Indian Country Today
WASHINGTON — Dozens of Indigenous leaders held a sit-in Thursday at the Interior Department in Washington, D.C., in an effort to stop the extractive fossil fuel industries.
Jennifer Falcon, Nakoda, Lakota and Dakota, with Indigenous Rising Media, was inside and said before Thursday’s sit-in at the Bureau of Indian Affairs that they warned President Joe Biden to “respect us or expect us” and he didn’t listen.
“So we're going to keep showing up until we die,” Falcon said.
There’s been a historic surge in Indigenous resistance in Washington since Indigenous Peoples’ Day on Monday, where “expect us” was written on a Andrew Jackson’s statue. On Thursday, roughly 55 Indigenous leaders were at the federal agency for a sit-in in what is believed to be for the first time since the 1970s.
Approximately two dozen law enforcement vehicles surrounded the Interior building and a block north of it. Officers from Homeland Security’s Federal Protective Service, Park Police, Metropolitan Police of the District of Columbia, and the Interior’s Office of Law Enforcement and Security Personnel responded to the BIA sit-in.
Tobacco ties hung on locked doors. No one could get inside or outside. Everyone outside of the building looked through the windows of the doors to see what was happening inside and could hear demonstrators yelling.
Some security personnel were injured and one officer was taken to a hospital, according to an Interior spokesperson.
“Interior Department leadership believes strongly in respecting and upholding the right to free speech and peaceful protest. Centering the voices of lawful protesters is and will continue to be an important foundation of our democracy. It is also our obligation to keep everyone safe. We will continue to do everything we can to de-escalate while honoring first amendment rights.”
Joyce Braun, Cheyenne River Sioux Tribe, with the Indigenous Environmental Network, said they’ve been protesting in Washington all week because the president hasn’t lived up to the campaign promises he made Indigenous people.
“He promised that he would honor our treaties,” Braun said. “He promised that he would have consultations. He promised that he would, he would actually listen to us and that has not happened.”
Police used a Taser on IV Castellanos, a Bolivian water protector and land defender, at the BIA demonstration.
“One main police officer came and just started pushing all of us extremely hard. And then there was a lot of pushing up back and forth. They pulled out a baton, they kept trying to hit people, someone got the baton at some point,” Castellanos said.
“I was pinned between the door and the police officers and I was caught on the door and the police officer next to me. I heard the taser. I don't know if he was tasing me at the time. I don't remember. I heard a Taser being clicked behind me and they told us to push out and I told him specifically, ‘I'm stuck on the door, I'm so stuck on the door’ and he saw that I was stuck on the door and he started tasing.”
Athena Shepherd, Confederated Tribes of Siletz and a water protector, said police got aggressive with the crowd fast.
Both Shepherd and Castellanos say police were hitting demonstrators with batons, stomping on people in addition to tasing some demonstrators.
“We were yelling, ‘Don't tase them! Don't tase them!’” Shepherd said.
Homeland Security’s Federal Protective Service Police arrested demonstrators who were inside the BIA headquarters. It’s unclear how many were detained.
Two individuals were let go from inside the building. One was water protector Annie Baker. She volunteered to escort the second individual who was diabetic.
Baker immediately rushed to a group of friends crying, shaking, and hugged them. She said it was “horrible” and didn’t know where the others were taken to. She saw those arrested being taken down to different corridors.
“We filed in, locked arms in a circle to occupy space (in the lobby) in hopes that we could speak with Deb (Haaland),” Baker said. “From there, we were met with the violence of the police, who mostly sought out Indigenous elders and Indigenous women to arrest them first. And they arrested media very violently. I mean, like body slammed, ripping cameras off like slamming their bodies and tripping them so that their legs were, they weren't able to stand on their own legs. And pulling people's arms as far up behind their bodies as they could so that people couldn't, had no movement and looked really painful.
“When they were prying people apart, they were smashing people’s fingers,” she said. “And then basically, once they, like, took certain people, they just left the rest of us to wait. And they just kind of there was probably 60 officers, Homeland Security, that just stood there and waited, I think for us to tire out.”
Assistant Secretary for Indian Affairs Bryan Newland, Bay Mills Indian Community, was in southern Oregon Thursday for a conservation event to discuss the department’s efforts for rural and Native communities.
Haaland is on travel and not in Washington, according to the Interior.
The Federal Protective Service Police took one woman, who was zip tied and wearing a red shirt, out of the building and into the ramp under the Interior building. “Stop Line 3! Honor our treaties!” she yelled while being escorted.
Right after, demonstrators sat and blocked all of the entrances to the building.
Officers of the Metropolitan Police made a path for vehicles on the east side of a building with their bikes. The Federal Protective Service Police could be seen loading detainees into the vans outside the ramp of the building. Demonstrators yelled, “We’re proud of you!” when they got into the vans. Homeland Security drove off those detained in three white vans.
On Indigenous Peoples’ Day, 135 Indigenous people were arrested outside of the White House while demanding Biden declare a climate emergency and stop all new fossil fuel leases, Falcon said.
“When Indigenous people were being arrested they were met with heavy police violence,” Falcon said. “I don't trust the United States. They've always broken promises to us.”
Indigenous water protectors involved in the BIA building sit-in have repeatedly demanded President Biden stop construction of Line 3 but he has declined, siding with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineer’s water permit for the pipeline.
Earlier this month, Indigenous water protectors showed Indian Country Today the location of a drilling fluid spill adjacent to the Mississippi River along the now completed Enbridge Line 3 pipeline route. This spill was discovered by water protectors and is one of 28 spills occurring this past summer along Line 3 construction. State regulators confirmed the number of drilling mud frac outs in response to demands from Minnesota Democratic Farm Labor party members.
Water protectors and allies have opposed the massive 340-mile pipeline project running from Canada south to Minnesota then east to Superior, Wisconsin, for more than eight years. Opponents claim the pipeline construction and future leaks will damage water and fragile wetlands that are home to wild rice beds on which Ojibwe people depend as a traditional food source.
“I feel devastated as an Indigenous woman,” Falcon said. “I just lost my grandmother to cancer, from a mine that poisoned water, two months ago. I should be at home mourning and I'm here.”
In 1970, Indigenous people first occupied a BIA office in Littleton, Colorado, which set off a chain of occupations that ended in Washington D.C. in 1972, according to the Indigenous Environmental Network.
ICT’s Carina Dominguez reported from Phoenix. ICT’s Mary Annette Pember contributed to this report.