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A state of war?

Forty years ago Sioux Indians had made their claim that the State of South Dakota and the US Federal Government had violated their rights as dual citizens of this country, another protest case finds its way to the Pennington County Court House in Rapid City August 22, 2020.

Led this time by a coalition put together by Nick Tilsen, the CEO of the Rapid City based NDN Collective, the Magistrate Judge Todd Hyronimus said he found “probable cause” for felony charges against the Oglala tribal member from Pine Ridge Reservation for protest actions at Mount Rushmore during the political speech given by President Donald Trump.

Hyronimus cited a video that showed Tilsen taking a shield from a State of South Dakota Guardsman (called in by Governor Kristie Noam as a protection against “disruptive” protesters), as well as testimony from two Sheriff’s deputies.

Tilsen is charged with second-degree robbery  and grand theft for taking the shield  from the guardsman, two counts of  simple assault and physical menace or “credible threat” which put them in fear of imminent bodily harm,” three misdemeanor counts and impending a highway,  unlawful assembly and disorderly conduct.” It means that Tilsen could be sentenced up to 15 years in prison for saying publicly that the Trump political speech at the Monument is an example of the continuing white supremacy and colonialism in contested native lands, the Black Hills.

The political display of the Trump visit here on July 3, 2020, was seen by many Indians as evidence that the State and the Oyate (Sioux Nation) are still at war from the illegal seizure of half the Sioux Nation 1868 treaty territory boundaries over a hundred years ago and that the Indigenous Black and Brown resistance which is going on throughout the nation today is played out by aggressive law and order systems at every opportunity.

Fifty years after the protest movement history demands answers and young Sioux Indians brought up in poverty and discrimination attempt to not only record their own history, but defend it.

A hundred years ago, Indian children were sent to boarding schools in this country without the consent of their parents,  entire communities were “removed,” and today governments are allowed to continue the  brutalization of  indigenous peoples in record numbers by separating children from their parents at the border.

Who says Tilsen and his supporters are criminals for blocking fireworks on sacred ground, and the right of ordinary people to “assemble” in order to make public statements? Who says it is a good thing for our communities that recent studies continue to find Native Americans jailed at more than ten times the rate of white South Dakotans? Who says the National Guard has the right (no, the duty), to protect everyone but Indians? Those are not rhetorical questions. The answer is: silent white people who call them South Dakotans have those rights and through their silence, they send a young Indian man to trial and to a long jail sentence because he demands a change to the dehumanization of his people.

Fifty years after the most important protest movement, of my time, we must not silence the historic opposition to America’s abuse. American Indians who fought wars for freedom and equality have never wanted anything but to live. Yet, think about this: while we all were sleeping last night, 300,000 children around the world died of starvation and disease. Many of them were black and brown.  Many were our indigenous relatives.   There are alarming predictions that things are getting worse, not better.

The peoples’ movements are on the forefronts in the struggles to do better than we have done in the past. We can demand that governments reverse their policies and answer the cries that no one seems to hear. It is the young, like defendant Tilsen and so many others, that we must NOT silence.


(Professor E Cook-Lynn is a retired professor of Native Studies and she has taught at EWU, UC/DAVIS AND ASU.   She is a member of the Crow Creek Sioux Tribe, Ft. Thomson, SD)

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