Part 2: Winona LaDuke & Tara Houska on the Indigenous Resistance to the Dakota Access Pipeline

October 17, 2016
Web Exclusive


Winona LaDuke

Native American activist and executive director of the group Honor the Earth. She lives and works on the White Earth Reservation in northern Minnesota.

Tara Houska

national campaigns director for Honor the Earth.

In this web-only exclusive, Amy Goodman talks with Winona LaDuke, a Native American activist and executive director of the group Honor the Earth who lives and works on the White Earth Reservation in northern Minnesota, and Tara Houska, national campaigns director for Honor the Earth.

Watch Part 1 || Dakota Excess Pipeline? Standing Rock Protectors Strip-Searched, Jailed for Days on Minor Charges


This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

AMY GOODMAN: This is Democracy Now!,, The War and Peace Report. I’m Amy Goodman. We’re broadcasting from Mandan, North Dakota, just across the street from the Morton County Courthouse and jail, where more than half a dozen people will be appearing today on charges related to the ongoing resistance to the construction of the $3.8 billion Dakota Access pipeline. In total, it looks like about 140 people, who call themselves protectors, not protesters, have been arrested in recent months opposing the construction of the pipeline, including 14 people arrested just this past Saturday, amidst actions that delayed construction at multiple worksites. There were, in one site on Saturday, military-grade equipment, aircraft—armored personnel carriers, surveillance helicopters, planes and drones. On Saturday, more than a hundred riot gear-clad police officers from multiple states came out to police a Native American ceremony near a construction site, which started with the Native American women offering the police officers water. Some of those arrested report being strip-searched in custody at the Morton County jail, even when they’re facing minor misdemeanor charges such as disorderly conduct.

For Part 2 of our conversation with Honor the Earth, we’re joined by Winona LaDuke, Native American activist, executive director of Honor the Earth—she lives and works on the White Earth Reservation in northern Minnesota, and Tara Houska, national campaigns director for the group. She’s Ojibwe from Couchiching First Nation.

Couchiching First Nation is in?


AMY GOODMAN: But you’re from Minnesota?

TARA HOUSKA: Born and raised.

AMY GOODMAN: So I want to talk about this issue of strip-searching, Winona. It is astounding to hear that even people, like the pediatrician for Standing Rock, Dr. Sara Jumping Eagle, was strip-searched for disorderly conduct. Is this typical?

WINONA LADUKE: I would say that, generally, North Dakota is not good to Native people and is really behind the times in terms of constitutional and civil rights. You know, I mean, for many, many years, our people have had an undue burden of the legal system against them, and nobody has really paid attention. I mean, the ACLU, for instance, American Civil Liberties Union, had one person that covered both North and South Dakota—a little understaffed, I’d say. You know, and that’s how things developed like this. But it is wrong. It’s wrong.

AMY GOODMAN: Do they have a right to strip-search people for disorderly conduct?

TARA HOUSKA: I think that this state is reading the law as broadly as it can when it comes to violating the constitutional rights to free speech of these people. I think that they—just like Winona said, they have a very long history of treating folks in this manner. And it’s now just kind of coming to light, right? I mean, we’re seeing yourself being—you know, as a journalist, being arrested when you’re out there on the front lines. You’re seeing Shailene Woodley, a famous actress, that’s out there being arrested as she’s filming it, live-streaming it back to her, you know, RV. I mean, this has been happening to Native people in this state for a very, very long time, and it’s just now reaching the mass—you know, people are looking at this, seeing here’s a Native American ceremony, and there’s hundreds of police officers with a militarized response behind them. It’s madness.

AMY GOODMAN: Why do you continue to resist with this level of force against you, arrayed against you?

TARA HOUSKA: Because this is—what these folks are standing here for, what I’m standing here for, is the protection of water and the protection of the future generations. That matters more than any, you know, criminal trespass or these, you know, attempts to suppress and keep our voices down. You know, we’re seeing the police represent and protect a company interest more than human beings and people. These are U.S. citizens that are all here standing together. And seeing their rights violated, seeing young children afraid of the police, that shouldn’t happen, but it is.

AMY GOODMAN: That’s what people were saying to the police on Saturday, when they lined up all in riot gear with the MRAP, the armored personnel carrier. They were saying, "Who are you protecting? Why aren’t you protecting us?"

TARA HOUSKA: They’re clearly protecting Dakota Access. You know, they’re protecting this profit interest over people and saying that we’re the danger.

WINONA LADUKE: The system has gone totally rogue, is what’s happened. I mean, you know, the fact is, is that you should not be protecting—how far are you going to go with this pipeline? How far are you going to push these people? How far are you going to push all of us for these pipelines? You know, it’s way too militarized. It’s called a mine-resistant armored personnel carrier. That’s what it is, an MRAP, a mine-resistant. At what point did you need a mine-resistant armored personnel carrier in North Dakota?

TARA HOUSKA: And seeing, I mean, local schools doing, you know, lockdowns when these protests are happening. We saw that emergency alert, which is typically reserved for an amber alert for a child that’s been taken, for protesters, warning in the area—frightening people, like we’re somehow scary.

AMY GOODMAN: This has just started happening. On Saturday, we kept getting, on all of our phones, "emergency alert." And then it would say something like "protesters in the area."

WINONA LADUKE: Yeah, they are totally trying to demonize us, is what they’re trying to do. And the fact is, is that the people that are out here, you know, are trying to protect the water. They aren’t making any new water in North Dakota, and this is the only water we’ve got, same water as when dinosaurs were here. And this is what we’re going to need to drink and our descendants are going to need to drink. And all our animals, our horses—all our animals need that water, too. And this is a chance to protect that water. North Dakota has already done enough to kind of mess up the water out here with all that fracking waste and starting to pretend that that’s working out OK for us. It’s not. It’s time to stop. It’s time to stop and protect the water.

AMY GOODMAN: There are a lot of people concerned that this is escalating to a very bad situation. Are you concerned about this?

WINONA LADUKE: Yes, I am concerned that they escalating it. The police are who’s escalating it. Our people have consistently been praying. Our people have been consistently engaged in nonviolent direct action. And, you know, we had a forum in Bismarck this last week, and it was very well attended, because I think people in Bismarck want to know why all these cops are out there, what is going on, you know, why these people are coming in here. So, you know, I’m saying to people of Bismarck, people in North Dakota, we’re here because it matters. I’m from northern Minnesota, and bad things happen in North Dakota and head my way, whether they’re pipelines or emissions from your coal plants. You know, it affects all of us. So, you know, it is time to say our civil rights, our constitutional rights are all being violated.

AMY GOODMAN: I wanted to play a clip for you. On Saturday night, we were at the casino, the Prairie Knights Casino, Native American casino, and there was the band America playing. And, you know, they’re known for "Horse with No Name" and other songs. Hundreds of people packed in, mainly non-Native. And after the concert, I caught up with a number of the concertgoers. I asked them if they liked the concert, but then asked them how they felt about the North Dakota Access pipeline as well as the protests?

AMY GOODMAN: What do you think of the pipeline?

AMERICA FAN 1: What do I think of the pipeline? I think it’s necessary. To get the oil off the roads, away from the trains and the trucks, pipeline is the safest way to go. I don’t believe that going under the river is a necessity. I don’t like the idea of it going under the river. But I think it’s necessary to move it underground instead of on the roads.

AMY GOODMAN: Do you think DAPL should just move it to somewhere else?

AMERICA FAN 1: I think if the Natives would have went in and had the process that is set up for them to go to court and have their say in court, I think they probably would have been able to make a difference. But they weren’t there. Now they’re trying to make a difference, and it might help. I think it’s helping, actually.

AMY GOODMAN: What do you have to say?

AMERICA FAN 2: There’s nothing wrong with the pipeline. Anyone with half a brain, if they looked at the maps of all the pipelines, they’re all over the place. There’s a pipeline that went right along this one. It’s already been dug up. There’s nothing going on there. It’s not going to hurt the water. It’s 90 feet below the lake, clay above it. People don’t know what they’re talking about. It’s all BS.

AMY GOODMAN: So what do you think should happen then, because there’s such strong opposition from the Native population?

AMERICA FAN 2: I think they should all go home.

AMY GOODMAN: They live here.

AMERICA FAN 2: They live here, but it’s not on their land. It’s not their business.

AMY GOODMAN: What do you think of the fact Native Americans feel so strongly they don’t want it?

AMERICA FAN 3: This is—this is their homeland. Yeah? Yeah, this is—this is their Mother Earth, you know, so—and they just want to protect it. So, I understand that, you know. I respect that, you know. They got their feelings, and they’re expressing them. It’s a free country, you know, so...

AMY GOODMAN: Do you think a private company like the Dakota Access pipeline should get to determine what happens here against the wishes of the Native population?

AMERICA FAN 3: I think it should be a group effort in both sides, you know. I think they should be able to come together and, you know, make it all work.

AMERICA FAN 4: I think it’s unfortunate that a lot of people are thinking it’s getting out of hand. And in some cases, it is. Do you think so? In some cases, it’s gotten out of hand?

AMY GOODMAN: You mean the building of the pipeline?

AMERICA FAN 4: No, the—the—

AMY GOODMAN: The protests.

AMERICA FAN 4: The protesting and the disruption of some farmers’ lives around there.

AMY GOODMAN: Is it true that the pipeline was supposed to be built above Bismarck and—

AMERICA FAN 4: Correct.

AMY GOODMAN: Yeah, and Bismarck didn’t want it?


AMY GOODMAN: The population.

AMERICA FAN 4: Correct.

AMY GOODMAN: So, do you think the Native Americans should have that same right?

AMERICA FAN 4: They should. Yes, I totally agree.

AMY GOODMAN: So what’s the difference? Why did Bismarck get to say no, and Native Americans, they’re being told they have to?

AMERICA FAN 4: That’s a good question. I don’t know.

DEB MATHERN: My name is Deb Mathern. I was a former—I’m a recovering politician.

AMY GOODMAN: Oh, where did—

DEB MATHERN: In North Dakota. I asked my brothers and sisters, "How would you feel if bulldozers bulldozed our parents and our sisters, who have passed us before us? How would you feel if they bulldozed their burial grounds? How would you feel?" And they just went, "Oh, OK, I get it." And I think America needs to stop and think about that. I think our governor should have come down here right away and talked to the people and created conversation.

AMY GOODMAN: Those are America fans, the group America, who were playing at the Prairie Knights Casino Pavilion, which holds like 2,200 people. It was pretty packed. And afterwards, I just spoke to some of them about what they thought about not only the pipeline, but the resistance to it. Our guests, Winona LaDuke and Tara Houska, both Native American activists with Honor the Earth. Tara, your response?

TARA HOUSKA: I thought it was, you know, kind of sad when they stated—you know, one person stated that they should have voiced, and they should have—the Native Americans should have participated in the process. This is years of opposition by the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe that has only recently become compounded by all these—you know, the influx of thousands of people, because it got that far. There was opposition all the way from the beginning, and it just kept clicking along. And then it became to the point of them actually constructing into the ground, ripping apart sacred sites. And then all these people came.

It was also really sad to hear, you know, that they’re opposed to—they think that pipelines are safer, that they’re somehow safer than the bomb trains that are passing through, they’re somehow, you know, a better solution. The better solution is renewable energy. The better solution is not having something that can—that goes through the ground, often leaks. There are, you know, so many leaks along pipelines, aging pipelines and even new pipelines, thousands and thousands of gallons spilled in a single minute. I mean, that’s not a solution. The solution is renewables. You see these big energy departments with little renewable departments within them that are basically not working, not doing anything. We’re in one of the windiest states that I’ve ever been in.

AMY GOODMAN: It was hard to record yesterday because the wind was so strong.

WINONA LADUKE: Very strong.

AMY GOODMAN: And it was a mild day for North Dakota.

TARA HOUSKA: I mean, where are the wind turbines? I mean, I’m sure this entire state could be powered by wind energy. And instead, they’re fracking. They’re pulling oil from the Bakken that’s unnecessary, unneeded, and continuing to contaminate the planet.

WINONA LADUKE: What I’d say is that like North Dakota—like just the Fort Berthold Reservation has 17,000 times more wind capacity than they can use.

AMY GOODMAN: And where is Berthold?

WINONA LADUKE: Just north of here. And that’s the one where all the fracking is. And all those people want to talk about pipelines. Twenty thousand gallons a minute, that’s how much will spill out of a pipeline. And when had that spill, the Kalamazoo spill, it took them 17 hours to stop it. You know, because it’s out of sight, out of mind, doesn’t mean it’s working out.

And, you know, people in North Dakota and people around the country really need to be concerned about these pipelines, because, as the chairman said, you had pipelines that have been here for 50 years. They were put in before any of the environmental laws. And those pipelines are already leaking. They’re weaping. We have pipeline in northern Minnesota with 1,400 structural anomalies in them. Structural anomaly means not working out, pinhole leaks, the kinds of things that caused the Kalamazoo spill. So, you know, this is an issue for all of us. You know, the country has a D in infrastructure. This country has a—First World country—D in infrastructure. And that pipeline infrastructure, which is all over North Dakota, all over northern Minnesota, is what we should all be concerned about. There is no easy way out of this, except for clean out your old mess and make infrastructure for people and not for corporations. $3.9 billion could mean a lot to North Dakota in real infrastructure, you know, and to Native people for real infrastructure.

AMY GOODMAN: Winona, you’re leaving here in just a few hours to go back to Minnesota—

WINONA LADUKE: That’s right.

AMY GOODMAN: —to fight another pipeline?

WINONA LADUKE: That is right. I also have to say hello to my grandchildren and my children. They’ve been asking me to return.

But, you know, what I would say is that—so, we’re facing this other line—Line 3, it’s called, Enbridge line, 760,000 barrels per day, a tar sand pipeline proposal, same route. You know, we defeated the Sandpiper which was proposed, a brand-new pristine route, as opposed to the six-pipeline-wide aging pipeline infrastructure in northern Minnesota that goes around—across Highway 2. Enbridge now wants 760,000-barrel-per-day pipeline called Line 3, and it’s their single largest project. So, I’m going home. Hearings are starting on that. So, I have to face that.

And, you know, that’s the one that’s going into Wisconsin. That’s why Dane County was also out here, is because they’re facing the biggest pipelines—tar sands pipeline ever. It’s a twin of that, you know. And with a bad governor and, you know, who doesn’t want to protect the people of Wisconsin, that’s why he sent those people out here, too. But they are projecting they’re going to have a big battle on that Line 66 going through Wisconsin, as well as in, you know, northern Minnesota. And I told Enbridge—I had a meeting with them—I said, "We know how to camp, too. We know how to camp, too, you know, and we aren’t going to let you get that pipeline." You know, they didn’t get the last one; they didn’t get the Sandpiper. And they are not going to get Line 3. And so they should move on.

Enbridge itself, you know, big investor in this, they have a $4 billion wind portfolio. I’m like, "Put some wind up. We’d like you. Do something real. Don’t call this 'energy security,' 'national energy security for the future,' 'energy self-sufficiency.' That’s a pipeline that’s not helping anybody, except for those oil companies. Wind, solar, efficiency—these houses out here are just freezing in the winter. People freeze to death because they don’t have adequate infrastructure in their houses. They’ve got a 50-year-old health clinic. Do something for people if you’re going to invest out here.

AMY GOODMAN: Tara Houska, what is it like to be on the front lines of these protests?

TARA HOUSKA: When you’re out there, you are in a very rural place. I mean, North Dakota is a very rural state. And there’s very limited cell service. There’s very limited connection and connectivity to the outside world. And when you’re out there and you’re facing a, you know, line of police that are armed with assault rifles, there’s an MRAP, there’s whatever military—there’s helicopters overhead, it is very scary. You think about what happens if someone just accidentally, you know, gets too excited and thinks that somehow, you know, maybe we’re praying too hard or whatever it is, and they shoot. You know, that’s how it feels when you’re there. And the police are a scary presence.

It’s not a comfortable feeling to know that you are actually afraid for your life from the police because they’re protecting a pipeline and they’re protecting the interests of Dakota Access. That’s a very scary feeling, and it’s one that I think, you know, more people need to be aware of. And they need to understand that we’ve reached a point now where we’ve got, you know, a state actively and openly protecting the interests of Big Oil, and we’ve got a Congress that’s directly controlled. You know, there’s so many campaign donations that come from Big Oil. And we see a Congress that deregulates the oil industry again and again and again.

We have Hillary Clinton who’s running for president. Where is she on Dakota Access? I mean, where is the response to Dakota Access? This is the biggest—if she’s so—you know, she said that she is for Indian country. She put out a platform for Indian country. Where is the response to Dakota Access? That is the biggest, single most center point issue of Indian country right now. There’s thousands of people that have come here. There is hundreds and hundreds of tribal nations that have come here to stand. I want to know where that positioning is. And I want to know—you know, "Natural gas is a bridge fuel," that’s a ridiculous, ridiculous statement. You know, I want to—I want to know what my president, what our future president, really thinks about the environment and the future of the people, and, you know, whether Citizens United is going to continue to stand, whether we’re going to allow a Congress to continue to be controlled by corporations and not by the people that they are supposed to be representing.

AMY GOODMAN: Are you concerned that the non-Native population here, that the sheriff is turning them against you? Have there been calls for the arming of the population?

TARA HOUSKA: There has been calls for the arming of the population. And I actually just learned yesterday that, you know, there was a water protector that locked down to a piece of equipment. That happened. There was a farmer that fired a shot at those folks. That did happen. There was a gun that went off. And that’s a very scary instance and situation of, you know, people actually being afraid for their lives and realizing just how high the stakes are and that Sheriff Kirchmeier has continued to kind of put out this message of aggression, that Native Americans are aggressive, that we are attacking people, that we’re intimidating local people.

We’re there to protect their land just as much as we’re there to protect our own interests, which is the land, the water, sacred places. We’re not there to intimidate people or to have any violent interaction with anyone. Every single protest has been a peaceful action, even when people are locking themselves to machines. That’s not hurting any human beings. That is stopping construction of a pipeline that we’re all trying to oppose. We’re not trying to intimidate local people.

And as Winona said, there is a strong interest, that’s growing, from the local population about this issue. I’m sure they want to know: Why are my taxpayer dollars being spent on thousands of police? Why is the National Guard being called in? Why is that happening for this—you know, for a group of Native Americans that are exercising their constitutional rights? You know, is that really the best us of our resources? Is that really what’s needed? And is it OK that we’re encouraging local citizens to actually be violent towards one another?

AMY GOODMAN: When we were last here, on Labor Day weekend, Winona, you said you didn’t want to spend the next 10 years of your life fighting pipeline by pipeline. So, how will that change?

WINONA LADUKE: Well, I think you need to stop it at the source. I mean, North Dakota is already getting a massive destruction of its water supply from fracking, and that’s going downhill. I mean, in order to keep pumping out of these fracking wells—those wells last four years—they’ve got to keep doing it and doing it over and over and over. It’s a lot of investment. Need to stop. You know, need to—need to move to efficiency and renewables, and you need to clean up the mess you already got out here.

I mean, people are looking at the Native people here, but, you know, the fact is, is that a lot of bad things have happened here. And even the Army Corps itself, it took 200,000 acres of land from these people, their best bottomlands, their best lands, and let them—basically forced them into a situation of poverty, you know, the federal government’s denial of loans to these people for years under the Keepseagle case. You know, there’s a lot of things that happened.

It’s time for justice. And it’s time for peace. And the way you’re going to make peace out here is to take care of your environment and to treat people with dignity. You know, nobody is going anywhere. Telling Native people they should go home—wait, wait, let me get that right. You know, this is where we live, you know? And so, you know, I think that the long-term solutions are really systemic. It’s, you know, having local food. It’s not having your food owned by Monsanto, and it’s not putting a bunch of, you know, pesticides, and it’s not exporting all your oil and destroying your water. You know, the North Dakota Department of Health says that there’s not problems with the oil spills or the brine spills into the river. Their answer was, is that dilution has—had solved the problem. The solution to pollution is not dilution. The solution to pollution is don’t do it. You know? There’s only so much poison you can make. It’s time to quit, North Dakota. And it doesn’t just affect you. Like, North Dakota act like what happens here, it’s really their business. I’m telling you, everything happening in North Dakota affect the rest of us. And everybody should care about North Dakota. And we should work together to protect this water up here and protect the people, so we can live in dignity, you know?

AMY GOODMAN: You know, it was the morning of the September 3rd pipeline security guard attacks on the Native Americans that we spoke to you. It was before the dogs were unleashed, when you said, "Governor Dalrymple, this is not 1963. This is not Alabama. You are not"—

WINONA LADUKE: "You’re not George Wallace, Governor Dalrymple." You know, that is right. It is time to, like, evolve. This is—you know, that era that was in the '50s and the ’60s, this is like—you know, you don't get to put dogs on Indians. You don’t get to put water cannons on us. You don’t get to fire at us. It’s time for peace. You know, these people—I always get super offended. You know, I’m not a protester; I’m a protector. And why is it that I get called an "activist" or "protester," when what I want is clean water, and a corporation that is going to poison your water isn’t called a "terrorist"? How does Dakota Access become a victim in this? At what point are they a victim? And that’s what the court is saying. People are told that they cannot have any contact with the victim. That’s what Nick Tilson was charged with. And they said "no contact with the victim." He said, "Who is the victim?" And they said, "Dakota Access." That’s not even a corporation. It’s a project. We’ve got to quit defending the rights of corporations over human rights and the rights of water, you know?

AMY GOODMAN: And the SLAPP suits?

WINONA LADUKE: And the SLAPP suits, oh, my gosh, there’d be so many busy people. And what I’m saying is, is that, in my experience, they had all the hearings on pipelines in northern Minnesota in January, like the 3rd of January. The technically enhanced naturally occurring radiation standard meetings in North Dakota were the 14th of January. It’s cold as heck. You know, nobody want to go. But I’m saying it is time to take your vacation in North Dakota, civil society. You know, North Dakota needs a little help out here. And bad things got to—you know, got to quit happening up here. And this is your chance, everybody, to come support us. We don’t need the Deep North up here. You know, what we need is justice. And what we need is something that’s right, you know?

AMY GOODMAN: Well, I want to thank you both for being with us. Winona LaDuke and Tara Houska, both with Honor the Earth. This is Democracy Now! We’re broadcasting from Mandan, North Dakota, across the street from the Morton County jail and courthouse, where so many of the water and land defenders have been brought to. This is Democracy Now!, I’m Amy Goodman. Thanks for joining us.

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