24 August 2016, The Last Word, NBC nightly news show, USA
Dakota means friend…friendly. The people who gave that name to the Dakotas have, sadly, never been treated as friends. The people whose language was used to name the Dakotas and Minnesota, Iowa, Oklahoma, Connecticut, Massachusetts and other states, the Native American tribes, the people who were here before us… long before us, have never been treated as friends. They have been treated as enemies..more harshly than any other enemy. In any of this countrys’ wars. After all of our major wars we signed peace treaties and live by those treaties. After world war II when we made peace with Germany we then did everything we possibly could to rebuild Germany. No Native American tribe has ever been treated as well as we treated Germans after World War II.
The original sin of this country is that we invaders shot and murdered our way across the land killing every Native American that we could, and making treaties with the rest. This country was founded on genocide before the word genocide was invented. Before there was a War Crimes Tribunal in the Hague. When we finally stopped actively killing Native Americans for the crime of living here before us, we then proceeded to violate every treaty we made with the Tribes. Every. Single. Treaty. We piled crime on top of crime against a people whose offense against us was simply that they lived where we wanted to live. We don’t feel the guilt of the crimes because we pretend they happened a very long time ago, in ancient history. And we actively suppress the memories of those crimes.. but there are people alive today whose grandparents were in the business of killing the Native Americans. That’s how recent these crimes are.
Every once in a while there is a painful and morally embarrassing reminder, as there is this week in North Dakota near the Standing Rock Sioux reservation where hundreds of people have gathered and camped out in opposition to an interstate pipeline being built from North Dakota to Illinois. The protest in being led by this countrys’ original environmentalists. Native Americans. For hundreds of years they were our only environmentalists. The only people who thought that land and rivers should be preserved in their natural state. The only people who thought a mountain or a prairie or a river could be a sacred place.
Yesterday a federal judge heard arguments from the tribes against the federal governments approval of the pipeline and said he will deliver his decision on whether the pipeline can proceed next month. There are now over ninety tribes gathered in protest of that pipeline. That protest will surely continue even if the judge allows construction to proceed. And so we face the prospect next month of the descendants of the first people to ever set foot on that land,.. being arrested by the descendants of the invaders who seized that land. Arrested for trespassing. That we still have Native Americans left in this country to be arrested for trespassing on their own land is testament, not to the mercy of the genocidal invaders who seized and occupied their land, but to the stunning strength and the five hundred years of endurance and the undying dignity of the people who were here long before us. The people who have always known; what is truly sacred in this world.