On Friday, Amnesty International dispatched human rights observers to North Dakota to monitor the ongoing repression of the thousands of Native Americans resisting the $3.8 billion Dakota Access pipeline. Amnesty’s move came one day after hundreds of police with military equipment arrested over 140 people, after attacking them with pepper spray, Tasers, sound cannons, bean bag rounds and rubber bullets. More details are emerging from Thursday, including video footage of a man who appears to be a Dakota Access security contractor holding a rifle, with his face covered by a bandana, apparently attempting to infiltrate a group of water protectors. A Standing Rock Sioux tribal member says he saw the man driving down Highway 1806 toward the main resistance camp with an AR-15 rifle on the passenger side of his truck. Protectors chased down his truck and then pursued him on foot in efforts to disarm him. In the video, the man can be seen pointing the rifle at the protectors as he attempts to flee into the water. He was ultimately arrested by Bureau of Indian Affairs police. Protectors say inside the man’s truck they found a DAPL security ID card and insurance papers listing his vehicle as insured by DAPL. For more, we speak with Dallas Goldtooth, organizer with the Indigenous Environmental Network.
While Native American protesters were being pepper-sprayed, shot with beanbags and arrested en masse by law enforcement in Cannon Ball, North Dakota, on Thursday, the Cleveland Indians were wrapping up Game 3 of the World Series; emblazoned on their hats was the franchise’s racist mascot — Chief Wahoo.
Over Halloween weekend, as protesters were recouping and taking stock of their diminished numbers, photos went public of Jason Walsh — the white boyfriend of actress Hillary Duff — wearing a feathered headdress, red face paint and a fringed leather tunic at a costume party in Beverly Hills.
These are just two of the many ways Native Americans and their cultures have been co-opted, caricatured and ridiculed at sports stadiums and Halloween celebrations across the country of late. It’s not a new pattern — but these incidents take on renewed irony amid the largest Native-led protests the United States has seen in decades.
This geographically disparate mix of tensions falls into a long pattern of casual racism targeting Native Americans. For decades, popular culture has painted indigenous people in cartoonishly broad strokes, stereotyping them as feral, red-faced savages and using their likenesses as costumes or proxies for sports teams — even as Native-led fights for self-sufficiency and self-definition push back daily against such depictions.