The stakes are too high to let intimidation tactics like strip searches stop them. ‘If we don’t stand up now, there will be nothing left of our people.’
North Dakota police are escalating their attempts to humiliate and demoralize members of Native tribes who are protesting the Dakota Access pipeline. After arresting demonstrators, officers are subjecting them to strip searches and days in jail without the opportunity to make bail.
Amy Goodman of Democracy Now! is continuing her fight to publicize the abuses that the tribes are enduring. In interviews on Monday, several members described their treatment at the hands of police.
Strip Searches Are Just One Terror Tactic
Cody Hall of the Cheyenne River Reservation in South Dakota described what happened to him after he was taken to the Morton County Jail. He was met by state police, not county officers, who took him to a room and told him to strip. In his words:
You know, they had my arms. They, you know, kind of like extend your arms out. And you’re fully naked. And they have you, you know, lift up your genitals and bend over, you know, cough. And so, it’s really one of those tactics that they try to break down your mentalness of everyday life..
Hall was then left in a jail cell for four days, without the option of getting out on bail. Eventually, he was charged with two misdemeanors. Here is what happened after he was charged with those misdemeanors and left the courtroom with his mother:
As I left the courtroom, there were 20 or so state police all in their bullet-proof vests, everything just looking … like they’re going into action of some sort. And then they literally had a line from the courtroom to the door that connects you to the county jail…
As we got to the door, they were opening the door up. And as I looked behind me, my mother and I, all of the cops then proceeded to kind of swarm, [making] that big wall as I entered in, which was, again, an overkill … to show a dominant force.
Overkill is too mild a word for what the state police were doing. They were attempting to terrorize Hall and his mother, but the stories that Natives are telling clearly demonstrate their resilience and determination.
Dr. Sara Jumping Eagle, a pediatrician who is a member of the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe, was also the victim of strip searches. She was told to take her clothes off in front of a female officer, then “squat and cough.” Although she was put in an orange jumpsuit and held in jail for a few hours, she was somewhat more fortunate than Hall — but not because of anything the police did or didn’t do. Dr. Jumping Eagle told Amy Goodman:
My family didn’t know where I was or didn’t—you know, they heard about it pretty quickly and were able to come and bond me out or bail me out.
If it weren’t for the eyes and ears of other tribal members, she might have suffered the same fate as Cody Hall. When Goodman asked the doctor how it made her feel, the answer she gave would be of no comfort to her oppressors — though they’d do well to pay attention to the consequences:
It made me think about my ancestors and what had they gone through. And this was in no way a comparison to what we’ve survived before, so just made me feel more determined about what I’m doing and why I’m here.
The thread that runs repeatedly through tribal members stories is about those thoughts of the ancestors, what they suffered and what they would do. The trauma of strip searches somewhat pales by comparison.
Targeting Families Is Even Worse
Standing Rock Sioux Tribe member LaDonna Brave Bull Allard had a more horrifying story to tell in that it was her daughter who was targeted by police. Officers pulled over a car that her adult daughter was riding in and arrested her without giving a reason. The young woman was strip searched in front of one female and three male officers. Allard told TYT Politics:
They took her naked and put her in a jail cell and left her there all night.
Officers would not tell her what she was being charged with and asked her repeatedly who her mother was. It was obvious that they knew the mother was LaDonna Brave Bull Allard and that they had targeted the daughter for a reason. Allard founded the original Standing Rock encampment on her own land, providing refuge for the protestors. She said:
They are targeting our families. They are using every means necessary.
In addition to strip searches and random arrests, those means include constant monitoring by helicopters, planes, and checkpoints. The harassment and intimidation are ceaseless and intensifying. But Allard, too, is mindful of her history as well as increasingly determined, telling TYT:
If we don’t stand up now, there will be nothing left of our people. Once that water is gone, there’s no one who is going to come and help us. We exist, we live with the land. We have to face the storm. We are not backing down.
Activist Tara Houska told journalist Amy Goodman that the police response has been “incredibly militarized.” Governor Jack Dalrymple ratcheted up the response by activating the National Guard last month. Fellow activist Winona LaDuke pinpoints the blame:
It’s just really about hating.
Hating and revenge, that is. LaDuke was part of an action that defeated the Sandpiper pipeline in northern Minnesota that was being built by Enbridge. She told Goodman:
We just spent four years fighting Enbridge. And Enbridge and Marathon Oil just bought a third of this pipeline.
‘This Is Mississippi’
So the fight goes on, but the hate directed at the tribes runs deeper than a pipeline. LaDuke explains:
This is pretty much the Deep North… There’s no infrastructure. Native people are treated like, you know, third-class citizens. You know, suicide rates—everything is going on. And, you know, the governor is acting like this is Mississippi up here, and you can just do that. And now people are finally noticing.
But noticing isn’t enough. The tribes are digging in for the winter and will need the support that comes from continual coverage and exposure of the abuses. Amy Goodman and Native news outlets shouldn’t have to carry the load alone.
Watch Amy Goodman’s interview of tribal members here:
Feature photo, screenshot from YouTube video.