Native America

Obama's final year: a CounterVortex scorecard

Our last annotated assessment of Barack Obama's moves in dismantling, continuing and escalating (he has done all three) the oppressive apparatus of the Global War on Terrorism (GWOT) must inevitably be viewed in light of the current countdown to the death of democracy and the imminent despotism of Donald Trump. The fact that the transition is happening at all is a final contradiction of Obama's legacy. He is fully cooperating in it, even as his own intelligence agencies document how the election was tainted. Following official findings that Russia meddled in the elections, the White House has slapped new sanctions on Russia—deporting 35 Russian officials suspected of being intelligence operatives and shutting down two Russian facilities in New York and Maryland, both suspected of being used for intelligence-related purposes. The latest bizarre revelation—that Russian intelligence can blackmail Trump with information about his "perverted sexual acts" involving prostitutes at a Moscow hotel—broke just hours before Obama delivered his Farewell Address in Chicago. The speech was surreally optimistic in light of the actual situation in the country, and contained  only a few veiled swipes at Trump. The best of them was this: "If every economic issue is framed as a struggle between a hardworking white middle class and undeserving minorities, then workers of all shades will be left fighting for scraps while the wealthy withdraw further into their private enclaves."

New pipeline showdown brews in New Jersey

The Ramapough Lunaape tribe in the township of Mahwah, NJ, is protesting the proposed Pilgrim Pipeline that would carry fracked Bakken shale oil from Albany, NY, to the Bayway Refinery in Linden. The planned route crosses the New York-New Jersey Highlands region, which is the source of water for more than 4.5 million people in both states, according to the Coalition Against Pilgrim Pipeline. The pipeline would also cut through a portion of the Ramapo Valley Reservation, a Bergen County park that protects much of the Highlands watershed. As with the Standing Rock Sioux struggle against the Dakota Access Pipeline, the Lunaape fear that a potential leak would pollute critical waters and impact sacred sites.

Dakota Access pipeline blocked —for now

The US Army Corps of Engineers on Dec. 4 issued a statement saying that Dakota Access LLC will not be granted the last remaining easement it needs to drill under the Missouri River at Lake Oahe and complete construction of the Dakota Access Pipeline. The statement considers the possibility that the Army Corps will conduct a limited Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) on the river crossing and explore possibilities for alternative routes. The decision comes as after weeks of protests at the crossing site, and as thousands of veterans are arriving from across the country to stand with the self-declared "water protectors" who face escalating repression at the hands of law enforcement.

UN: Dakota pipeline protesters face excessive force

US authorities are using excessive force against protesters in North Dakota who are trying to halt a proposed oil pipeline project, according to a UN human rights expert on Nov. 15. According to Maina Kiai, the UN Special Rapporteur on the rights to freedom of peaceful assembly and association, about 400 people have been detained in "inhuman and degrading conditions." Protesters are have reportedly been confronted with rubber bullets, tear-gas, mace, compression grenades and bean-bag rounds. If detained, they are reportedly marked with a number and held in overcrowded cages lined with concrete flooring. Kiai labeled these responses by local security forces as "militarized." Kiai said, "This is a troubling response to people who are taking action to protect natural resources and ancestral territory in the face of profit-seeking activity. The excessive use of State security apparatus to suppress protest against corporate activities that are alleged to violate human rights is wrong and contrary to the UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights."

Dakota Access CEO cheered by Trump victory

Kelcy Warren, CEO of Energy Transfer Partners—the company behind the Dakota Access Pipeline—says he is "100%" confident that Donald Trump will help the project get finished. The pipeline, connecting North Dakota's Bakken fields to a hub in Illinois, is 84% complete. But some 1,000 feet are being held up by the Obama administration in the face of unprecedented Native American protests. CBS reported the following exchange with Warren:

Police repression at Dakota Access protest camp

More than 140 were arrested Oct. 27 as over 300 police officers in riot gear—backed up with several armored vehicles and two helicopters—cleared the camp erected to block construction of the Dakota Access Pipeline. North Dakota's Gov. Jack Dalrymple used emergency powers declared over the protests in August to bring in officers from neighboring states.  The 1851 Treaty Camp was set up directly in the path of the pipeline, on private land recently purchased by Energy Transfer Partners, the company building the pipeline. But the land has been declared reclaimed as tribal territory by the Standing Rock Reservation under the Fort Laramie Treaty of 1851. The Morton County sheriff’s department said protesters torched several police vehicles, and that two officers were lightly wounded. Those arrested were not allowed to post bail. The sweep brought the total number arrested in the protests since August to 411. State officials have stated that they will no longer communicate with the protesters. (Native News Online, Bold Nebraska, NYT, Forum News ServiceICTMN, Sacred Stone Camp, Oct. 28; EcoWatch, Oct. 25)

Court allows Dakota Access Pipeline to proceed

The US Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit on Oct. 9 ruled (PDF) against Native American tribes, allowing construction on the Dakota Access Pipeline to move forward. The Standing Rock Sioux and the Cheyenne River Sioux tribes sought a permanent injunction to block construction of the 1,170-mile pipeline, which they say would be built on sacred burial grounds and would pose an environmental risk to the surrounding rivers. In its ruling, however, the court said the final decision will be up to the Army Corps of Engineers. The chairman of the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe said (PDF) the pipeline will endanger millions of lives, and that the tribe will continue to fight against it. The starement also noted that construction crews have already destroyed many historic burial sites and artifacts.

Mohawk band forms indigenous legal system

The Mohawk band council of Akwesasne in Canada has introduced its own legal system independent of the country's federal system. This marks the first instance of an indigenous people creating its own legal system in Canada. While First Nation band councils have passed and enforced legislation on reserves for years, the new court framework was drafted by the community and is not tied to the Indian Act or any agreement with the Canadian government. Under the proposed legal system, justices and prosecutors are asked to enforce a variety of civil laws, while criminal matters still remain within the purview of the federal or provincial courts. The civil matters range from sanitation to property and wildlife conservation. The new system is underpinned by concepts of restorative justice, as there are no jail terms and offending parties are to use their skills to benefit the community. Questions remain as to what extent Akwesasne law will be recognized by provincial and federal courts.

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