Thousands of people from many Native American nations have camped here to protest the construction of the Dakota Access oil pipeline, which is being built just north of the Standing Rock Sioux reservation, passing under the Missouri River and threatening the water supply.
Hart sat down with two of the leaders in the camp, J.R. American Horse of the Standing Rock Sioux and Robert Dunsmore from the Cheyenne River reservation in South Dakota. American Horse said they’ve been receiving solidarity worldwide, including “from New Zealand and Paris, France.” Hart described his experience taking part in protests against the police killing of Keith Scott in Charlotte, North Carolina, and they discussed the actions of FBI and local police in both struggles.
Hart also met with Chauncey Peltier, who came to the camp to win support for the fight to free his father, Leonard Peltier, who has spent more than 40 years in jail for his participation in the fight for Native American rights.
Peltier described how Native Americans are incarcerated at grossly disproportionate rates in South Dakota. The Wall St Journal reported in 2015 that the number of Native Americans in the federal prison system has jumped 27 percent in the past five years. In South Dakota Native Americans make up 60 percent of those facing federal charges, but only 9 percent of the population.
Peltier spoke of the lack of jobs, and the conditions he had experienced as a union laborer in Portland, Oregon. And it’s worse on the reservations. “One of my brothers lives on Pine Ridge [in South Dakota], and if you get a job, you have to hang on to it.
“Why don’t they make jobs?” Peltier said. “They’re trying to starve us out. Can’t they put a factory on the reservation?”
Peltier agreed with Hart that while the energy needs of working people have to be met, the oil barons don’t care if their projects violate treaties or contaminate land and water. “All they think about is money,” Peltier said.
“Yes, they make everything a commodity to be bought and sold,” Hart said. “That’s why working people need to take power and build a new society based on human solidarity.”
Hart and supporters also went door to door in this town, which is on the reservation. “We met people who were closely following the struggle, including a high school student who said he would take our campaign material to his journalism class,” Hart said.
“Another worker we met told us he was half Mexican and half Native. He had worked for the pipeline company for three months and had just got laid off along with 90 others when the company moved its base to work on the pipeline in Iowa.”
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