With new outrages grabbing our attention each week, it’s often difficult to keep track of the results of the fights over issues that have previously demanded our attention but have since been superseded by a newer seemingly more pressing matters.
The long and painful fight over the Dakota Access Pipeline near the Standing Rock Reservation is one of those issues that have faded from the headlines of the daily news cycle, however it remains as important as it ever was, not just for reasons of environmental protection and energy policy, but for the sovereignty of Native American land rights and self-determination.
Just a little more than a week ago, Michael “Little Feather” Giron became the first person to be sentenced to serious prison time for his role in the battle against the pipeline.
Giron, one of the thousands who coalesced in camps on and near the reservation in 2016 and 2017 to oppose the pipeline, was sentenced to thirty-six months in federal prison after being indicted for federal felony crimes in conjunction with his participation in the defense of the protest camps against hundreds of federal, state, local, and private police supported by military humvees, snipers, armored personnel carriers, and a surveillance helicopter.
The pipeline opponents had constructed barricades on land that long-ignored treaties between local tribes and the federal government had ceded to the Native Americans for their sole use. As the invading army protecting the advancing pipeline construction crews moved forward, the protestors set their barricades ablaze to slow the attempt to end their protest and allow the destroyers of the pristine environment so sacred to the Native Americans.
By the end of the day, the superior firepower of the police led to the destruction of the water protectors’ camp and the arrest of over 140 people. According to an account of Giron’s hearing in The Progressive, “many of the individuals [who set the fires] were never identified, but Mr. Giron was one of those identified setting fires that obstructed law enforcement,” Assistant U.S. Attorney David Hagler told the court.
After over 11 months in prison since his arrest at the scene, Giron agreed to accept a non-cooperating plea deal in the case. The Water Protector Legal Collective (WPLC) coordinating his defense explained the decision with this statement:
“Little Feather and his legal team were facing monumental challenges including the prospect of a trial with a hostile jury pool, limited discovery, and the risk of a long prison sentence.”
Despite a study commissioned by Giron’s defense attorneys that found that between 77 and 85 percent of potential jurors in local areas had already decided that the Standing Rock defendants were guilty, a defense motion for a change of venue out of the Bismarck area was denied.
Giron’s sentence could have been even worse, but the very prosecution of a Native American for the crime of protecting land stolen by illegal immigrants rings with a supremely ironic tone in the Trump era. Then again given Trump’s history of ignoring contracts and abrogating treaties, the federal government’s complete failure to honor the promises made to our Native American original citizens is of little surprise.
One can only hope that once the Trump regime is ousted, the next president uses their pardoning power to rectify injustices like the retaliatory conviction of Michael “Little Feather” Giron rather than unrepentant right-wing felons like Dinesh D’Souza and Joe Arpaio.
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