Use of dogs against protesters may mark turning point in pipeline campaign
(Part II of two parts. See also Security guards set dogs on Sioux demonstrators at Standing Rock.)
FORT YATES, North Dakota––History may in the long run favor the Dakota Access pipeline, or a modified and re-routed version of it. But history is unlikely to favor security guards’ use of dogs on September 3, 2016 to attack unarmed demonstrators against the pipeline on the Standing Rock Sioux reservation.
Among the dogs used on the Standing Rock reservation against women, children, and protesters on horseback, cell phone images appeared to show at least one Malinois, a cane corso, a pit bull, a German shepherd, a boxer, and a Rottweiler handled by security guars. Six people were bitten, according to Standing Rock Sioux tribal spokesperson Steve Sitting Bear. A horse was reportedly also injured.
One Native American protester at the scene held a harnessed pit bull.
Oil will be used
In the light of public opinion, the Standing Rock reservation incident of September 3, 2016 may become a turning point, obliging the Dakota Access pipeline financiers to turn the 1,168-mile proposed pipeline––and their tactics to get it built––in a very different direction.
“In 2008, the U.S. imported about two-thirds of its oil,” recounted Associated Press environment writer Seth Borenstein, “and politicians spoke longingly of energy independence. Now, America imports less than half its oil.”
Developing the Bakken oil shale resources is a big part of that continuing trend. The oil will be excavated, refined, and used. The big looming question is how.
Wrong side of history
Back in Birmingham, Alabama, on May 3, 1963, Eugene “Bull” Connor (1897-1973), should have known he was on the wrong side of history long before he sent the dogs out. Closely allied with the Ku Klux Klan for more than 30 years, Connor had already been politically defeated.
Though Connor’s deputies arrested more than 3,000 protesters in just five days, May 2 to May 7, 1963, within a week the Birmingham city government and business leaders had agreed to desegregate all lunch counters, restrooms, fitting rooms, and drinking fountains in the city, to hire black workers, and to release all the jailed demonstrators.
Connor eventually returned to elected office, but never again to significant authority.
The day nothing happened
Wrote veteran journalist Roger Witherspoon in his 1985 biography Martin Luther King, Jr…to the Mountaintop, based on interviews with Birmingham desegregation leaders including Fred Shuttlesworth, whose wife had been stabbed for trying to enroll their children in a whites-only school:
“On the first two days, Connor would yell ‘Get those niggers!’ and the firemen would turn their hoses on black teenagers and kids who were marching and singing, or kneeling and praying. And at the end of each day, those firemen and cops with the dogs would go home to their families and their kids would ask them ‘Why did you sic dogs on those kids while they were praying?’
“On the third day, the black youths started singing a hymn as they marched towards the police and fire lines. Connor, as usual, waited till they were close and yelled ‘Get those niggers!’
“And nothing happened.
“Some of the firemen started to cry. Cops held their batons loosely at their sides. They couldn’t bring themselves to attack kids one more time and then face their kids at dinner and themselves in the mirror. And the protestors marched through them, handing out flowers as they passed.
“The impetus for this,” Witherspoon wrote, “was the belief––first espoused by Mohandas Gandhi in his unsuccessful South Africa campaign, and later embraced and embellished by Martin Luther King Jr.––that everyone in Birmingham shared a common morality, and if the marchers could appeal to the morality and spiritual belief system in the white cops and firemen, then something would have to give.”
Fort Yates and the Standing Rock Sioux reservation, like Birmingham in 1963, already had a long and tragic history, recalled in part by Standing Rock Sioux Tribe historic preservation officer LaDonna Bravebull Allard in an article for Yes! magazine posted on September 3, 2016, even as the confrontation over the Dakota Access pipeline was underway.
This history in turn lends symbolic emphasis to the September 3, 2016 confrontation.
“On this day 153 years ago,” Allard wrote, “my great-great-grandmother Nape Hote Win (Mary Big Moccasin) survived the bloodiest conflict between the Sioux Nations and the U.S. Army ever on North Dakota soil. An estimated 300 to 400 of our people were killed in the Inyan Ska (Whitestone) Massacre,” along with 22 U.S. soldiers, “far more than at Wounded Knee. But very few know the story.”
The massacre occurred 50 miles east of the Dakota Access pipeline route, Allard recalled, where in 1863 “nearly 4,000 Yanktonais, Isanti (Santee), and Hunkpapa gathered alongside a lake in southeastern North Dakota, near present-day Ellendale, for an intertribal buffalo hunt to prepare for winter. Many refugees from the 1862 uprising in Minnesota, mostly women and children, had been taken in as family. Mary’s father, Oyate Tawa, was one of the 38 Dah’kotah hung in Mankato, Minnesota, less than a year earlier, in the largest mass execution in the country’s history. Brigadier General Alfred Sully and soldiers came to Dakota Territory looking for the Santee who had fled the uprising.
Mary Big Moccasin remembered
“As my great-great-grandmother Mary Big Moccasin told the story, the sun was setting and everyone was sharing an evening meal when Sully’s soldiers surrounded the camp on Whitestone Hill.”
Nine-year-old Mary Big Moccasin was shot in the hip, but was taken alive and held as a prisoner until her release at age 16 in 1870.
“Where the Cannonball River joins the Missouri River, at the site of our camp today to stop the Dakota Access pipeline,” Allard continued, “there used to be a whirlpool that created large spherical sandstone formations. The river’s true name is Inyan Wakangapi Wakpa, River that Makes the Sacred Stones. The stones are not created any more,” Allard said, “ever since the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers dredged the mouth of the Cannonball River and flooded the area in the late 1950s as they finished the Oahe dam.”
Last great bison herd
Allard did not mention another tragic episode nearby, recounted in 1904 by founding Bronx Zoo director William T. Hornaday.
Instrumental in saving the North American plains bison by starting the first successful captive breeding program for a threatened species, Hornaday recalled that bison became at risk of extinction after the 1880 completion of the Northern Pacific Railway “led to a grand attack upon the northern herd.
“In October 1883,” Hornaday wrote in his book American Natural History, “the last thousand head were killed in southwestern Dakota by Sitting Bull and about a thousand Indians from the Standing Rock agency, leaving only the Yellowstone Park bunch of 200 head, a band of 40 in Custer County, Montana, and the Great Slave Lake herd of about 500 head.”
Sitting Bull had been held at Fort Yates for a time after returning to the U.S. in 1881, following four years of nomadic exile in Canada as a fugitive from the U.S. Army. Transferred to Fort Randall, near Pickstown, South Dakota, Sitting Bull was allowed to return north to the Standing Rock Agency in May 1883, where he worked as a market hunter and lived before and after an 1885 stint with Buffalo Bill’s Wild West touring exhibition.
Sitting Bull in 1890 hosted a visit from the Nevada Paiute spiritual leader Wovoka, founder of the Buffalo Ghost Dancers, who danced in memory of their forebears and the bison.
Summarizes Wikipedia, “Alarm spread to nearby white settlements as the Sioux added a new feature to the dance – shirts that were said to stop bullets.”
Death of Sitting Bull
James McLaughlin, the U.S. Indian Agent at Fort Yates, ordered the reservation police to arrest Sitting Bull. Amid the confrontation that followed, Wikipedia recounts, “Catch-the-Bear, a Lakota, shouldered his rifle and shot Lieutenant Henry Bullhead, who reacted by firing his revolver into the chest of Sitting Bull. Another police officer, Red Tomahawk, shot Sitting Bull in the head.”
Altogether eight men from each side died, along with two horses.
Sitting Bull was initially buried at Fort Yates, but his remains were in 1953 relocated to his birthplace at Mobridge, South Dakota.
A. St-Laurent says
Ethics aside, it’s hard to believe that anyone in 2016 would think it was “good optics” to set dogs on people, given the associations with the worst of the civil rights era abuses and even Nazi concentration camps. I guess they figured there was unlikely to be significant blowback. This brief, satisfying video commentary on the protests and their historical context by Lawrence O’Donnell of MSNBC reminds us why: