by Dave Archambault II, chairman of the Standing Rock Sioux tribe. Originally published on nytimes.com.
On the same day that the armed Malheur militants were acquitted, I watched as riot police with military-grade weapons, tanks and helicopters rounded up hundreds of peaceful water protectors in North Dakota protesting an oil pipeline.
The juxtaposition of these two events — one system of justice for self-styled white “cowboys” and another for Indians — was stunning. We don’t have weapons. We have prayer and song. We didn’t trash a federal building and threaten innocent people.
We built a community where representatives of hundreds of Indian tribes have come together to stand in opposition to the latest chapter in a brutal history of injustice. And while the white militants who stormed and occupied public property were for the most part left alone, North Dakota law enforcement fired rubber bullets at teenagers, slammed grandmothers to the ground, and dragged elders out of sweat lodges where they prayed. Young women have been strip-searched. Four hundred people have been arrested — many charged with absurd felonies like “rioting” — and now face life-altering legal consequences.
When water protectors put their bodies in front of the pipeline, they were standing on land that the United States promised to my people in a treaty for our “permanent and undisturbed” use, only to take it away a few years later. Private property evidently wasn’t so sacrosanct when it was Indians who owned it.
In the 1960s, the government built reservoirs to serve other people that flooded the best parts of the little land that we had left. And now a private company wants to put a crude oil pipeline at our doorstep after citizens of Bismarck rejected it, fearing that it would poison their water supply. Whatever petty grievances the white militants had against the federal government, they pale in comparison to ours.
We will keep fighting the Dakota Access pipeline. We will keep doing it peacefully and prayerfully. We will continue to exercise our legal and civil rights. But we’ve always known justice looks different in Indian country. On the day of the Malheur verdict, the whole world saw it too.