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a lesson in resistance from our native american brothers


March 2, 2013

A Lesson in Resistance from our Native American Brothers

By Mark Wachtler

March 2, 2013. Wounded Knee. (ONN) For those who’ve spent the last few decades fighting for freedom, liberty and civil rights, the centuries-old struggle for self-determination by American Indians has been one pillar of the current struggle. But the growing numbers of outraged Americans suddenly fighting back seem unaware that an entire segment of America has been fighting the same battle, successfully. It’s time to learn some lessons on organized resistance.

Annie Mae Aquash (1945 – 1975)

Protest, Resistance, and Dissent in Native Americans

In 2007, a college student produced a four-minute video for his anthropology class. The movie-short is basically no more than a Power Point presentation to the sounds of modern Native American punk music. But the video hems together an armed struggle by an entire race of people against the United States federal government that has spanned 300 years. But it’s the past 30 years that the video concentrates on. And for those angry Americans who want to protest their government, they could take a lesson from those who’ve spent the last 40 years traveling that same road.

‘The indigenous peoples of the Americas have been resisting Euro-American oppression for over 500 years, and the past few decades have been especially interesting,’ the video begins, ‘Living inside the dominant culture, they now find different ways to protect their culture, people, and sacred lands.’ How do they do it? They give three examples of their most successful tactics, ‘Protests and Armed Conflicts, Literature, and Music.’

‘Protests, blockades, and standoffs’ have been some of the most prominent and vocal ways in which Native Americans have had their voices finally heard and their rights defended. And no other group has been more active than AIM – the American Indian Movement.

American Indian Movement (AIM)

The American Indian Movement has played a huge part in many of the influential protests in the twentieth century. AIM was initially formed to protect urban Indians from civil rights abuses, and members often view themselves as warriors of their people.

In November 1969, dozens of Indians from over 20 tribes took control of the island of Alcatraz after the prison had been shut down. A group of Sioux had tried to do so years before, citing a treaty with the government that called for the ceding of unused land back to the Indians. Before the stand-off was over, the occupiers offered to buy the shuttered prison from the government for, “$24 in glass beads and red cloth.” It was the same criminal price the government paid the Indians over a century earlier.

The 1969 armed take-over of Alcatraz lasted 18 months and served as the example for the future of modern American resistance. In the end, the occupiers demanded things like ‘self-determination’ and ‘equal rights’, which the US federal government, and the Canadian government as well, were unwilling to concede.

Wounded Knee

‘Known country-wide as the site of the 1890 massacre, Wounded Knee was also the setting of a pivotal event in the history of Native Americans,’ the video explains along with captivating first-hand images of the armed confrontation, ‘The 1973 occupation of the town included AIM members, traditional Sioux, and many of their supporters.’

Flying upside down American flags, the AIM members showed both their allegiance to the United States, but also their insistence that the country was in a state of emergency. In the end, they simply wanted the same civil rights that all Americans are guaranteed. If Native Americans were going to be forced to participate in the US justice system, they wanted equal justice under the law.

When the semi-autonomous leadership of the Oglala nation refused to cease its terror campaign against the members of its own community, and US authorities refused to enforce the law, AIM took up arms and fought for their rights in the only manner they’ve ever known to work – armed resistance. What started as a peaceful protest against corrupt officials turned into a 71-day armed stand-off between AIM members and US Marshals.

The Wounded Knee stand-off ended with the killing of two AIM and Sioux fighters. In the years to come, residents of the reservation saw the terror campaign against them escalated in what they believe is retribution for the unsuccessful insurrection. AIM members however, looked at the conflict as a victory. It had brought the unfair, unjust and murderous treatment of their poverty-stricken people to the front page of America’s newspapers.

The resistance continues

Taking a cue from the armed take-overs of Alcatraz by the Sioux and Wounded Knee by AIM, a small army of armed Mohawk warriors took up positions on a section of their sacred burial grounds in Oka, Quebec in March 1990. Protected by past treaties, the sacred pine grove was slated to be illegally leveled by corporate developers and turned into a country club golf course. What began as a peaceful protest quickly turned into another armed conflict with the Canadian government.

Heavily armed, camouflaged government troops literally stood toe to toe against heavily armed, camouflaged Mohawk soldiers. With only inches separating the two armies, many feared the stand-off would turn into a blood bath. And it almost did.

At one point, Canadian troops stormed one of the Mohawk camps resulting in the death of a local police officer. After a 78-day siege, the Canadian Indians called off their blockade of the golf course and took down their barricades. Upon leaving the area, government officials arrested many of the Indian activists. But the Mohawks had won. The construction on their sacred burial grounds had been cancelled.

In 1995 at Gustafsen Lake, Canada, Indians from the Secwepemc nation had finally had enough of the terror, racism and assaults perpetrated against them by neighboring communities of non-Indians. After being harassed, threatened and accosted while gathering for their annual Sun Dance in an attempt to evict them from their own land, the Secwepemc took up arms in self defense.

In response, the Canadian government mounted a siege of the Indians using 400 assault troops, five helicopters, two planes, nine armored vehicles and even land mines. After firing 77,000 rounds at the Secwepemc in the first month of the stand-off, the defenders had no choice but to concede to the overwhelming military force.

Armed resistance today

On February 28, 2006, members of the Six Nations of the Grand River staged a protest against the local and regional governments of Caladonia, Ontario. A parcel of Indian land deeded to them in 1784, and occupied by the Six Nations ever since, had been annexed by a corporate land developer that planned to level the Indian lands and build hundreds of residential homes at massive profits for investors and government officials.

With the Canadian government insisting that the Six Nations gave up their rights to the land in the 1800’s, the Canadian Indians were forced to take up arms once again. And again, the tactic chosen was an armed blockade of the area. Showing their own adeptness, government and corporate leaders enlisted their own new tactics. The armed protesters were met with a large, heavily-armed police force, mass arrests and even an army of suspicious, mysterious and belligerent counter-protesters.

In December 2006, members of the Navajo Nation set up another blockade to stop the construction of a coal-burning power plant on their land. Construction had begun even though the government-mandated environmental impact study had yet to be completed. Throughout Arizona and New Mexico, Indians such as the Navajo suffer under an actual brown cloud of toxic dust from these power generating facilities.

At the same time, corrupt Indian leaders take huge payments from energy companies to approve the toxic coal-fired plants. And even when the residents approve green-power technology, their elected representatives have repeatedly vetoed the measures, demanding that the coal plants be built with little oversight and be as unregulated as possible. The result for Indian residents of America’s southwest is, “respiratory diseases, diabetes, heart problems, cancer and birth defects.”

In closing, the underground video gives the following suggestions. ‘What Can You Do?’ the producers ask, ‘Support Native artists and activists, vote for Native-friendly candidates, stay aware, write your local politicians, and most of all, spread the word!’

So while one segment of America’s freedom fighters has its martyrs like Aaron Swartz and Bradley Manning, and another segment of the same movement has its own martyrs like Annie Mae Aquash and Leonard Peltier, maybe the two groups might someday realize they’re all on the same side, fighting for the same things.

Here’s a homework assignment from Whiteout Press: For those who know who Swartz and Manning are, but not Annie Mae or Peltier, invest a few minutes and find out. And for those who know who Annie Mae and Peltier are, but not Swartz or Manning, same thing – find out. You won’t regret it. And for the record, for all those DHS agents who like to read Whiteout Press, this author does not advocate violence except in cases where the law allows it such as self-defense.

For more information:

Aaron Swartz

Annie Mae Aquash

Bradley Manning

Leonard Peltier