THE BLOG
10/28/2014 10:57 am ET Updated Dec 26, 2014

Cowboys and Indians, Yes. Indians and Occupiers? Let's Think About That

This past summer, DC politicos and residents woke up to a surprising sight: Cowboy ranchers and Native Americans sharing an encampment on the National Mall with prayer ceremonies and offerings to each other. The occasion: a "Reject and Protect" fight against their common enemy, the Keystone XL pipeline.

"Treaty Rights supersede state rights," declared Dallas Goldtooth of IEN (Indigenous Environmental Network from the Lakota/Dakota/Nakota Nation, to reporter John Zangas of DC Media. "The treaties we signed with the U.S. Government we hold as sacred." Goldtooth believes it is important to resist as a peaceful and collective people. "There was very little prior consultation or consensus with tribes about the Keystone," said Goldtooth.

Art Tanderud, a farmer from Nebraska, joined the coalition because the proposed route of the pipeline will cut through one-third of his farm, which has been in his family for 100 years.

The roots of this alliance came out of an invitation made to a few ranchers to an event called "Protect the Sacred" on the Yankton Sioux Reservation in South Dakota. Since this was a commemoration some 150 years ago of a treaty between the Yankton Sioux and the Pawnee to band together against the threats of homesteaders, ranchers and the U.S. Army, you might find such an invitation to non-Natives to be a bit out of character.

Hardly. In this time and place, it is necessary for the Indian and the settler to band together to again battle against forces that would change their life.

Indians and the Occupy Movement

According to Lakota-born William "Willie" Underbaggage, founder and executive director of the Indigenous Nations Network (INN), Occupy Wall Street (OWS) is a perfect population for a similar alliance - particularly through the prospective OWS Fourth Annual National Gathering to take place the summer of 2015.

Willie believes that this international gathering should take place at, or near, the Pine Ridge reservation, and he is traveling from California this week to make that request to the traditional treaty council meeting this coming Saturday, November 1.

He bases this campaign on the experience that he personally had in the OWS community, beginning with his visiting the Washington DC protest at the mall. He was attracted by the call to civil society to respond strongly, if peacefully, to the massive pressures of rapacious capitalists and an unresponsive government.

Echoes of the native American experience, wouldn't you think?

"Native people have been involved in the "occupy" movement long before OWS, as exampled by our seizing of Alcatraz that one time," Willie reminds us. "I could see that, within OWS, there would be a gathering place, a safe space to dialogue, using forms of communication, sign language and consensus...something all native peoples understand."

"During the months of the occupation in New York City, many native people came to show support to the gathering at OWS," he adds. "While events such as the UN indigenous peoples forum were occurring, people from tribal nations made statements and made a visible show of support. (He discussed this early foray into OWS in an interview with me on "15 Minutes of Fact")

He offers another, compelling and urgent, argument in favor of the Lakota Sioux inviting Occupy to assemble on the reservation: the opportunity to draw the world's attention to the tribe, the reservation, and the plight of the native American.

"Any way in which that attention can be positively earned and focused - as happened just recently in the large native contingent that participated in the 400,000 strong climate protest in NYC - is important and beneficial to getting out our story," declares Willie, who served in the native security detail for the Manhattan event.

It was not surprising that the indigenous peoples were selected to be the lead-off contingent for the parade. As Bill McKibben of 350.org stated, the march was clearly "On behalf of the fights that indigenous peoples started."

That fight is hardly over, and it is the hope of William Underbaggage and a number of his native brothers and sisters and occupiers, that it be continued - arm in arm - with those attending Occupy's fourth national gathering. (The previous three were held consecutively in DC, Philadelphia, Kalamazoo and Sacramento.)

Care to follow this undertaking, perhaps to support it in some tangible way? Underbaggage can be reached directly at 831-247-5753, via email, or at his Facebook page. Let us know your thoughts and feelings - pro and con.

Indians and Occupiers? Really?