Why do we punish Dakota pipeline protesters but exonerate the Bundys?

By Ladonna Bravebull Allard 

The Bundy militia fought for their right to make money. We want to protect our sacred lands – but the state is treating us with violence and hostility

Sometime in the early summer when the Sacred Stone Camp was just a handful of tents and the Dakota Access machines had not yet come to our side of the Missouri river, I got an email from a woman who said her husband was Cliven Bundy and that she wanted to bring her daughters to stand with us. I knew little of this gun-toting militia, but enough that I told her no, we are a non-violent encampment, you cannot come here.

When I began to look into the Bundy’s standoff at the Malheur Refuge, I became angry. That place is a locus of ancestral heritage of the Burns Paiute Tribe, which the Bundys knowingly desecrated. They reportedly dug latrines through recognized cultural sites. As a tribal historic preservation officer, my heart broke when I heard they allegedly rifled through some 4,000 cultural items that had been kept in the museum. Some of the sacred objects they destroyed were hundreds of years old.

The Bundys did not reclaim that land. It was never theirs. It is Paiute land.

From the beginning, we at Standing Rock gathered in a spirit of prayer and non-violent resistance to the destruction of our homeland and culture. We came together with our ceremonies, songs and drums. Weapons are not allowed into our camps. The Bundys’ occupation began with threats and guns. It was violent from the outset, and the people they pretended to represent did not even condone it.

Last week we saw how justice works in this country: armed ranchers are treated with compassion and their charges are dropped, while indigenous people are physically attacked and charged with trespassing on our own ancestral lands.

Our resistance has not been met with handshakes.

Both the Bundys and the water protectors at Standing Rock stand for our convictions on what is claimed to be federal land. But that is where reasonable comparisons end. The land they claimed to take back was cleared of our relatives and the buffalo nation so that white ranchers like the Bundys could graze their cattle there.

The Bundys assert a property right which was only made possible through the genocide of indigenous peoples and the continued occupation of our lands by the same government they claim to fight. Their white supremacist ideology is the foundation of the settler state, and their ranching would not be possible without it. Their racist fear blinds them to the fact that they are actually supporting their enemy and fighting themselves.

The Bundy militia were fighting for their right to make money, while we are fighting our children’s rights to clean drinking water.

Our camp reclaims land stolen by the US government in direct violation of the Fort Laramie Treaty of 1851, which affirmed it as sovereign unceded territory of the Great Sioux Nation.

Right in the path of the Dakota Access pipeline are Sundance grounds and village sites, held sacred not only by the Sioux Nations, but also the Arikara, the Mandan, and the Northern Cheyenne. The day after the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe filed papers identifying the burial places of our ancestors, Dakota Access intentionally destroyed them to avoid federal regulation. Would you stand by as bulldozers drove through the National Cemetery at Arlington?

Erasing our footprint from the world erases us as a people. These sites must be protected, or our world will end; it is that simple. If we allow an oil company to dig through and destroy our histories, our ancestors, our hearts and souls as a people, is that not genocide?

As indigenous people, we know these attempts to erase us very well, and one of the ways it works is through environmental racism. Indigenous lands across the country are the sites of nuclear waste dumping, toxic mining operations, oil and gas drilling and a long list of other harmful environmental practices, but see very little benefit from these projects. We live in the sacrifice zones. And that is the story here too – the Dakota Access pipeline was rerouted from north of Bismarck, a mostly white community, out of concerns for their drinking water, but then redirected to ours. They consider our community “expendable”.

The national guard and state police have been reinforced by forces from seven other states, to push corporate interests through our home, but together with our relatives, we stand up. We are still here.

We have always welcomed everyone to come stand with us against the injustices of the federal government. Joining forces would be a source of great power – if we stand together to confront racism and destruction of the land. But we will do that with prayer, not guns.

We are the people of this land. We have the roots growing out of our feet. We stand with compassion and prayer. They cannot break us.

Ladonna Bravebull Allard is the founder of the Sacred Stone Camp in Cannonball, North Dakota.

Reprinted “Courtesy of Guardian News & Media Ltd”.