“Last Real Indians” reports Federal District Court Judge Daniel L. Hovland dissolved temporary restraining orders (TRO) against Standing Rock Sioux Tribal Chairman David Archambault II, and other water protectors. An attorney for the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) represented one of the defendants. Dakota Access LLP obtained the TROs on August 15th attempting to suppress pipeline protests. The TROs were granted ex parte immediately by a previous federal judge. Key leaders of pipeline opposition were targeted. In addition to the ACLU, the National Lawyer's Guild offered representation against what it called the unconstitutional TROs. The Guild asserted that the TROs violate the constitutional rights of freedom of speech, assembly, and religion.

Thankfully for the future of civil rights the ACLU and National Lawyer's Guild have helped the water protectors push back the unconstitutional police state North Dakota Governor Jack Darlymple has created for the benefit of Dakota Access LLP. Unfortunately, decisions on how to deal with the nonviolent water protectors is being left to local authorities.

Nonviolence is not a felony

Reportedly North Dakota officials are charging nonviolent water protectors with felonies for nonviolent actions. The TROs are what have been termed a SLAAP (Strategic Lawsuit Against Public Participation) lawsuit. They are intended to silence critics by burdening them with the cost of a legal defense so they abandon their opposition. Lawsuits of this type have been made illegal in many jurisdictions on the ground that they infringe upon the legal right of freedom of speech.

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Of course plaintiffs, such as Dakota Access LLP, would never admit this was their intention. Since the politically repressive tactic of TROs was insufficient Dakota Access LLP can now rely upon North Dakota Governor Jack Darlymple's police state to strategically suppress public participation. The tactic of arbitrarily converting criminal charges from misdemeanors to felonies is also a popular form of political repression in the United States. Dakota Access LLP and the North Dakota Government it colludes with will try to jail and burden the water protectors with legal defense fees in the hopes they will abandon their opposition. In light of these developments it may take more than the ACLU and National Lawyers Guild to guarantee the continuity of our civil rights.

Defend the indigenous rights so you will not lose yours later

In a 1953 article in the “Yale Law Journal” federal Indian law expert Felix S. Cohen stated, “Like the miner’s canary, the Indian marks the shift from fresh air to poison gas in our political atmosphere; and our treatment of Indians, even more than our treatment of other minorities, reflects the rise and fall in our democratic faith.” Cohen's statement is infamous among federal Indian law attorneys and Native American law students.

Today most indigenous legal scholars have moved away from the racist domestic Indian law and policy of the United States, and assert the inherent legal right of self-determination for indigenous peoples under international law. Nonetheless, Cohen's oft-repeated quote of the “miner's canary” is prescient in light of the erosion of our civil rights we daily witness. Such as; Police Brutality, excessive force, police killing minorities, the militarization of the domestic police force, etc. North Dakota's response to the water protectors standing against the Dakota Access pipeline is the worst present day example of political repression in the US. If Cohen was right, then the reason why we see everyone's civil rights being eroded, is because of the failure of non-Indian private citizens to support indigenous peoples rights which is where Cohen argues the erosion of our civil rights begins. The Oceti Sakowin (Sioux Nation) now has global support. Hopefully the support has not come too late to restore our what Cohen termed our “democratic faith.”