Tag Archives: #NoDAPL

Rotten to the Core

The recent story that appeared in The Intercept about the private security firm Tiger Swan, its cooperative intelligence-gathering with local, state, and federal law enforcement authorities, its propaganda work in behalf of the Dakota Access Pipeline, and the sometimes-brutal tactics it used to protect the corporate “assets” of Energy Transfer Partners, the Fortune 500 company behind the construction of the DAPL, should be a much larger story than it is.  The Tiger Swan story reveals the rottenness that lies at the core of America’s continuing treatment of native peoples and their allies.

Tiger Swan, as revealed in the documents obtained and published by The Intercept,  produced intelligence briefings for law enforcement agencies, kept close tabs on the Water Protectors at Standing Rock, and may have infiltrated the protesters’ camp.  They spread disinformation on social media,

Police guard a bridge near Oceti Sakowin Camp on the edge of the Standing Rock Sioux Reservation on December 3, 2016 outside Cannon Ball, North Dakota, as Native Americans and activists from around the country gather at the camp trying to halt the construction of the Dakota Access Pipeline. / AFP / JIM WATSON (Photo credit should read JIM WATSON/AFP/Getty Images)

measuring the influence of their posts and stories, and may have kept something like an “Enemies List” to trace leaders of the protest movement.  All of this in the name of a corporation, the business interests of which they protected against an overwhelmingly peaceful protest movement run by people worried that the DAPL could jeopardize waters flowing through the Standing Rock Reservation.  To the mercenaries at Tiger Swan, the protesters were “jihadists” and they should be countered using similar tactics.

Fort Apache, the Bronx.  You remember that.  Or American soldiers in Vietnam marching out on patrol into “Indian Country.”  The supposedly warlike qualities of native peoples and the supposedly violent lands on which they lived have been transposed time and again as a way for American soldiers and officers to comprehend whatever conflict they engaged in.  These soldiers enter the theater in Apache helicopters, following the Tomahawk cruise missiles that preceded them.

Here, the scenario is flipped. The Jihadists that American forces fight in other parts of the world provide the language for Tiger Swan’s understanding of the #NoDAPL movement and, in effect, their lens for understanding native peoples at home attempting to protect their quality of life.  The language of war, of insurgency, has returned to Native America.

I have written about Standing Rock and the #NoDAPL movement before, so you know how I feel about it. If you are reading this blog, chances are you read about the protests, watched the DIY reporting from the protestors themselves, or saw the courageous on-the-ground journalism by Amy Goodman, her colleagues at “Democracy Now!” and other media sources.  Some of those reporters put their bodies on the line to bring this story to you and me.

You also will remember, no doubt, the images of private security forces roughing up the Water Protectors.  Painful images.  Disturbing.  Police dogs.  Military vehicles.  Body armor, automatic weapons, violence.


IF YOU WATCH or listen to right-wing media, you will learn that left-leaning college students, protesting on their campuses, are the major threat to freedom of thought, speech, and expression. Coddled and intolerant, the story goes, these fragile snowflakes will not expose themselves or allow others to be exposed to ideas with which they disagree. They will drown out the voices of those whose ideas they oppose.  You read about the protests at Middlebury.  And maybe you saw the recent news coming out of Evergreen State College in Washington. Be afraid of the students, we are told, and too many people seem willing to comply.

I am going to use this Intercept piece in my Native American history class in the fall. I may use it the first day, or I might assign it at the end. Whichever, I feel my students need to see this stuff, think about it, and remember that the power of history can hang heavy on the backs of too many Americans. It might rile the students up.  Maybe they will protest.  Maybe they will get pissed and start breaking shit.  More likely, if they are good history students—and most of them are—they will see this story for what it is.

In recent weeks, David Grann’s Killers of the Flower Moon has gained a lot of attention.  He tells the story of the murder of oil-rich Osages in the early twentieth century. It is a riveting story.  Historians have known about the Osage murders for a long time, but it is good that Grann brought it to the attention of a broader public.  Its significance should be clear.

From Jamestown to Standing Rock, from the Virginia Company of London to Energy Transfer Partners, the partnership of corporate and business interests with the forces of the centralized state has been a constant in American history.  This is not partisan.  Tiger Swan was doing business during the Obama presidency.  It continued its work under Creon Trump.

I reason here from the premise that no corporate asset is more valuable than a single human life.  Yet, as I write, I read about how state after state is trying to enact measures to criminalize protest.  I listen to the recording of Montana’s new congressman pummeling one reporter (who cannot fight back) and read how the tough-guy governor of Texas took a break from tormenting LGBTQ kids to joke about shooting others.

It is abundantly clear that the forces of suppression and violence that have been part of the lived experience of peoples of color on this continent for centuries are now threatening to affect non-native peoples in unprecedented and alarming ways.

There is a wonderfully revealing passage in Vine Deloria’s famous book Custer Died for Your Sins: An Indian Manifesto. “When the Kennedys and King were assassinated,” Deloria wrote, “people wailed and moaned over the ‘sick’ society.  Most people took the assassinations as a symptom of a deep inner rot that had suddenly set in.  They needn’t have been shocked. America has been sick for some time. It got sick when the first Indian treaty was broken. It has never recovered.”

Dakota Access, and the sorts of collusion between law enforcement, corporate interests, and for-profit armies like Tiger Swan, show that the sickness Deloria described is still here. Indeed, it has festered, become malignant, and done its damage in new ways in this new world order. Tiger Swan did its work during the Obama years.  It continues its work now.  It continues to protect ETP’s corporate assets.  The sickness runs deep. The rottenness is profound. If, as Felix Cohen once wrote, native peoples, “like the miner’s canary,” mark “the shifts from fresh air to poison gas in our political atmosphere,” then “our treatment of Indians…reflect[s] the rise and fall in our democratic faith.”

Let’s not forget Tiger Swan.  Let’s remember that history is not only part of the past.


If you are reading this post, you probably already have been following the news from Standing Rock. You likely have been reading posts on Facebook and Twitter and watching video clips showing armed police officers, or state troopers, or private security guards and their gnarly dogs, roughing up protestors who have stood against the Dakota Access Pipeline. You have probably read reports of these same police forces, doing the pipeline company’s business, firing rubber bullets at peaceful protestors and locking them up in small pens. You have likely read about how they have attempted to suppress free speech by shutting down wireless service, because they do not want you and I to know what they are doing to disrupt the protests, and how they have now started using Facebook to compile information on those gathered to oppose the pipeline.  You may have checked in on Facebook in solidarity with the protestors to defeat this effort.

Much of the information about the protests comes from participants in the protests. Some of it is polemical.  It is likely that some of the reports are exaggerated.   But watch the videos, and read what you can.  You can draw your own conclusions.

This is an important story. My students, I know, want to know more about it.  It is a protest, and a movement, of significance, and it is one on which we must inform ourselves.  The mainstream media has begun to cover the protests, but the #NoDAPL movement still receives little coverage relative to the presidential election and the Democratic candidate’s email problems.  Still, there are good sources of information out there.  The Indian Country Today Media Network has provided solid coverage.  Pechanga.Net is a great go-to source for updates from newspapers across the country, as is Indianz.com.

The Dakota Access Pipeline, according to the useful primer presented by the Seattle Times, will transport oil from North Dakota to a shipping center in Illinois.  From there the oil will be sent to refineries in the Midwest and along the Gulf Coast. The pipeline, which is already nearly 60% complete, was originally slated to run closer to the town of Bismark, ND, but was rerouted to pass under the Missouri River just a short distance upstream from the Standing Rock Reservation’s northern border.  Residents of Bismark did not want the pipeline to jeopardize their own water supply, so it was directed to the south.  The pipeline does not run through the reservation, but it does threaten defend_the_sacred_-_courtesy_indigenous_environmental_networkStanding Rock’s water supply. It runs through lands that had been guaranteed to the Lakota Sioux in the treaties held at Fort Laramie in 1851 and 1868.  Lakota Sioux lived on these lands, knew these lands, and buried their dead there.

How those lands slipped from the Indians’ control is a worth noting. The 1851 Fort Laramie treaty was an agreement in which the United States attempted to secure peace between those Indian nations “residing south of the Missouri River, east of the Rocky Mountains, and north of the lines of Texas and New Mexico.” The many Indians who came to Fort Laramie to meet with American officials agreed “to abstain in future from all hostilities whatever against each other, to maintain good faith and friendship in all their mutual intercourse, and to make an effective and lasting peace.”  The Indians who signed the treaty agreed to allow the United States to “establish roads, military and other posts, within their respective territories,” and in return, the United States agreed “to protect the aforesaid Indian nations against the commission of all depredations by the people of the said United States, after the ratification of this treaty.” The territories of the tribes were defined, chiefs with whom the United States would interact were to be designated, and an annuity paid by the United States for ten years.  It was an attempt by the American government to sort out the players on the Plains, to control a region where its authority was still exceptionally weak.

The 1868 Fort Laramie treaty modified this agreement. It was a peace agreement between the United States and the Sioux. It was a critical component, along with the 1867 Treaty of Medicine Lodge Creek, in achieving the American policy of Concentration.  In so doing, it defined the boundaries of the “Great Sioux Reservation,” a tract mostly in today’s South Dakota west of the Missouri River where their possession would be undisturbed. The United States, however, never expected that native peoples would remain as they were, and the treaty included provisions directed towards fundamental change in how the Sioux lived upon the land. The treaty gave to the President of the United States the right to begin individualizing Indian landholdings, to move towards the policy that later would be called allotment.

Congress passed legislation in 1871 that formally ended treaty making.  And, in 1888 and 1889, Congressional commissioners succeeded in breaking up the Great Sioux Reservation, depriving the Sioux near the Standing Rock Agency of the lands under which the Dakota Access Pipeline will now burrow.  The state of North Dakota recites the sordid tale on its official website.   The agreement to reduce the reservation was obtained through threats and duplicity.  Congress, well before the notorious Lone Wolf decision of 1903, did not feel that it was bound by its own treaties, and viewed them as obstacles it must find ways to overcome.

If you have read the news reports, you will know that some of these lost lands are considered sacred by the Standing Rock Sioux, and that in the process of constructing the pipeline, graves have been dug up and desecrated.  National political leaders, by and large, have been silent.  Democratic candidate Hillary Clinton’s campaign released a deeply unsatisfying statement that recognized the protestors’ rights to free speech, while acknowledging as well the pipeline workers’ right to do their job. Because the protestors wanted to stop construction, Secretary Clinton’s campaign has encouraged the protests, only so long as they have no effect on the pipeline project.  Hold up your signs, but get the hell out of the way, she seems to be saying.

Students of Native American history will know well that native peoples have long faced the combined power of corporate and state power.  The railroads, mining companies, hydroelectric, the fossil fuel industry—all aided by state and federal authorities—have appropriated tribal lands and resources.  It is an old story.

Perhaps something has changed in the country. During the presidential primaries, the insurgent candidacy of Bernie Sanders drew upon a growing disaffection with increasing corporate wealth.  Many Americans, even some of those who support Donald Trump, expressed a belief that their lives are not their own, that huge, multinational corporations call the shots.  Native peoples could have told them about this long ago, of course.

I have no idea how long the protests will go. I do not know whether they will survive the brutal winter that will soon descend upon North Dakota.  I do not know whether the protests at Standing Rock will call attention to other instances, going on right now, where corporate interests are seeking access to the resources in native communities, or threatening Indian lands and water supplies.   These other struggles have not drawn nearly the attention of Standing Rock. Perhaps the #NoDAPL movement will force us to consider what sort of country we want to be:  one in which corporations, shipping fossil fuels, are not more important than the right of native peoples to clean water and control of their lands.  Perhaps we might all consider our own appetite for the products of extractive industry, and consume less, in the awareness that we are all at some level complicit in creating the demand for the fossil fuels that oil companies want to ship across and under Native Ground.