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Militarizing against Native and Indigenous peoples

By Winona LaDuke


First published in The Circle: Native American News and Arts October 4, 2018

Image and image description from The Circle: Native American News and Arts

Reprinted with permission from the author.


On September 24, the Duluth City Council discussed purchasing $82,721 worth of riot gear for the second time. Water Protectors, the NAACP, church representatives, and many others packed the City Council to oppose the riot gear purchase. The decision was tabled for the second time.

It’s an interesting moment in Duluth. Two years ago, the Duluth City Council passed a resolution opposing the use of excessive force at Standing Rock during the DAPL protest. There, over $38 million was spent by North Dakota authorities, who brought in over 1200 police and national guard from across the country, as well as using Tiger Swan, a paramilitary security force. Now we are talking riot gear for Duluth. As Tara Houska, Honor the Earth’s Campaigns Director noted, there has not been a riot in Duluth for l00 years. Well, nearly so.

The last riot in Duluth was the 1920 lynching of three black men Elias Clayton, Elmer Jackson and Isaac McGhie. Charged with an unsubstantiated rape, on June l5, three young black men who had come to town with a traveling circus were arrested. Word spread through the town and that evening three of them were taken from jail and lynched by a white mob. Crowd estimates were between l,000 and l0,000 people (apparently sort of bad at counting in those days). That was the last riot.

Times are changing, the militarization of police is on the increase, and pressure by Canadian mining and pipeline companies to militarize northern Minnesota is bearing fruit. On June 28, this year, the Minnesota Public Utilities Commission issued a rogue decision – overriding all recommendations of state agencies, tribes and 68,000 Minnesotans, and approved a Certificate of Need for the Enbridge Line 3.

During that meeting, Public Utilities Commissioner John Tuma asked Enbridge if the company would underwrite the police expenses required to put in the Canadian pipeline. Since then, riot gear requests have increased.

In mid-September, an estimated 40 Fond du Lac tribal police forces guarded an informational meeting for band members on Enbridge’s Line 3 Agreement with the tribe. The controversial decision to sign with Enbridge has been opposed by Tribal Water Protectors and was done without community forums.

Debra Topping, an elder, attended the meeting and was handing out literature asking for a referendum vote on the proposal when she was pushed aside, searched, and asked for a tribal ID by the police.

Details of the agreement are not public, but the estimated $250 million deal is good money, no question. The deal has committed the Fond du Lac band to insure the project’s future in their territory. Apparently, that means using tribal police to control tribal members. The question is, at what cost?

Meanwhile, in Mexico, an Indigenous leader opposing the First Majestic Silver mining operation was assassinated. First Majestic is a Canadian company. Margarito Diaz Gonzalez, a leader of the Huichol people, was killed on September 8. This killing marks one of many in Mexico, where environmental and Indigenous leaders have been assassinated for their opposition to mining and dam projects.

The Mexican Human Rights Council condemned the murder and asked authorities to make investigation since Diaz Gonzalez had been a leading opponent, not only to the Majestic Silver Mine but also to the La Marona dam. The La Marona dam would flood Wirikuta, one of the most sacred places in Huichol world. Annually, thousands of Huichol conduct pilgrimages to this place, now threatened to be flooded for the benefit of a Canadian mining corporation. First Majestic and other mining corporations have leases to over 70% of Huichol territory.

Canadian mining corporations, in particular, have procured bad human rights records internationally, often using local militaries and goon squads to carry out terrorizing communities and committing murders. This last year, new lawsuits were filed in Toronto, seeking to hold Canadian corporations accountable for human rights violations.

The Guardian reports, “The case centres on allegations dating back to 2007, when the women say hundreds of police, military and private security personnel linked to a Canadian mining company descended on the secluded village of Lote Ocho in eastern Guatemala….security personnel had set dozens of homes ablaze in a bid to force the villagers off their ancestral lands, according to court documents.

On 17 January, the men were out in the fields, … and the women were alone. The 11 women say they were raped repeatedly by the armed men. Choc Cac – three months pregnant at the time – was with her 10-year-old daughter when she was seized by the men, some of whom were in uniform. Twelve of the men raped her, she said. She later suffered a miscarriage.

The women link the violence to the nearby Fenix mine At the time, the subsidiary was controlled by Vancouver-based Skye Resources. In 2008, Skye was acquired by Toronto’s Hudbay Minerals, who sold the mine to a Russian company in 2011.”

That’s how it goes. The United Nations has also singled out Canadian mining companies and called on authorities to better regulate the sector.

Canadian mining corporations control most of the mining leases in the Great Lakes and in Minnesota. Perhaps we should be concerned.

Meanwhile back in Minnesota, law enforcement will have a bottomless tab open with a Canadian multinational corporation to cover any costs related to quelling resistance to the pipeline. If Fond du Lac’s new relationship with Enbridge is any example, we may stand to be a bit worried about civil society.

If Duluth’s need for riot gear is an indication of our future, we should wonder what a human life is worth in Minnesota. And if the rights of corporations should supersede the rights of people.

There is no time like the present to remember Elias Clayton, Elmer Jackson and Isaac McGhie, victims of the mob lynching. And no time like the present to protect Minnesota from militarization paid for by Canadian corporations.

Indigenous leader Margarito Diaz Gonzalez was opposing the First Majestic Silver mine when he was assassinated on Sept. 8th.

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