George Boardman: American Indians still suffering from their lax immigration policy | TheUnion.com
George Boardman
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George Boardman: American Indians still suffering from their lax immigration policy

Liberals and progressives really want to help Native Americans, if for no other reason than to assuage some of the guilt they feel over the treatment of people who have truly followed a trail of tears since the first Europeans set foot in North America.

But because they either lack sensitivity to the feelings of their native brethren or Native Americans just don't trust the white man, efforts by some members of the environmental and activist movements to stand as one with the Standing Rock Sioux in opposition to the Dakota Access pipeline have not been well received.

The Sioux and their Native American allies have been locked in a struggle with the Army Corps of Engineers and pipeline company Energy Transfer Partners over the routing of a 1,170-mile-long pipeline that will cross under a lake formed by a dam on the Missouri River that is the source of the Standing Rock Sioux's drinking water.

David Archambault, chairman of the tribe, maintains the land in question is part of their sovereign nation, well established by treaties and under American law. But as even the most casual student of American history can tell you, those treaties aren't worth the paper they're written on.

The federal government has been taking land from Lakota and Dakota people for 150 years, from the seizure of land in the Black Hills of South Dakota after the discovery of gold in the 1870s to the construction of dams on the Missouri River that flooded villages, timber land and farm land in the Dakotas in the 1950s.

Each treaty the tribes of the Northern Plains signed with the U.S. government, especially the 1851 and 1868 treaties of Fort Laramie, restricted their movement but left them large areas west of the Missouri River and recognized them as sovereign nations. But creation of the modern reservation system in 1889 and a series of dams across the Missouri in the early 1900s took even more land from them.

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"This government honors international treaties like they are the Holy Grail, but within our own homeland they find ways to break them," said Archambault, who fears the pipeline will also harm sacred cultural lands and tribal burial grounds in addition to threatening water quality.

The Standing Rock Sioux and their Native American allies have been making a stand against the pipeline on Army Corps land near Cannon Ball, N.D., prompting confrontations with police who have responded with water cannons, pepper spray and rubber bullets. This has caused environmentalists and movement activists — generally, your garden-variety white liberals and progressives — to rally to the cause.

Aside from guilt over past treatment of Native Americans, the activists have other agendas: Fear of pollution, opposition to the fracking technique that extracts the oil that will move through the pipeline, and the push to keep fossil fuels in the ground while utilizing alternative energy sources.

Then there's the Donald Trump angle. According to disclosure forms he filed last spring, Trump owns stock in Energy Transfer Partners worth between $500,000 and $1 million. Company CEO Kelcey L. Warren has given more than $7 million to the Republican Party and various candidates since 2015, and has stiffened his resistance to a compromise on the route since Trump's election.

Such liberal notables as civil rights advocate Jesse Jackson, longtime politico Bill Richardson, actors Mark Ruffalo and Shailene Woodley, lefty political commentator Amy Goodman, and various members of Congress have rallied to the cause. This has attracted other people who haven't been well received by Native Americans who have been protesting at the site since last spring.

There have been complaints that whites have been treating the area like a free-for-all festival, complete with drugs, unsolicited music and photo ops. According to one Facebook post: "No drugs or alcohol … This is not Burning Man or a festival … YOU ARE NOT ON VACATION. This is not a camping trip …"

White people are colonizing the camp, complained another Facebook poster: "They are coming, taking food, clothing and occupying space without any desire to participate in camp maintenance and without respect for tribal protocols." Some even want to use donated money to buy "fluoride-free" water instead of drinking from taps.

Then there's the whole music thing. As one person tweeted: "Nobody wants to hear your guitar or drum around the fire." (I haven't attended a demonstration since I was a boy reporter in the late '60s, but apparently the music hasn't improved.)

Another Native American claimed she saw "a dozen or so white people" encouraging others to block police from crossing a bridge. "These agitators unnecessarily wanted to put people in danger of being arrested just so their picture might go viral."

It's obvious that some people don't grasp the severity of the situation, but they're going to face a big reality test. All federal land north of the Cannonball River is being closed today due to "safety concerns" and anybody found on the property is subject to arrest. In addition, the state has threatened to levy a fine of $1,000 on anybody who enters the protest area to provide aid and supplies.

The American Indians who have a stake in the outcome of these protests have enough problems without having to deal with clueless, Johnny-come-lately "supporters." This experience just reinforces a lesson they should have learned 500 years ago: Bad things can happen it you have an ill-defined immigration policy and don't protect your borders.

George Boardman lives at Lake of the Pines. His column is published Mondays by The Union. Write to him at ag101board@aol.com.

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