Political Matters
The Next Standing Rock
Friday, October 06 2017
Written by Mordecai Specktor,
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Enbridge Energy’s proposed replacement of its Line 3 oil pipeline is meeting popular opposition – and some nonviolent civil disobedience.

On Aug. 29, six opponents of the oil pipeline were arrested for obstructing construction.

Minnesota Public Radio (MPR) reported: “Alexander Good-Cane-Milk of the Yankton Sioux Tribe in South Dakota was among the protesters. He locked himself to a piece of heavy equipment just across the Minnesota border, south of Superior, Wis., according to his girlfriend Ta’Sina Sapa Win.

“She said Good-Cane-Milk wanted to make a sacrifice. They met while protesting the Dakota Access pipeline near the Standing Rock Sioux Reservation last year. They recently came to Minnesota to protest Line 3.”

Sapa Win told MPR: “Why did I want to come to Minnesota? Because our Ojibwe relatives helped stand for our fight against Dakota Access pipeline, and I’m going to stand with them in their fight.”

Douglas County Sheriff Tom Dalbec said that protesters had made previous incursions on the Enbridge construction site, and he warned them that they would be arrested if they trespassed again. “Less than 24 hours later, there they are, walking out on the worksites, chaining themselves to heavy equipment and what not, so we enforced the law and started arresting them,” he told MPR.

Calgary, Alberta-based Enbridge is trying to complete the Minnesota section of its 337-mile long, 36-inch diameter pipeline, which would replace the existing 282-mile, 34-inch Line 3 pipeline. The Line 3 Replacement Program, as Enbridge dubs the new pipeline, would follow the route of the old pipeline, which runs from Hardisty, Alberta to Superior, Wisconsin. The $2.9 billion U.S. portion of the Line 3 project follows the 50-year-old Line 3 route from the North Dakota-Minnesota border to Clearbrook, Minnesota, but then requires a new right-of-way from Clearbrook to Superior.

The proposed new Line 3 veers south of Clearbrook, along the eastern edge of the White Earth reservation. South of White Earth, Line 3 would turn east and run south of the Fond du Lac reservation to Superior. (The Canadian portion of the Line 3 project is budgeted at $5.3 billion.)

The Minnesota Public Utilities Commission (PUC) kicked off a series of public hearings on the Line 3 replacement project on Sept. 26, at North Thief River Falls, Minn. As this issue of The Circle was going to press, another hearing was scheduled Sept. 28 at the St. Paul Intercontinental Hotel. Hearings in October will take place in Grand Rapids, McGregor, Hinckley, Bemidji, Duluth, Cross Lake and St. Cloud.

Also, evidentiary hearings on the Line 3 project will take place on a number of November dates at the PUC offices in downtown St. Paul.

The PUC is expected to make a decision on the Line 3 replacement plan by April 2018.

In September, Minnesota’s Department of Commerce submitted a report to the PUC that said the Line 3 replacement is unnecessary, as is the original pipeline.

“The Department of Commerce also believes that the current six-pipeline system that Enbridge runs in Minnesota is enough to accommodate the crude that the state needs over the long term, in light of estimates that show the demand for gasoline and other fuels is unlikely to increase, the department said, adding that local refiners operated near full capacity in any case,” according to

The Department of Commerce stated that its testimony was “supplemented by an oil market analysis from an independent energy consultant and a study of potential insurance coverage issues from an insurance expert, the comprehensive 338-page testimony concludes that Enbridge has not established a need for the proposed project in Minnesota as required under state rules.”

The Commerce testimony dealt a blow to Enbridge and strengthened the position of American Indian bands, landowners and environmentalist opposed to the Line 3 replacement project.

An Aug. 31 report from the Associated Press noted that the Line 3 opponents “also include the Treaty Alliance Against Tar Sands Expansion in Canada, a tribal effort against expanding oil pipeline infrastructure.”

“Our people were at Standing Rock, and all the ingredients for another Standing Rock-style stand in defense of our water are there," spokesman Stewart Phillip, president of the Union of British Columbia Indian Chiefs, said recently, according to AP.

The news wire report also mentioned that Kevin Hart, Assembly of First Nations regional chief for Manitoba, hinted that Line 3 opponents north of the border might travel to Minnesota, “following in the footsteps of the Dakota Access protesters.”

“Do you think our indigenous people and our allies all over North America are going to let tribal peoples in Minnesota fight this alone?” Hart said.


Indians Who Rock
Thursday, September 14 2017
Written by Mordecai Specktor,
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Indians who rocked

Here’s something uplifting and fun, unlike most of this column’s usual fare.

“Rumble,” a new documentary that opened Sept. 1 at the Lagoon Cinema in Minneapolis, explores a little known aspect of popular music: the contribution of American Indians.

The film’s subtitle is “The Indians Who Rocked the World,” and directors Catherine Bainbridge and Alfonso Maiorana feature interviews with a variety of American Indian musicians. I didn’t connect some of the musicians featured here with their Native roots; for example, many New Orleans-based artists, like the Neville brothers, claim Choctaw ancestry.

The film’s title comes from the Link Wray song. He was Shawnee, from North Carolina. You likely have heard Wray’s distinctive guitar sound on “Rumble” and “Apache” (he also wrote “Shawnee” and “Comanche”). A host of famous rockers, from Robbie Robertson to Iggy Pop, testify in the film to Wray’s influence on their musical direction.

The documentary lingers over certain figures. For example, there’s the late AIM leader and poet John Trudell, who hooked up with rock guitarist Jesse Ed Davis (Comanche and Kiowa) for his first words and music album, “AKA Graffiti Man.” In “Rumble,” Trudell talks about his friend Jesse Ed, who was a beloved and influential rock guitarist. Davis first gained widespread notice from his work on Taj Mahal’s “Giant Step” album. He played sessions with John Lennon, George Harrison, Ringo Starr, Bob Dylan, Eric Clapton, Jackson Browne and other stars in the rock pantheon, and recorded his own albums. Davis, who battled drugs and alcohol for many years, died in 1988, at the age of 43.

“Rumble” also delves into jazz and folk music. Mildred Bailey (1900-1951), who grew up on the Coeur d’Alene Reservation in Idaho, was an influential jazz singer. In the film, the legendary Tony Bennett says that for a span of his formative years he only listened to Bailey. In 1938, Bailey had two No. 1 hits (“Please Be Kind” and “Says My Heart”), with Red Norvo and His Orchestra.

And Buffy Sainte-Marie (Cree) discusses her role in the American folk revival of the ’60s, and how her activism for Native causes led to her being cast aside by the ruling titans of TV and other pop culture outlets.

“Rumble” is a very entertaining film; and it fills a gap in the history of popular music, which thus far has minimized or totally neglected the important role of American Indians.


Menace to society

I was out of the country in July and too jet-lagged to write a column for the August edition. It was good to be 5,000 miles away from this country and the nonstop catastrophe of the Trump administration for a couple of weeks. But I’m back and, like everybody, forced to confront the horrifying debacle that is U.S. politics.

In my June column, I noted that Trump professed his concern about American Indians, in a White House meeting with tribal leaders. Of course, you can’t believe everything that Donald Trump says.

When Trump’s not totally delusional, he’s a profligate liar. Clearly there’s something wrong with this guy, and we’re in peril as long as he commands the U.S. military arsenal. In August, Trump offered his “fire and fury” remarks, vis-à-vis North Korea.

His threat to start a nuclear war was mainly forgotten after the white supremacist chaos in Charlottesville, Virginia. On Aug. 12, the KKK and neo-Nazis staged their largest demonstrations in recent years, ostensibly to protest the campaign to remove a statue of Civil War general Robert E. Lee. After a series of brawls, a young neo-Nazi drove his car into a crowd of counter-protesters killing Heather Heyer, and injuring a dozen other people. The driver, James A. Fields, has been charged with murder.

In response to the shocking events, Trump condemned the violence “on many sides” – suggesting an equivalence between the racists and anti-Semites and those who showed up to protest them. He later alleged that there were “very fine people on both sides” of the confrontation in Charlottesville.

And the president continues to defend those supporting monuments to Confederate leaders and the benighted cause of upholding chattel slavery in the South. “Sad to see the history and culture of our great country being ripped apart with the removal of our beautiful statues and monuments,” Trump tweeted.

With a president who threatens to destroy human life on the planet, and then supports white supremacists on the march, we’re in dangerous and uncharted waters. Trump should be impeached, or removed through provisions of the 25th Amendment. When this lunatic is out of power, we can deal with the new threat posed by President Pence.

Offensive Art
Thursday, June 01 2017
Written by Mordecai Specktor,
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On Sunday, May 28, I drove over to the Walker Art Center Sculpture Garden to see “Scaffold,” a construction by Sam Durant, a Los Angeles-based artist. The two-story piece, which resembles an elaborate wood and metal jungle gym (when I first saw a photo of it, I thought it was a piece of playground equipment), references a number of executions in the United States, including the 1862 hanging of 38 Dakota warriors in Mankato, Minnesota – the largest mass execution in this nation’s history.

For Dakota people, and those attuned to this country’s horrific treatment of American Indians, the sight of the massive gallows triggers a nauseated feeling and a welling up of emotions. It’s like a ghastly apparition from the 19th century. Setting this sculpture in the ancestral Dakota homeland is truly a monumental act of cultural insensitivity. And, of course, it provoked a vociferous protest and subsequent press coverage.

On the day before my visit, Walker Executive Director Olga Visa had announced that the sculpture would be dismantled. “I regret the pain that this artwork has brought to the Dakota community and others,” Viso said, in a statement posted on the Walker website.

Viso’s statement mentioned that Durant “is open to many outcomes including the removal of the sculpture. He has told me, ‘It’s just wood and metal – nothing compared to the lives and histories of the Dakota people.’”

In a previous statement issued by Viso, she expressed “regret” at not anticipating “how the work would be received in Minnesota, especially by Native audiences. I should have engaged leaders in the Dakota and broader Native communities in advance of the work’s siting, and I apologize for any pain and disappointment that the sculpture might elicit.”

This art world debacle is dumbfounding, and it betrays a clueless, insular arts organization that bushwhacked the Dakota community, and didn’t foresee that there would be hell to pay.

(In my April column in The Circle, I praised the Walker’s program “INDIgenesis: Indigenous Filmmakers, Past and Present,” which created a space for American Indian filmmakers, such as Missy Whiteman, Stacey Thunder, Zack and Adam Khalil, et al. Then the organization inflicted “Scaffold” on the community.)

The revamped sculpture garden – Durant’s work is one of 18 new pieces on display – is set to open June 3. The area is surrounded by a chain-link fence, which now is festooned with banners and signs protesting Durant and the Walker:

• This hurts native people

• SHAMEFUL / Take It Down / This is not art, this is repulsive

• Relatives of the Dakota 38 Live Here

• This is disrespectful to my grandfathers!

• So very disrespectful, disturbing and wrong!

Also fastened to the fence are three large sheets, with the headline “Remember Their Names/38 + 2,” which list the names of the 38 Dakota men hanged in Mankato; and of Wakanozanzan (Medicine Bottle) and Little Six (Shakopee III), two chiefs who were kidnapped from Canada and hanged Nov. 11, 1865, at Fort Snelling.

At the Sculpture Garden protest, Graci Horne (Sisseton Wahpeton Dakota and Hunkpapa Lakota/Dakota) was being interviewed by a video crew. Horne, a mixed media artist and curator, told me that she was making art materials available to people who wanted to post a message on the fence.

She approved of the Walker’s decision to dismantle the sculpture, but said, “The larger issue at hand is that there’s a lot of cultural appropriation” of Native religion and history. “We’re still fighting the Washington Redskins; we’re still fighting exploitation of pipestone in Pipestone, Minnesota. There are many different issues.”

The Walker acquiescing to the outcry and agreeing to dismantle “Scaffold” is “really just a small victory,” Horne commented. “We’re happy to take this opportunity to talk about cultural appropriation, because a lot of people don’t understand it… We’d like to take this opportunity to educate people about the true history of Minnesota and what really happened here.”

As for non-Indians who “don’t understand” the Sculpture Garden protest, a bellicose middle-aged white man hectored Horne about a sign on the fence that read: “$200.00 Reward for scalp of the artist!!” A synthetic hairpiece, a replica of a scalp, was attached to the sign.” The wasicu was incensed about what he perceived as a threat to the artist. I asked the man if he knew about Minnesota’s history of paying bounties for Dakota scalps in the 1860s; but he didn’t seem to understand the grim reality of what happened some miles southwest of where we stood.

A lot of education is needed to undo the profound racism that blights our society.

American Indian cinema, etc.
Tuesday, April 04 2017
Written by Mordecai Specktor,
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coyote-way.jpgPolitics – the stuff of this column in The Circle – merged with art in a film series called “INDIgenesis: Indigenous Filmmakers, Past and Present,” which was presented in March at the Walker Art Center in Minneapolis.

I attended the screening of Missy Whiteman’s The Coyote Way: Going Back Home, which was filmed with a cast of young Native American actors at Little Earth and around the Phillips neighborhood of Minneapolis. The heartfelt 30-minute film – billed as a “sci­fi/docu-­narrative” – is about a boy who has to decide between joining a street gang or going on a journey to find the truth of his existence. Whiteman (Northern Arapaho and Kickapoo) and a contingent of actors, musicians and production staffers participated in a Q&A after the film screening.

And on March 25, I attended the program called “Views from Standing Rock,” which presented a video from Stacey Thunder’s web series Indigenous, and clips from the documentary in-progress Akicita, both of which concern the remarkable effort at Standing Rock to stop the Dakota Access pipeline.

Thunder’s video about the water protectors’ struggle (she said it will be on YouTube soon), and Akicita, directed by Heather Rae and Cody Lucich, put youth and women in the forefront of this amazing story of American Indian solidarity. Hundreds of Native nations, along with activists from around the globe, rallied to the cause at Standing Rock, and the Oceti Sakowin encampment, near Cannonball, No. Dakota, grew to a population of 11,000.

Rae’s 2005 documentary Trudell also was screened as part of the INDIgenesis series at the Walker. And she is listed as an executive producer for a segment of Viceland’s excellent documentary series about indigenous issues called Rise.

The first two Rise programs are about the stand at Standing Rock; and they are notable in providing context – such as the Indian boarding school atrocities, the Wounded Knee massacre in 1890, and Wounded Knee II and the American Indian Movement – for those viewers lacking a grasp of what has led us to these emotionally fraught times.

I also want to mention another program, “The Urban Rez,” from the Rise series. The segment focuses on Winnipeg, which is home to 80,000 Indians, and looks at the scourges of poverty, and violence directed at Native girls and women. The program, written and directed by Michelle Latimer, features Gitz Crazyboy, an activist from the Athabascan Chippewyan First Nations, whose ancestral land has been despoiled by the Alberta tar sands. Again, the residential schools come into focus as a source of intergenerational trauma in Canada’s First Nations.

Getting back to the INDIgenesis film series, I didn’t attend the screening for INAATE/SE/ (it shines a certain way. to a certain place./ it flies. falls./), but I was able to watch an online screener. This intriguing, experimental documentary film, by Zack and Adam Khalil (Ojibway), concerns the Seven Fires Prophecy of the Ojibwe. The filmmakers are from Sault Ste. Marie, Michigan, and the 75-minute film looks at the destruction of the American Indian lifeway in this area of the northern Great Lakes.

And speaking of destruction, the so-called U.S. president, Donald Trump, declared war on the planet in March, with his executive orders approving construction of the Dakota Access oil pipeline, the Keystone XL tar sands oil pipeline, and dismantling former President Obama’s Clean Power Plan, which was intended to shift the economy away from dirty coal. Trump and his crew of climate deniers and Big Oil proponents – including Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, the former CEO of Exxon Mobil – are determined to ravage the natural environment in furtherance of maximizing corporate profits.

I doubt that Trump knows the particulars of the Dakota Access and Keystone XL pipeline projects – he’s a complete ignoramus in virtually every area of public policy. However, his executive orders will ignite popular resistance to the hard energy path.

In regard to the Keystone XL pipeline, which will pass within 200 yards of the Rosebud reservation, a story in the Bismarck Tribune noted that “resistance camps similar to those occupied at the Standing Rock Sioux Reservation through the fall and early winter will be formed again in South Dakota, where the Rosebud and Cheyenne River Sioux have already pledged physical space...”

The story quoted Dallas Goldtooth, an organizer with the Indigenous Environmental Network: “We will carry forth the fire and unity we saw with Dakota Access against this next project. We learned solid lessons from Dakota Access and what is obvious is that this fight won’t be in one location, but throughout the entire length of the project.”

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