Political Matters – September 2021


By Mordecai Specktor

‘Reservation Dogs’
We’ve been enjoying the new comedy series “Reservation Dogs,” which is streaming on Hulu. Created by Sterlin Harjo (Seminole Nation of Oklahoma) and Taika Waititi (né Cohen), a popular filmmaker (“Thor: Ragnarok,” “Jojo Rabbit”) who is Te Whanau-a-Apanui (New Zealand), on his father’s side and Jewish on his mother’s side.

The show focuses on Native teenagers on an Oklahoma reservation; and it was filmed entirely in Oklahoma. The irrepressible young Native actors are wonderful. And the humor derives from mundane life on the rez and the quirky personalities of the characters.

It occurs to me that most people in this country have no personal acquaintance with American Indians, actual living and breathing people, so this show will be a revelation to those who know Natives only from secondhand sources that convey an ideologically filtered, or romanticized, overlay.

I’m looking forward to upcoming episodes of this critically acclaimed TV series.

In the museum
I was traveling again in August. Not to Europe, but to Cincinnati for a family wedding (twice postponed last year due to COVID). Among the Queen City’s attractions is the National Underground Railroad Freedom Center (freedomcenter.org), a monumental museum that tells the story of the Atlantic Slave Trade, which brought 11 million Africans in chains to these shores; the Underground Railroad, which brought some of those suffering in slavery to freedom in the northern states and Canada; the abolitionist movement; and related historical events, including exhibits on the situation of Native nations in the early years of the United States and in the era of Manifest Destiny, as the settlers moved westward.

Of course, we know something about the Trail of Tears, the dispossession of East Coast tribes to Indian Territory, which is now known as Oklahoma. However, the Freedom Center offers insights into the historical cross-currents and rivalries among European powers that the tribes had to navigate in the 18th and 19th centuries. Many prominent Native leaders are profiled in the exhibits, which promote a nuanced view of this land’s development.

Amid the kerfuffle over the teaching of Critical Race Theory (CRT), it’s important that students, and all of us, know the real history of the U.S.A., which is bound up in chattel slavery, and the dispossession of Native peoples, who are dealing with continuing depredations from the dominant society.

Resistance to Line 3
On Aug. 25, I drove down I-94 to the Minnesota Capitol for the Treaties Not Tar Sands rally. Among the 2,000 folks in attendance were the Treaty Walkers from Camp Firelight, near the headwaters of the Mississippi River. They walked the 256 miles from Up North, joined on their walk by many supporters in the Twin Cities.

Calgary-based Enbridge, Inc. is completing its $2.9 billion U.S. portion of the Line 3 Replacement Program, which will swap out an aging 34-inch pipe with a new 36-inch pipe to shoot oil from the Alberta tar sands to a facility in Superior, Wisc. Most of the Line 3 replacement, 337 miles, is in Minnesota.

The water protectors and others protesting the Line 3 replacement say that the new route of the pipeline despoils and endangers lakes, streams, rivers and groundwater. The group from Camp Firelight point to six “frac outs,” spills of a drilling mud compound used in boring under waterways.

And there is also an existential argument against Line 3: the climate crisis, which will be exacerbated by more burning of fossil fuel.

In his talk at the Aug. 25 rally, Sam Strong, secretary of the Red Lake Nation, raised the concern about Line 3 and climate change, noting that smoke drifting down from forest fires raging in Canada (and now in northern Minnesota) forced his children to shelter inside their house for a week: “My children were not allowed to go outside and play. This is a direct result of the actions of humanity.”

And Strong called on everyone to carry an urgent message to their friends and family, “to carry the message that we need to change the way we interact with the nature around us.”
As I’ve mentioned previously, the Enbridge Line 3 pipeline protesters have been met by police repression, which is funded in part by Enbridge, Inc.

Investigative journalist Alleen Brown has written articles over recent months for The Intercept (theintercept.com) about the strong ties between Enbridge and law enforcement agencies.

In a must-read article published Aug. 27 (bit.ly/Line3-repression), Brown wrote: “Line 3 opponents have long raised concerns about payments made to law enforcement by Enbridge to cover pipeline-related policing. A special account set up by the state of Minnesota has distributed $2.3 million in Enbridge funds to public safety agencies so far.

The records shed new light on the level of close coordination between law enforcement agencies and the Canadian oil company to police the Indigenous-led movement to stop Line 3.”