You are here

Interview with Standing Rock activists Jessica Monette and Craig Case

October 10, 2017

Thousands of Indigenous water protectors and allies travelled this time last year to the Standing Rock Reservation to oppose the construction of the Dakota Access Pipeline. Heavily militarized police confronted the peaceful encampment, resulting in hundreds of injuries, but there was also mass resistance and solidarity. The following is an interview at the People's Summit in Chicago with two activists who were present the #NoDAPL encampment.

Kevin Taghabon: Can you tell us your name and where you're from?

Jessica Monette: Jessica Monette, I'm from Minneapolis, Minnesota. My homeland, I'm Turtle Mountain Band, Anishinaabe Ojibwe. Both sides of my family call that home. We're descendants of Chief Little Shell who was one of the last bands of Anishinaabe that divested from treaties in the 1800s. We marched out to Montana and were forced back to our lands.

Craig Case: My name is Craig Case. I'm from the middle of nowhere Mississippi…I was just inspired that people were actually gathering. I heard about it from people who were going. I had some Native American friends tell me the year before, “if you want to help us out, come to this.” Then, when I encounter people who are on a bus going that way, I just jump on with 'em. I just showed up and tried to help however I could. It was the most beautiful and most horrible experience I've ever had in my life.

KT: Talk about what the camp was like and how the militarized police responded?

CC: What I have to say is to anybody who saw something beautiful about what happened at Oceti Sakowin [Camp]– it really was truly beautiful. It was the most beautiful thing I've ever seen. Up to 20,000 people came to that prairie without any running water or electricity. Nobody knew each other. Nobody gave a fuck about whatever wealth symbolism you were wearing...everyone from all over the world world came in. We all coexisted. There was problems. There was a shitload of problems because people are problematic. But the struggle brought us together. There was just a beautiful feeling. Even when people were starting to freeze to death, people pulled together and cared about each other, went around checking on each other. And no one knew anybody. It was beautiful.

But anyone listening to this, wherever you are, Canada or whatever, if you ever find yourself in that kind of situation, I hope you have that beauty and that love because it will be the only thing to sustain you. What you will face, if you are in a situation like we were, you will have private military contractors that got their training in Middle Eastern warzones putting that paradigm upon you. You will have constant surveillance. You will have the spectre of infiltrators scaring everybody to death and making people act crazy. You will have women getting their arms blown to the bone by stun grenades and them saying that that happened to her because she had a propane bomb.

JM: But on the flipside of that, one of the most beautiful things was: we want to see international coalitions at work. It brought together hundreds of different tribes. All colours and walks of life…No other politics other than making sure people have access to life, to lifeblood. And it was women led. A lot of the Native societies are matrilineal. There was women on the ground controlling the soup kitchens, making sure kids were getting their educations, making sure it was peaceful. And it built out organically in this nice round...the camps were this round plan and built out. The flipside is that the whole world was watching.

KT: The energy from Standing Rock is really not gone. Where is that energy going? What's going on right now? What are you plugged into?

JM: Standing Rock is definitely not over. That's the sad thing. In actual, practical, legal terms it's not over. I think the next big thing is to look at in in a bigger picture aspect of the “why?” Why was Standing Rock able to happen? It goes back to the vast deregulation that we've allowed with the banking industry. The types of financial instruments that allow things like pipelines to be an open-ended investment for major banks to invest in. It justifies the continuation so that they can make up their investment. Putting a kibosh on that.

Aspects of NAFTA, an international trade treaty that justifies corporate personhood. That allows companies to go in like Energy Transfer Partners and literally tell police forces what to do, because it's their investment. They're protecting their investment. That was more important than protecting the land and the human rights of all the people downstream. That is where the big picture stuff needs to start to happen. We need to put together resources for all of it. All the people, if they want to be real allies and do real change, that's the next big thing.

KT: There's this sentiment, especially among liberals in this country [USA], that Obama was a friend of social movements. This entire struggle – and it's the same thing with Fight for 15, Occupy, Black Lives Matter – these struggles emerged during his tenure. Why is is not true, that he was not an ally, that his administration was not in favour of your movement? How is this exacerbated now under the Trump presidency?

JM: From an Indigenous woman's standpoint, from the womb we're raised to be politicized. We're raised to be wary because no outside aspects of political governance has ever been there to serve us. Nor do we expect it to. We as populists can't expect policies from these people to be the answer, because there's interests in every corner. Obama did a lot of great things. He also mysteriously had his hands tied in a non-transparent way that we as “normal laypeople” never get to know.

His inaction with Standing Rock goes back to corporate interests that are allowed in Super PACs. Citizens United [Supreme Court Ruling] allows for a lot of non-disclosure with how these larger corporations put their money through foundations, therefore through to influencing at an unlimited rate who gets elected. Just like the mafia, they turn around and tap on your shoulder when they need something. A lot of people out in Standing Rock, that was what was going on, you see all the investment people tied to Energy Transfer Partners. It spells it out right there.

KT: During the 2015 Canadian federal election campaign, Trudeau campaigned on being a friend of Indigenous people, the Truth and Reconciliation Commission. He didn't use the language of decolonization, but some of the [rhetoric] of that. He said he was going to implement the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous People, which would have included the right to say “no” to any new developments on their land. They get into government and he gets his Justice Minister to say, “we're not going to do it anymore, it's too hard.” Then he went to an oil conference in Texas and he gets an award there ( How do you feel about the tokenization of Indigenous struggles from “nominally progressive”, really not progressive, reactionary politicians?

JM: There's been no political parties really that address directly...that are like an Indigenous political party. Why is that? Because the whole entire system is completely built to keep Natives out. We were there first. We had our own systems in place. By nature [the US state] was meant to be exclusionary…

The tokenism, that shitty progressive stewardship of, “we're in solidarity, we'll take care of you, we recognize your sovereignty,” - we didn't need anyone to recognize our sovereignty for tens of thousands of years prior to all this happening, need we remind you.

KT: Can you talk about the impact of oil spills on workers health?

CC: People often talk about environmentalism, and they talk about damage to the Earth and to the climate because of these energy extraction industries. And it's all absolutely right. There's a part of this that doesn't so often get said and that's the damage to human beings directly from the pollution.

Something that really radicalized me was when I visited an old flame on the coast of Mississippi. She had become an oil spill cleanup worker after the [2010] BP oil spill. I’m from an oil family and fairly aware of different things related to working with oil. I went and visited with her [when she got sick]. So I tell her the next day, “you have benzene poisoning.” And she’s like, “no way.” And I’m like, “yes, you have been working on the BP oil spill, working long hours in the sun without respiratory protection.” The corporation was influencing companies that were hiring people for the cleanup [of the] spill to not wear even dust masks. They were completely unprotected, nothing on their faces. Literally just shovels, buckets, and gloves.

Even OSHA [Occupational Safety and Health Administration] regulation tells you, “if you're going to be around crude oil, don't inhale that shit. You'll get benzene poisoning.” But all of a sudden in this authoritarian atmosphere where everything is controlled by the corporation that did this shit, this is some fact that's nebulous somehow…

Another trick to this is that, of course, this is a job where they're just like, “hey, we'll pay you $20 an hour to clean this up.” They just hire anybody. So they're exploiting people who desperately need work. My old flame, she needed work, she was tired of working at the waffle house. Wanted some decent pay. Another fucked up thing about that more and more people came here, they knocked it down to $10 an hour…

The companies, they just make money hand over fist with this. British Petroleum, yeah they lost a lot of money in lawsuits, but they wrecked the Gulf Coast. That shit is still on the bottom. Those people are still sick. [British Petroleum is] still operating.

Geo Tags: 

Featured Event



Visit our YouTube Channel for more videos: Our Youtube Channel
Visit our UStream Channel for live videos: Our Ustream Channel