The White Man's Land
Today is a day that cannot be denied. Today we were told openly and without hesitation that the United States of America is the white man’s land. Many of us knew this already as the hints were less whispered and more shouted out of a gun, nudged at the end of a baton, and buried in unmarked graves. But now we all know this as fact: America is not a land for everyone, not in the slightest. We knew it never had been and we know now that it never will be. This lie can be put to rest with the many others.
But why today? Why not 1871 and the Indian Appropriations Act when American Indians were effectively legislated as prisoners of war? Why not 1942 and Executive Order 9066, whereby Japanese Americans, 62% of whom were American citizens, were forcibly relocated to internment camps? Why not 1934 and National Housing Act, which marked the birth of redlining? Non-white people on the lands now called the United States of America have long been treated as second-class citizens, learning that this land was not their land, even if it is their home. So why now? Two distinct things happened today that, when brought together critically, reveal this simple reality.
The first is part of a larger event commonly known as the opposition to the Dakota Access pipeline. American Indians are rallying across the states and internationally to oppose a pipeline being built across their land. In the United States this year alone there have been twenty-five pipeline accidents, many of which resulted in massive leaks contaminating local water supplies. Yet construction in North Dakota continues—environmental concerns aside—despite the fact that in this particular case the pipeline stands in direct violation of the 1851 and 1868 Fort Laramie treaties. And while the US government is no stranger to violating lawful treaties, this particular incident is of note. The reason for such attention is that the company in question, Energy Transfer Partners, acquired some of the land via eminent domain. Eminent domain is American white person speak for “compulsory purchase” (as it is called in the UK, New Zealand, and Ireland), “expropriation” (as it is called in France, Mexico, South Africa, Canada, Brazil, Portugal, and Spain), or “theft” (as it is called by people with common sense). Thus we are confronted with the first fact of the day: the white man is—in 2016—openly stealing land from American Indians. There is a long, long, history of this behavior, but now we have all witnessed it in real time.
Furthermore, this theft of tribal land is accompanied—as it always has been—by violations of human rights and the basic dignity of people. American Indians are protesting peacefully: no guns, no bombs—hell, no bows and arrows. In response, the government has delivered a highly militarized police force, including the National Guard, all heavily armed, operating military assault vehicles, and engaging peaceful protesters with pure violence. This is not so much theft as it is barbaric theft. It is theft soaked in the blood and tears of innocent peoples. The government has also blocked the communications abilities of the protesters, thereby indicating that their rights to free speech, assembly, and lawful protest are in fact privileges bestowed and now revoked. The overall message is clear: this is the white man’s land; the white man will take this land and will hurt you non-white people if you try and stop him. This statement is in fact the first line of the US Constitution. Many cannot read it as it is only written for non-white people and, as such, it is left out of all the textbooks, right-wing petulant rants about liberty, and poorly chosen tattoos. The American Indians protesting the construction of the Dakota Access pipeline are doing so to protect the water, thereby protecting the land and the people who need it to survive. Given that the Missouri River is the longest river in North America, the survival of many seems dangerously in question.
The second event is smaller, though it resulted from a nationally televised spectacle. On January 2, 2016, approximately twelve heavily armed white people seized the headquarters of the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge in Oregon. Why was this act of terrorism necessary? The white men wanted the land, literally. Before expanding their demands to include vague statements like getting “the economics here in the country revived,” these men openly demanded 1.4 million acres of public land to be released from federal government control and turned over to the states or local populations. Should their demands be met, it is reasonably assumed that they would attempt to privatize the land for personal and commercial use. Armed with automatic weapons, bombs, and effectively in open war with the US government, the white terrorists were allowed to come and go from the refuge for the first few weeks. In fact, other white terrorists were allowed to join, themselves possessing weapons, ammunition, and supplies. No police or military presence was established at the refuge and indeed, the headquarters was not surrounded until February 10. At this point, the terrorists had already vandalized the building and contents within and majority had left, many without being arrested. The remaining four surrendered to authorities. All told, twenty-six people were charged with a single federal felony count of “conspiracy to impede officers of the U.S. from discharging their official duties through the use of force, intimidation, or threats.” Some were charged with more given the particular circumstances of their actions and criminal histories. The total cost of the “occupation” to the American taxpayer was at least 3.3 million dollars.
And so it is that today, October 27, 2016, the first seven terrorists charged and tried with conspiracy were found not guilty. The other nineteen either pleaded guilty or are scheduled to go on trial in February of 2017. The reason the seven acquitted today are so important is that they were the leaders, figureheads, and spokespeople. They are six white men and one white woman. They protested government action through occupation of public land with the real threat of violence, cost citizens millions of dollars, and are now set free. This event represents the literal inverse of the American Indian protesters. On the one hand, people with a rightful claim to the land protest theft of said land and are brutally arrested. On the other, people with absolutely no claim to the land forcibly occupy said land, threaten the local inhabitants and authorities, and are either allowed to go free or are acquitted of charges. The freedom of the latter is the real meaning of American freedom and liberty: only for the white man.
On January 20, 2016, a video was released from the Malheur Wildlife Refuge. In it, white terrorists are shown breaking and entering a locked storage room in the refuge headquarters. There they take possession of archaeological artifacts belonging to the Burns Paiute Tribe. "Before white man came, so to speak, there was nothing to keep cattle from tromping on those things," said one of the leaders. "We also recognize that the Native Americans had the claim to the land, but they lost that claim. There are things to learn from cultures of the past, but the current culture is the most important." The fact that there were no cattle to tromp on American Indian lands or artifacts prior to the arrival of the white man is irrelevant. The point is that a white man can seize government land with force and demand that this land be forfeited to state or private interest, and then not be charged, let alone killed. The point is that this same white man can openly prioritize one culture over another—academically such acts are called ethnocentrism, commonly they are called bigotry—and be celebrated in the justice system.
So two things happened today: the first is that American Indian land is stolen and Indians are assaulted, persecuted, and arrested when they resist this theft. The second is that white men steal land, cost citizens millions of dollars, insult Indians, and are acquitted of wrongdoing. Some might call this a double standard, but such a claim implies that there is a standard in the first place. The truth is that there is no standard, there has never been a standard, and there will likely never be one. There is the white man and everyone else. The standard is him, and he alone achieves it. Thus there can be no hypocrisy or double-dealing, and we are fools to believe this the case. We do not live in the land of liberty, equality, opportunity, or freedom. We live on the white man’s land.