“We cannot afford to let them treat us like properties of the state,” said Ollie, a 24-year-old water protector whose partner Michael Markus, known as Rattler, was recently taken into custody by federal officers. “That’s what the reservations were in the first place.
Ollie, who is Eastern Cherokee, Sicilian and Greek, did not want to use her full name out of fear for her personal safety. She is one of many loved ones and friends of five indigenous men who recently faced a federal grand jury indictment on charges of civil disorder and use of fire to commit an offense.
The charges against Rattler, Angry Bird and three others could carry up to 15 years in federal prison and stem from a standoff with police on 27 October 2016during which law enforcement deployed armored vehicles and pepper spray and ultimately arrested 141 people. Although local law enforcement have made roughly 700 arrests since last year and filed a wide range of state-level felony charges, the DoJ prosecutions have dramatically heightened anxieties.
The timing of this indictment is particularly odd, several months after the incident but less than two weeks after Trump’s inauguration. Trump has personal investments in the oil corporation and has taken donations from its CEO. An FBI terrorism task force is also investigating Standing Rock activists, reported The Guardian.
Sandra Freeman, attorney with the Water Protector Legal Collective, who is representing Rattler, said he was being prosecuted under a law that is rarely used in federal court, passed in 1968 to control the Black Liberation Movement and Vietnam war protests. She said the charges were clearly meant to repress free speech rights.
Tactics changed as Trump talked about giving militarized law enforcement even more freedom to abuse unarmed people.
“Law enforcement tactics started escalating and markedly changing in January,” Freeman said. “It was no longer a confrontation at demonstrations, but single people being picked off, being brutalized and being interrogated. In general, it’s law enforcement out of control.”
Ollie said: “They’re going after Rattler to make him a poster child and a scapegoat. He’s never done anything violent. He’s nothing but a gentle giant.
The Guardian continues the story of Rattler,
The couple met at camp last year when they worked together as akicita, a Lakota word that water protectors used for one of the security teams. “Rattler’s purpose of being at camp was to make a safe space for people.”
Rattler, who is Lakota Oglala and a US Marine veteran, has also consistently been cooperative and compliant with law enforcement, according to Ollie, who noted that he willingly turned himself in on a state warrant and that the two of them recently paid a $10,000 cash bond so he could be released. But instead of letting him leave after his Morton County hearing, federal agents took him into custody, she said.
“I felt safer having guns pointed at me at close range than going into court,” she said, noting that she now constantly checks to see if there is a warrant for her arrest and refuses to travel alone.
Some fear the defendants won’t get fair juries and trials in Bismarck, where most residents are white.
“They all already have in their minds that all the water protectors are a bunch of rioting and out-of-control criminals,” said Michael Fasig, an Oglala Lakota man who is facing state charges and vehemently denies the allegations. “I want to show the jury the actual truth, the actual facts … But we’re going through their system.”
The slew of cases against activists has also fueled prejudice and racism toward indigenous people in North Dakota, said Anthony Gazotti, a 47-year-old Apache man. While helping set up a new camp site, he recounted the discrimination he faced at a supply store in Mandan, an hour north of Cannon Ball.
“You could just see the disdain and disgust on their face … just because they assumed I was with the water protectors” he said, in tears. “It hurts. It’s lies. These are some of the best people I’ve ever met.”