Anarchism in Native America: Remembering the Past, Observing the Present, Protecting the Future

(TFC) – Things have changed a lot since I became an anarchist, not the least of which was learning a lot about the government’s role in regulating just about everything imaginable, and how it negatively affects people. Becoming an anarchist has also given me a deeper appreciation of being Native, as well as the reverse: being Native has given me a deeper appreciation of what anarchism entails. Yes, I know that there will probably be other anarchists that will denounce me being proud of something that is considered “an accident of birth”, yet they will conveniently overlook the fact that being descended from people who have been (and still are) consistently screwed over by a governing body “for their own good” means fertile soil for a bigger demand to dismantle The State™.

Growing up was not without its challenges. As a “mixed-breed”, I caught much flak by Natives for being white, and caught flak from whites for being Native. Even now, there’s still a lot of crap given to people who are not “pure enough”, and it’s coming from all sides. I was able to witness firsthand the traditions of my tribe (Oglala Lakota, in South Dakota), to listen to the stories, to watch how government meddling harmed those who were trying to make due for themselves and their families. I masochistically decided to go back and work as part of the Tribal Ambulance Service when I was a certified EMT-B, to catch that same flak as an adult. “You’re too white to be indi’n” was something I was told by one of my patients. Yet, not all calls were like that. Families trusted me to check over their babies. I was often fed (and fed well). I’ve had little ones hug me for just showing up. I’ve had older patients remember me from when I was a little girl, or ones that recognized me because of my relatives. Times like those reminded me of the beauty of a close-knit community, even past the flaws. Times like those also gave me a good look at how the government had successfully and repeatedly harmed my tribe for the gain of The State™.

The Oglala Lakota are most famously known for being the victims of the Wounded Knee Massacre, carried out by the government, and the 7th Cavalry Regiment being their main instrument of carrying out the murders. Medals of Honor were awarded to those soldiers who took part in the killings. The act that the government was trying to commit before it began? Disarming the Lakota. This is one of the most infamous acts of murder carried out by the U.S. Government and her agents, yet people don’t know what was happening before it started. This is the same thing that certain people are calling for today: the disarming of the population under the idea that the government, more specifically, the police, will protect everyone. They conveniently overlook that disarming the people means taking away their ability to protect themselves *from* the government.

During World War II, the U.S. Government, in all its wisdom, decided to “appropriate” almost 350,000 acres of the Pine Ridge Reservation to use as a practice bombing range. Over 100 Native families were forced from their homes to make way for the government to allow their B-17 pilots a plot of land to refine their target acquiring skills, and eventually in the 70s, this range would be used by the National Guard as a practice range for field artillery. The usage of land in this manner left unexploded ordinance to sit against the weather, leaking chemicals and heavy metals into the ground water, as well as still being a danger of exploding if disturbed. There has been repeated efforts to clean up the area, but the damage has been done, and nobody knows if or when the area will be clear of the UXO, or to what extent the UXO contaminated the water.

In the early 2000s, Alex White Plume, who would later become Oglala Tribal Vice-President and then President, had his farm raided and plants destroyed by DEA agents because he dared plant industrial hemp, a low-THC version of Cannabis. The Tribe had already passed a resolution approving industrial hemp to be grown within the boundaries of the reservation, which is notoriously difficult to grow on due to the nature of the soil. The federal government went so far as to put a restraining order on Mr. White Plume to tell him to stop trying to grow hemp without permission from them, which reinforced the fact that although they claim that tribes are sovereign, it’s only a thin disguise that doesn’t cover the fact that they *will* harass you if you do something that offends them, no matter where you are.

Image Source: Joseph Tye

Image Source: The Fifth Column

I took part in the protest against the Dakota Access Pipeline at the Energy Transfer Partners headquarters in Dallas, TX. I even spoke on behalf of my tribe after pouring my heart out to Tribal President, John Yellow Bird Steele, about wanting to do the Lakota Oyate proud, even though I’m not a fullblood, and knowing the anarcho-purists would probably call me “not anarchist enough” for bringing my intentions before the head of a smaller, Native version of The State™, even if they knew his stance on cryptocurrency and saw it as a small victory against the Federal Reserve. It was a wonderful experience anyway, standing in the pounding Texas sun in the middle of a concrete wasteland of big money and boutiques for people who think $1500 is a good price for jeans with holes in them (which I don’t understand, but if that’s what they want to sell, more power to them). Natives from many tribes gathered, as well as non-Native supporters. Sage wafted in the air, blessings were said, songs were sung, and people aired their grievances against the pipeline. It was a beautiful display of dissent.

The parts of the event that stung the hardest was when a majority of the blame was placed on Capitalism instead of Corporatism. The blame was not being aimed toward the government for giving permission to such a company to start digging up burial sites and lands held sacred, or to threaten the modern-day version of Manifest Destiny, also known as “Eminent Domain”. South Dakota Governor Dennis Daugaard essentially applauded the use of government force through police due to false allegations of violence in North Dakota, the main area of protest hosted by the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe, where their reservation sits on the border of both states. Police remain an ever-present show of state force, reminiscent of the BIA agents of old, to lock away any Native that stands their ground, even for the most ironic of charges: trespassing on private property.

Even in Dallas, the proceedings were halted momentarily to thank the police for what they do. I screamed internally so loud that I think someone might have heard me. How quickly people forget. Did they not see where the police were standing? Their smirks and laughing when someone spoke one of the Old Languages? The goofy look on one of the officers’ faces as he filmed the crowd as the singers started drumming? Maybe I’ve been to too many protests, read too much about history of policing in America, witnessed too many people getting arrested for obstruction when they were 3 lanes of traffic away on a public sidewalk, read too many stories about people of all races getting shot by police in no-knock raids at wrong addresses… but the presence of agents of the state has given me a bad feeling for a number of years and for many reasons. Perhaps it’s because police in their various forms have been used to force and keep Natives on some of the least-productive tracts of land available, upon threat of death? Or maybe because they were used as slave patrols, to return runaway slaves to their owners? Maybe it’s because of events like Ruby Ridge? Killings like that of John T. Williams in Seattle, among many others? Who did they think would be shooing us away like unwanted dogs if Kelcy Warren decided he was tired of the little spectacle on his doorstep? I maintained composure. We were here against the pipeline, for our ancestors and descendants, for clean water for everyone. I kept that in mind as I swallowed my anger, to keep it for another time.

The protest in Dallas went on for about 2 hours, with representatives from multiple tribes and organizations showing up in solidarity with Standing Rock. Local media presence was brief, almost non-existent to the point where I was actually surprised to see coverage from a couple of the local outlets. It was a beautiful, unique, frustrating experience, combining a strange mix of remembering past government aggressions with current ideas that Capitalism is evil but can be fixed with the right method of government. The irony was not lost on me, and thinking about it launched me from being tired and in bed, to fully awake and writing this article despite my body screaming at me to go back to snuggle with my husband. Even through my personally rough past regarding my own tribe, in terms of identity, my heart so desperately hopes that more Natives look at anarchism as a viable option to get the government out of their lives in even the smallest of ways. Voluntary interactions are a wonderful thing, and I think it would be an awesome thing to see someone selling Indian Tacos at an anarchist gathering.

Besides, anarchy could benefit greatly from some good frybread.

Special to The Fifth Column from Bryanne Bathory