Native Americans suffer twice as Bundy Gang acquitted and Standing Rock protestors attacked
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This is a difficult day for our Native American brothers and sisters who have been disrespected twice, between two different places. In Oregon, Native Americans are upset that the Bundy ranchers were acquitted of federal charges in their conspiracy case, while in North Dakota, police in riot gear advanced against protestors.
LOS ANGELES, CA (California Network) - On Thursday, the Bundy gang of ranchers who took over a federal building in Oregon and led a 41-day standoff were acquitted on all charges. At least five of the seven surviving militia members will now walk free from federal custody as a result. Ammon Bundy will not be released however because he still faces charges in Nevada over the standoff at his father's ranch two years ago. His brother, Ryan Bundy also remains in custory. An eighth member of their gang was killed by police when the standoff drew to an end.
From the start, many recognized that the Bundy's defense was grounded in the First and Second Amendment. Their takeover of the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge was a defensible act of protest over legitimate grievances against the federal government. With this, we agree, so we praise their acquittal.
However, the Bundy gang also staged their occupation on sacred Native American land. This cannot be condoned, it would be like legitimizing the armed takeover of a parish church.
And we cannot praise their desire to have land ceeded to their private control when it belongs to the Native American people.
Their acquittal represents a deferment -if not an abdication of justice for the Native Americans who were affected by the Bundy occupation.
While we praise the outcome on one hand, we recognize that the protest also did harm which deserves justice.
At the same time the Bundy gang was being acquitted, heavily armed paramilitary-police moved into the crowds at Cannonball, North Dakota gassing and arresting protestors. The key difference in this case is the protestors in North Dakota are peaceful and unarmed.
At stake in North Dakota is the $2.8 billion Dakota Access Pipeline project and sacred Native American lands which belongs to the Standing Rock Sioux by treaty. The land contains ancient burial grounds and other sacred sites.
During Thursday's protest, a fire broke out at the site and police moved in with riot gear and military-grade armored vehicles. They attacked the crowd with tear gas, a sound cannon, batons and bean-bag ammunition. Police are evicting the protestors by force to make way for the pipeline's construction. Protestors have built barricades to keep authorities at bay.
These two cases reveal the callous attitude that American politicians have towards Native Americans. Neither President Obama, nor Hillary Clinton have spoken out in defense of Native Americans in Oregon or North Dakota.
Obama has the power to halt construction of the pipeline in North Dakota, but he has not exercised it.
The land we know as the United States of America once belonged, quite naturally, to the Native American peoples. They were culturally rich and diverse. The arrival of European settlers doomed the vast majority of these nations as disease, warfare and genocide reduced the Native population to just a few hundred thousand souls a century ago.
Native Americans have recovered from the brink of human extinction, but they have not recovered in any other sense. They remain deprived of their land, their wealth, and their voice. This is why it is a crime against humanity to deprive these people of what little they have left. They deserve the same respect and compassion we would give anyone else. Unfortunately, old habits die hard.
We continue to disrespect, ignore and systematically oppress these people by treating them as if they don't even exist. They have every right to be angry, and we should be eternally grateful they remain peaceful in the face of armed police confrontation. The Bundy gang would be well served to take note.
The rest of us should take note too. If we value non-violent expression, then the Native Americans of the United States must be heard.
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