Op-Ed | Are We Losing Our Right to Peaceful Protest?

BY Eliida Lakota

It is amazing to me the extent government officials will go to deny innocent people their constitutional rights –– people who are protecting their land and water.

I attended the protest at Standing Rock and saw law enforcement officers intimidating and harassing people standing up for their native lands. Even the local and state police protected the outsiders rather than the safety and the rights of locals.

Cowboys and Indians once fought. Now ranchers and Native American people stand together in support of all Americans for peaceful protest. Water Protectors and ranchers object to oil pipelines cutting through their lands and endangering their water supplies. The Cowboy-Indian Alliance is a coalition of tribal members, ranchers and landowners who stand together against industrial incursions on their land. Under their banner “Reject and Protect,” they fight eminent domain while the U.S. Supreme Court rules time and again in favor of big oil companies that support greed and fear over traditional values.

Peaceful protesting is all we have left.

Native people live on reservations that were once prisoner of war camps. They have lost their farmland, hunting lands and access to minerals, oil and other natural resources. Are they now to lose their access to water?

The truth of what happened at Standing Rock, North Dakota, has been withheld, evidence destroyed, lies told and peaceful or prayer protest denied.

Chase Iron Eyes was arrested at Standing Rock and charged with inciting a riot. He and 75 other Lakota Water Protectors were arrested last April during a prayer ceremony calling on the Creator to help them protect their water.

In preparing his case, he and his defense attorneys have been denied access to documents related to the case. The judge and local sheriff have put up obstacles to a fair trial.

Iron Eyes is an attorney, activist, member of the Lakota Law Project and member of the Lakota Standing Rock tribe. He was a Democratic House candidate in 2016. He is co-founder of the web site “Last Real Indians.”

Here are some facts that disturb me:

The state’s attorney declared Iron Eyes’ prayer event a “state of emergency.” That led to local police failing to protect the safety and rights of local citizens while protecting corporations. Some police received payments from the oil company. Outside law enforcement agencies were called in to support the oil companies. But some of those outside officers saw what was happening and refused to participate.

The FBI showed up to defend the oil drilling. Homeland security arrived as well.

A “no-fly zone” was established and private videos were not allowed. Police videos of the event were withheld. Related police radio calls were “probably deleted,” most likely after they had been requested by defense attorneys.

Most astonishing, law enforcement and military called to the site cost $43 million over the 233-day protest. Ironically, the Wall Street Journal blamed the protesters for that cost, not the overreaction of corporations and government.

About 800 people were arrested, 170 have had hearings and nearly all have been acquitted. The court has found no riots and no trespassing. There is no clear title to much of the land in question. It is considered “Indian Land.”

During an April 4 hearing for Iron Eyes, a new judge was presiding and he demanded the sheriff appear in court and explain why the defense was being denied access to relevant documents, recordings and videos. The defense was given time to get depositions from local law enforcement, oil corporations, the private military security firm hired by the fossil fuel corporations and other witnesses.

Iron Eyes and his attorneys are preparing his defense. His trial is set for November. This trial will determine what happens to our constitutional legal right to peacefully assemble and protest. A precedent is being set. The world is watching.

For more information go to LakotaLaw.org.

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