Indigenous Peoples and Human Rights

August 29, 2012

Debra White Plume: Solidarity, Horse Trailers, Lakota Women's Day of Peace

Solidarity Gathering, Horse Trailers, and the Lakota Women’s Day of Peace

by Debra White Plume, writing from the banks of Wounded Knee Creek, 08-29-2012
Posted at Censored News
            Owe Aku (Bring Back the Way, a grassroots Lakota nongovernmental organization) hosted a five day Solidarity Gathering at Kiza Park, near Manderson, SD.  Deep Green Resistance, Native Youth Movement, Un-Occupy Albuquerque, Occupy Lincoln, Rocky Mountain Peace and Justice Center, Occupy Wall Street, Radical Resistance, Owe Aku, and Women of the Oglala Lakota Nation co-organized the gathering.

The organizations sent representatives to attend the SG to strengthen relationships and form new alliances among the diverse groups that work on social justice issues, environmental justice, and preserving traditional cultures of Native Nations people.  Training topics included White Allies Working with Red Nations, Nonviolent Direct Action, Media Justice, Sacred Water Protection, and many workshops designed to improve organizing skills and to close the gap between people of different races and geographical locations.  Owe Aku has hosted Unite to Fight training camps since 2005, with hundreds of participants completing the four to six day learning experiences.  Organizing and skill building for activists are the training emphasis, as well as building solidarity, and focusing on a specific issue that participants decide and want to follow up on with direct action. Colonization of the Lakota people including the use of alcohol and the predatory practices of Nebraskan government and the town of White Clay, Nebraska was one of the major issues, as well as the impacts of the Keystone XL oil pipeline proposed for this area by TransCanada, Inc.

Training in ‘Decolonization and Social Change’ took place each day so individuals could spend time and effort with facilitators and other participants. The difficulty in working for social change while being faced with colonization of the Lakota people was a major topic.

“Colonization and cultural genocide through the education system is going on right now, our children go to school and are not taught about being Lakota, their Lakota identity is not reinforced,” said Victorio Camp, organizer for Owe Aku.  In the workshops on effective organizing and creating intergenerational and interracial alliances, one young man stated, “I hate, because I fear losing everything I love. Being here among all ages and races is helping me to let go of that and learn to work toward solidarity.”

Folks came from Florida, California, New York, Canada, and all over the Great Plains. “We’ve been neglecting our white allies for so long, because our people have been through so much trauma caused by whites. We have to teach our white allies how to help us. I heard the war cry of the Lakota women “we want to live” all the way to my little island in Canada, and I came here. I learned how allies need to work together,” said Sasheen, a First Nations woman.

Non-violent direct action workshops took place daily, led by T.R. McKenzie of Deep Green Resistance Great Plains Region, with Red Roots training by Vic Camp and Olowan Martinez.  “We are here to learn from our native allies, their families, and to stand with them in the work they do to seek justice in environmental issues and in their work to stop the genocide going on in White Clay, Nebraska,” said McKenzie. “We will go to White Clay to support our women relatives in their Women’s Day of Peace,” said Vic Camp, “as they go there to express themselves.”

The Unite to Fight training camps include an action component so participants can put their skills into motion. The direct action of this Solidarity Gathering included the Lakota Women’s Day of Peace in White Clay.

White Clay, a town of 14 residents, borders the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation. A few grocery stores, two diners, a gas station, a ranch store and four off sale beer joints are in town. Since the bodies of Oglala Lakota Ron Hard Heart and Wallace Black Elk were found outside White Clay several years ago, the Lakota people have marched on White Clay many times, questioning why there has been no resolution to these two unsolved murders among many crimes over the years.  The four beer joints sell about four million cans of beer annually, yet the owners know that the Pine Ridge Reservation has laws to prohibit the sale of alcohol. The Nebraska Liquor Commission (NLC) grants their licenses, although they are aware of the laws.  

Nebraskans for Peace and others have taken the issue to the NLC several times over the past decade, the movie The Battle of White Clay has been done; the Oglala Sioux Tribe has filed a lawsuit against major beer distributors. Olowan Martinez, Oglala Lakota from Pine Ridge, organized the most recent march to White Clay this past June and the Lakota Women’s Day of Peace on August 26. “I wanted to bring people together to walk to White Clay, for the women to come together with their children, and our DGR allies to let the bar owners know that we want them to stop selling alcohol to our people. They don’t care that our people suffer with alcoholism, that we have high suicide rates, they turn our young people over, and there is a can of beer under their dead body. Our tribal police are hurting and tired of cutting our young people down from that rope. We have mourned enough. This liquid genocide must end,” says Martinez.

The Lakota Women’s Day of Peace was not about an individual’s choice to drink, there are dozens of social service offices on the reservation to deal with that. The street people who drink around the clock in White Clay are not the cause of White Clay, they are the result of White Clay!  Rather, it was to put emphasis on the legal and administrative practices of the state of Nebraska that allow deliberate exploitation, smuggling across a state border, unsolved murders and other crimes in a town of 14 people. There is no church there, no school, no public restroom, no police station, nor any other civic amenities; the post office is inside a grocery store. A dozen abandoned buildings throughout the town lurch and tilt and look ready to fall over, some have been standing like that for twenty years.  Elders recall the bars that used to be there, but all have burned down at least once, never to be rebuilt. The owners replaced their bars with off sale beer joints. I read somewhere that all White Clay needs is a place to sell your blood at, then it can officially be considered skid row.

About two hundred fifty people met at noon at Billy Mills Hall parking lot in Pine Ridge Village, and after a prayer, walked to White Clay in the 100-degree heat. The children wore or carried horse, eagle, and bumblebee puppets made at Kiza Park during the SG, and the allies carried the 20-foot tall Lakota Woman puppet.  The Elk Nation Singers led the walk, along with Lakota men who carried staffs and flags. Cars caravanned behind the walkers, who were met at the Nebraska border by four Sheridan County Police units and 8 officers, who sealed off the road behind us with their police units. Within 30 minutes, several Oglala Sioux Tribal Police arrived, and parked their units at the reservation border.

The people stood in a circle in the middle of town, and young men burned sage. Guest speakers included Arlette Loud Hawk, Tokala Kit Fox Warrior Society Whip Bearer; Michelle Tyon of the Cante Tinzan (Brave Heart) Prisoner Project; Olowan Martinez, Oglala Lakota; Eileen Janis, Sweetgrass Suicide Prevention Project; and I. The Nebraska Highway Patrol formed a barricade across the road on the south side of White Clay with their eight to ten police units and about twenty state troopers.

The Elk Nation Singers offered honor songs, war songs, prayer songs. Deep Green Resistance went into direct action, with members helping five people to form a human blockade across the highway.  Tribal members and allies from the Solidarity Gathering circled into a ‘no surrender line’ around the blockade, and AIM Grassroots formed a line north of the DGR blockade. Young tribal members walking into town from the north began to yell, folks ran to see what was happening, three adult men at the Arrow Head Inn beer joint were yelling and trying to hit the youth, and a Nebraska policeman grabbed the youth and put him in his unit. One of the men at Arrow Head Inn was heard yelling, “Jungle bunny go back where you came from,” to a tribal youth. “White bitches,” he said about the DGR women. A youth peeked in the cop car asking why he had the 14-year-old boy in there, the officer sprayed pepper spray into his face, and at many people nearby. The officer started to pull out, bumping people out of his way, until several young men stood in front of the car and wouldn’t move till the boys’ mother could get there. Medics from the SG were doing eyewashes of the pepper spray victims, including a ten-year boy, Wakinyan Conroy.  The police car injured a woman when he bumped her; the Pine Ridge Hospital sent an ambulance.  The Tribal Police entered White Clay and helped stop a verbal assault in front of the Arrow Head Inn between its owner, his friends, and organizers.

An intoxicated woman had yelled, “You wanna fight?” for an hour or so, shoving people. We asked her to join us, she refused. She was intoxicated, saying a bar owner gave her beer to ‘raise hell’ so many of us older women asked the Nebraska police why they did not arrest her. “She’s not breaking any law,” the Sheriff said.  When she began swinging her fist at people, and spitting on people, a Tribal Police Officer yelled at the Sheriff to arrest her, so finally he placed her in a Sheridan County Police car.

Several men from AIM Grassroots and Oglala tribal members formed a line near the DGR blockade and did not move for several hours. The Sheridan County Police and the Nebraska State Troopers did not know what to do! Finally they decided to take the DGR blockade to jail in Rushville, after receiving several phone calls from Nebraska residents that they could not get through the town of White Clay.  A truck pulling a horse trailer backed into town. Tom Cheyenne, Tom Poor Bear, and Alex White Plume spoke and said the DGR blockade was there to send a statement to the world that they supported the Lakota women to bring attention to the predatory practices of the Nebraska Liquor Commission, the Nebraska government, and Sheridan County toward the people of Pine Ridge Reservation, so to support DGR’s effort, the people would let the police take DGR.  By this time, it was getting dark out. The five individuals on the blockade were carried enmasse into the horse trailer, placed into piles of animal dung and driven thirty miles to Rushville, followed by their attorney Lisa Adams, where they were given citations and released on personal recognizance.  The Sheridan County Attorneys Office stated that criminal charges are pending and will be issued by August 31.  Many folks are discussing police misconduct and many civil rights violations that took place.

The rest of us returned to Kiza Park, went through debriefing, ate an evening meal, and waited for the arrested and their legal team to return. When they returned, they were given medial care by our medics, with one being taken to the hospital.  There was sadness that violence was done to our group by drunken, paid-off Indians, the Nebraska police and troopers, but there was also great comfort, expressed by many Lakota women who said they felt so loved by the male relatives who came to support, that there was hope to end the exploitation of our people by White Clay and its puppet masters, and that more work will continue, in solidarity. (Video footage is available of the incidents mentioned in this article).


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