Organizers Alliance, so Mossett would have easily been able to fill Marraco in on the not-too-hard-to-understand reasons for the march, if asked.
Mossett’s explanations about the tipis apparently did not sit well with Marraco. “On the National Mall, we found there were some people supporting a cause that they were still trying to figure out exactly what they were rallying for,” she reported, citing an unnamed source who couldn’t give her precise details of why so many American Indians find the Dakota Access Pipeline to be legally and morally wrong.
The people Marraco interviewed apparently didn’t offer her anything about tribal sovereignty, federal-tribal trust and treaty responsibilities, nor the legal requirements for meaningful federal-tribal consultation. Another unnamed participant told the reporter that he or she didn’t know how long the pipeline was.
Marraco was also perturbed that she was not able to get some of the film she desired to go along with her piece: “But at this ongoing protest on the National Mall that is demanding the government to back down from taking over land Native American tribes call home, FOX 5 was surprisingly told by some of the protesters that on this public federal property in the shadows of the obelisk that represents all Americans, we were not allowed to film because our photographer is a man.”
Marraco’s reporting was symbolic of one bad side of the march—the misinformation and lack of information that some news outlets reported about it, as Marraco chose not to more deeply delve into the real tribal issues at stake, nor did she appear to search out participants for her piece that could have told her exactly what this protest has been about. There were thousands of Indians in D.C. as Marraco was reporting who could have told her an earful – just look to ICMN’s own coverage of the march for evidence of that – but she apparently chose to ignore them.
Another bad thing that happened as part of the march had nothing to do with the press, but rather, the opinions of people who chose to boo Archambault as he spoke at one point during the event.
Archambault has faced criticism from some protesters of the pipeline who feel he worked too hard to help shut down the protest camps. Archambault, though, has said that was not because he wanted to make it easier for the federal government to destroy the water of his people. Rather, he wanted to protect the safety of protesters as the flood season approached, and he wanted to do it in a way that would help focus the attention less on protesters possibly getting injured and arrested and more on the tribe’s court cases against the pipeline. He felt the job had been done on the ground, but once Trump secured the easement for the pipeline, the focus, he believed, had to turn to a new front.
Booing is fair and free speech. Such is tribal politics, and such is American politics.
And then there was the ugly that came as part of the march. One name represents it well: Katie Frates, a conservative writer for The Daily Caller, who tweeted during the march, “I wonder how many #NativeNationsRise #NoDAPL protesters I could run over before I got arrested #getouttamyway.”
Frates’ tweet was noted by Rhonda LeValdo, former president of the Native American Journalists Association, on Facebook soon after Frates posted it, and LeValdo immediately called Frates out on Twitter. Soon, many Native Americans were calling for punishment for Frates by her employer, and she was deluged with messages demanding for her to resign or be fired.
She did delete her ugly words, but not before defending them, tweeting that she’s “equally annoyed at anyone who cause unnecessary traffic.”
Frates’ tweet, though, is not really about her. It’s about a whole lot of other people in D.C. and far beyond who feel just the same: They wish they could wipe Natives away.
It’s ugly, but it’s reality, and it’s a good thing the Native Nations Rise March won’t let us forget it.