Workers Vanguard No. 1143
2 November 2018
Native Americans Targeted
Free Dakota Access Pipeline Activists!
Six Native Americans who two years ago protested against the Dakota Access Pipeline (DAPL) near the Standing Rock Sioux reservation in North Dakota today are facing years-long federal sentences. The Standing Rock encampment, which attracted thousands of American Indians and environmental activists in late 2016 until its dismantling in February 2017, was brutally assaulted many times by police, National Guardsmen and private security thugs, with over 800 arrested. The Water Protector Legal Collective reports that 132 state criminal cases are still active. We demand: Drop all the charges against the protesters now!
On 27 October 2016, cops used pepper spray, rubber bullets, Humvees, armored trucks and bulldozers in an attempt to clear the encampment, arresting more than 140 and leaving over 50 injured. One of those arrested that day was Oglala Lakota Sioux activist Red Fawn Fallis, a respected leader and medic at the camp whose family includes a number of American Indian Movement (AIM) members. As she was pinned to the ground by several burly cops, a .38-calibre revolver at her waist went off. Lucky to survive this assault, she was slammed with three federal felony charges, including discharge of a weapon, which carries a sentence of ten years to life. She took a plea deal and was sentenced in July to 57 months on the lesser charge of possession and is incarcerated in Texas.
Michael “Rattler” Markus, Michael “Little Feather” Giron, Dion Ortiz and James “Angry Bird” White were charged with starting fires during the cop offensive of October 27—a federal offense that carries a minimum of 15 years. Three have now been sentenced on civil disorder charges to 16 or 36 months. In a subsequent attack by state forces on 19 January 2017, Navajo student Marcus Mitchell was shot in the face with a bean bag pellet. He lost sight, feeling and taste on his left side and his spine was severely damaged. For surviving, he was charged with criminal trespassing and is due in federal court on November 5.
The capitalist state vendetta against these American Indians is the latest racist atrocity committed by federal authorities against the indigenous population. Indeed, the frame-up of Fallis is straight out of the FBI’s standard playbook. The gun that discharged during her arrest belonged to her then boyfriend, Heath Harmon, who has since been exposed as an FBI informant tasked with spying on AIM. Red Fawn’s mother, Yellow Wood, founded the Colorado chapter of AIM and protested forced sterilizations of American Indian women, among other issues. Her uncle is an AIM spokesman in Colorado today. Documents acquired by journalist Will Parrish and published on The Intercept website show that Red Fawn was targeted by state forces—they literally had her photo on the wall chart.
In the 1970s, AIM and the Black Panther Party were marked for murderous repression under the FBI’s COINTELPRO, which used infiltration, surveillance and disinformation to “neutralize” these organizations. Notable among the leaders of AIM who languish in prison to this day is Leonard Peltier. Framed for killing two FBI agents during a government assault on the Pine Ridge Reservation in South Dakota in 1975, Peltier has been consistently denied parole because he steadfastly refuses to admit guilt for a crime he did not commit.
With the Feds throwing the book at the American Indian DAPL protesters, most were compelled to accept non-cooperating plea deals on lesser charges. Another factor was the prevalent racism against Native Americans in the area; a survey of jury-eligible locals showed that the vast majority assume they are guilty or are biased against them. As Michael Markus explained: “Having a fair trial in Bismarck was going to be impossible,” adding, “If you go to court in North Dakota, you are going to get convicted.” Indeed, it was an all-white jury in North Dakota that convicted Leonard Peltier even though prosecutors later admitted, “We can’t prove who shot those agents.” Free him now!
American capitalism was built on the brutal dispossession and near genocide of the indigenous peoples. Having pushed the Sioux onto a reservation established under the 1851 Treaty of Fort Laramie, the federal government stole large chunks of the reservation land later in the 19th century, including a stretch of 35 miles that the DAPL goes through. The Sioux are owed substantial compensation for this historic land grab.
As for the DAPL itself, Marxists had no reason to either support or oppose it. Oil pipelines serve a socially useful function of transporting fuel and are overall safer than other forms of oil transport. Protesters expressed concern that the reservation water supply will be polluted by a leaking pipeline. Cutting corners to boost profits is the name of the game for the energy barons, as it is for the capitalists in every industry. What is needed are fighting unions that enforce safety standards and practices in construction, operation and maintenance. Then, both those living near pipelines and workers on the job would be better off.
To this day, the reservations are blighted by poverty and desperation. At the same time, much of the indigenous population now lives in America’s cities and is a component part of the multiracial proletariat. We seek to build a Leninist workers party that will unleash the social power of the working class in defense of all the oppressed, on the road to sweeping away the capitalist system and establishing a workers government. Such a government would immediately spend the money to provide a decent life for those who have suffered most under capitalism, not least Native Americans and black people. It would ensure the social emancipation of American Indians, promoting their voluntary integration on the basis of full equality while providing the fullest possible regional autonomy for those who desire it.
The Partisan Defense Committee, the legal and social defense organization associated with the Spartacist League, has contributed to Red Fawn’s legal defense. Details on how to write to the prisoners, contribute to their commissaries and donate to the legal defense of the protesters can be found at waterprotectorlegal.org.