Checking in at Standing Rock + An interview with Comanche war chief descendant

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The events at Standing Rock – from police tactics, to celebrity support, to direct actions – have escalated since two reporters from the Nation visited the protest camp last month.

In an October 27 raid on the Oceti Sakowin camp, a convoy of police officers from seven states marched down Highway 1806 to evict protesters (who prefer the term water protectors in reference to the threat the Dakota Access Pipeline [DAPL] poses to the reservation’s water supply). In response, Water Protectors built blockades and used their bodies to slow the caravan’s progress but were met with a wide variety of “non-lethal” countermeasures.

The Morton County Sheriff’s Department claimed the Water Protectors were engaging in violent protest and they had to intervene to prevent a riot. However, the hours of videos that streamed live and are now circulating on social media paint a very different picture.  

The videos show unarmed, peaceful protestors being brutalized by militarized police officers with batons, mace and tasers while arresting 142 people. One, an Elder, was arrested after conducting a prayer ceremony in full regalia. Democracy Now reported that protestors were held in dog kennels while being booked. While the convoy was able to dismantle the Sacred Ground/frontline camp and make it to the Oceti Sakowin camp, the water protectors there weren’t evicted.


Following the police attacks, there has been a wave of support for the water protectors. In Minnesota, a demonstration was held inside Minneapolis city hall calling for the Hennepin County Sheriff’s Office to withdraw its officers, and equipment from Standing Rock. All Minnesota law enforcement officers and equipment have since been withdrawn from the conflict.  

In New York City on November 1, hundreds flooded Grand Central Station in solidarity with the protests at Standing Rock. The demonstrators chanted, “Water is life!” and shut down the station during morning rush hour, then marched to the head offices of JP Morgan Chase financial company and Bank of America. Both of which have a hand in funding the DAPL.

Actor Mark Ruffalo and the Reverend Jesse Jackson have also visited the camp.

Closer to home, the Mohawks of Kahnawake briefly barricaded Mercier Bridge during evening rush hour in solidarity with Standing Rock, and have also set up a camp under the bridge. “We’re here to protect the planet and raise awareness of what’s going on,” Blair Dearhouse told the CBC.

Meanwhile, over 1.3 million Facebook users have checked in at Standing Rock – as if they were physically present. The goal of the check-ins, in addition to showing support, is to confuse authorities, who are said to be monitoring the social media network to keep tabs on protestors – a claim the Sheriff’s Department denies.

nodapl-drums-johnduffy                  standin-rock                    In a Facebook update, Dallas Goldtooth, an organizer with the Indigenous Environmental Network, thanked supporters for the online tactic. “The ‘Checking in’ bit is a great, fun way of keeping folks engaged in the fight. It helps us keep the movement refreshed. It’s not the huge game-changer you may think it is. Sorry to burst the bubble. But it sure as hell helps us feel the solidarity!”

Goldtooth countered the police denials they are spying on protesters’ communications, however.

“Real talk: We are being watched,” he wrote. “By plane and helicopter. Our phones are tapped. Our text messages are being seen. Our social media is being mined for data and tracking. Our conversations are being logged by undercover cops. This is all happening.”

And it’s not the only mysterious thing that’s been happening in and around the camp. In an interview with Democracy Now, Goldtooth addressed a fire that happened near the Oceti Sakowin Camp just days after the police intervention. “It was very, very clear that the brush fire that happened was an act of arson by unknown individuals.”

Emergency services were blocked from fighting the fire, he added. “Now, their reason for moving on our water protectors was so that they could deliver emergency services, if needed, to the main camp. So, why is it that a number of days later, when a fire actually does happen, they refuse? Why is it that Bureau of Indian Affairs officers, who were on site with firefighting equipment, were not allowed to combat that fire without explicit permission from Morton County?”

Just days before the assault by police, another mysterious occurrence happened at the camp. A man who’s been identified as a member of the DAPL security force was seen behaving strangely at camp, subsequently chased, had his vehicle incapacitated, and was then photographed wielding an assault rifle. The scene was de-escalated by military veterans living at the camp, and the man was taken into custody. DAPL officials denied the man’s affiliation with the pipeline.

“It’s pretty straightforward,” said Goldtooth. “We found two documents that listed him as a Dakota Access worker. And he, himself, as I’ve understood, stated to our security that he worked for Dakota Access. It’s pretty terrifying to know that Dakota Access has infiltrators within our camp. They are paying armed individuals to create escalation, potentially creating very dangerous situations. It goes hand-in-hand with this series of mysterious situations where we have to feel suspicious about what Dakota Access’ intentions are.”



Interview with Elaine Parker Gimme Saddle

Comanche descendant of Comanche war chiefs helps keep the fight alive

by Will Nicholls

At Standing Rock the Nation met with representatives of the Comanche people, who have a tradition of hospitality that rivals the Cree of Eeyou Istchee. Among them was Elaine Parker Gimme Saddle, who is a descendant of Comanche Chief Peta Nocona and Cynthia Ann Parker, an English-American who had been kidnapped as a child and assimilated into the tribe.

Their son, Quanah, was born in 1850. In 1860, the US Army captured Quanah, his mother and a brother, but the brothers later escaped. Quanah would become a renowned warrior – his descendants call him the last war chief of the Comanche.


While at the Oceti Sakowin camp, the Nation spoke with Elaine Parker Gimme Saddle and her sons, a family from Lawton, Oklahoma.

You’re a descendent of Quanah Parker?

Yes, I’m his great-granddaughter. I never met him as he died in 1911.

Did your parents talk about him? What did they pass on to you?

Oh yes. He was the first Comanche politician. He had that knack. [US president] Teddy Roosevelt was his friend. Quanah went to DC and I heard all the stories from my dad. Quanah had 24 children and seven wives. And that was before the Mormons.

He was our last war chief in1883. The Comanche were prisoners of war and had to stay in Fort Sill in north Oklahoma. They had to stay on little reservations. But in 1905, they did away with the reservations when statehood came to Oklahoma.

Quanah saw the transition from the time he was on the warrior trail as a young man to signing the peace treaties. He encouraged our people to become educated. He said we have to walk two roads – the White Man’s road and the Indian road. We have to know both. My dad got that from his dad and it was passed down to our family and to the Comanche people.

Is this what you have passed down to your own children?

Oh yes, I have two sons here [at Standing Rock], David and Daniel Cox. They’re 46 and 48 and they are good men. I’m proud of them.

How did the Comanche end up here at Standing Rock?

They heard about it and they wanted to show support. Our tribe has always been unified as tribes go. We’re a small tribe of 14,000 and around 70 of us are here. The first group of us came here around October 18 in a huge tribal Greyhound-type bus with the Comanche code talkers painted on the side. My dad was one of them.

Your dad was a code talker?

Yes, in World War II. My dad served and so did my sons. The Comanche men are very patriotic. Dad volunteered before there was a draft. A lot of Comanche people don’t know this. They trained for a whole year with the 4th Signal Corps to make the Comanche language a military language. My dad said they had to make a language within a language. There were no Comanche names for many things. The Comanche word for turtles was used for tanks, and bomber planes were called pregnant birds.

Do you believe in what’s happening here in Standing Rock?

Yes, I do. I’m very proud of my sons. I thought I was too old to travel, to come here, but my sons said come on mom. I’m glad I came. To me this is a historical moment. I saw my grandparents sign historical documents. I saw my dad proud to be fluent in Comanche and in the English language. In fact, he was planning to major in English, but the war came along. My family has always been pro-education, but know your culture, your language and who you are. Our people pass that on strongly to our children. Understand your traditions, your culture, but understand the world around you.

Isn’t this what Aboriginal people always try to do?

Yes, know your environment and be at home in it. We are still people who roam. In the summers, we go down to Mexico, but Oklahoma is our place. Our encampments were in the mountain ranges in the 1890s before they hauled us in and put us in corrals at Fort Sill. My grandmother spent her first years there. She was born in 1893 and she was a prisoner of war. She lived to be a 100.

When I was in college and the first man landed on the moon in 1969 I visited her (she died in 1983) and I asked her what she thought about the man landing on the moon. She was a very smart lady, one of the first Comanche ladies to go to school, and she said the White Man can sure lie. She didn’t believe it. Our legend says a buffalo butted a witch woman up there and she got stuck. We can see her to this day.

Are you proud of your family for keeping their traditions and way of life?

I am very proud of our family. There were eight of us. I’m the second oldest and we all finished high school and went to college. I thank my parents for that. Our dad coached us along in everything we did in this world.

What advice would you give to the generations coming up?

Try to keep your traditions. Keep hold of what is really important. I’ve work with the tribal office and I’ve noticed in politics you have feuding cliques, but when they danced it was altogether. It seemed to be unique that in the arena they could all dance together.

In Standing Rock you see so many tribes coming together along with other peoples, how do you feel about that?

It’s tremendous in this day and this time. I’ve seen a lot of changes in my lifetime. Every time I worry we might lose our songs or our dances, every year there are more people. Our little children are still coming up to the arena and learning our ways. One thing I learned from a young child is that the movies that portrayed our people as heathens never saw that with the Comanche people have a great love for each other and they treat each other well. They have a respect for the Earth and they come together as families and as people to share and protect those values. Taking care of each other and the only home we humans have is what Standing Rock is really all about for me.

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