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OpEdNews Op Eds    H2'ed 10/9/16

Still Fighting for Native American Rights

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DB: Fifteen minutes to talk about 15,000 years of history?

Banks: Oh, man. So, that's why Standing Rock decided to take the Corps of Engineers and Dakota Access Pipeline to court. And that's where we're at right now. But one thing which has surfaced since nine weeks ago is the Endangered Species Act. Right now there's the Grey Wolf that's in that area. There's also the Black-Footed Ferret in that area. There's two kinds of cranes there, Whooping cranes, and the Least Tern (that's the name of that one), and then the Sturgeon and others have also been identified. The EPA said there's a list which contains probably about four more [endangered species]. And we're eventually going to have to consider filing an action under the EPA. Now, I say this because I hope it gets word out to them, I hope somebody knows this and tells these guys they're are on the wrong side of history. And we're not going to give into this.

And even though there are helicopters flying around, buzzing around, the APC's running around there, the armored personnel carriers. And even though we see the military uniforms around there now, nobody is going away. And, as a matter of fact, they're staying: people, men, women, and children. As I said this is a huge step. It was in the struggle of Wounded Knee, and the Longest Walk, and now in what's happening at Standing Rock. We needed Standing Rock, we need Standing Rock. And when that thing started to build, and I first said to my children "Hey, we gotta get involved with this." And we're 5.5 hours away: We drove over there. Well, as I said earlier my daughters drove over first and reported back to me. They said, "Dad, we need you over Here."

Protest against the Dakota Access Pipeline in St. Paul, Minnesota on September 13, 2016
Protest against the Dakota Access Pipeline in St. Paul, Minnesota on September 13, 2016
(Image by (Fibonacci Blue Flickr))
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DB: Well, you know, I have to say this, and again, forgive me, but it's an honor to have you in the studio, Dennis Banks. I want to say that Wounded Knee planted the seeds, and this is the tree growing. This is one of the trees growing out of that. I'm...I consider myself a tree of Wounded Knee because it was this incredible action that you led with extraordinary people like Leonard Peltier, that gave us hope and courage, and a much broader understanding of what was at stake, and what had happened to the Native Peoples. So that planted the seed.

BANKS: Well, you know, I was going to say, by the way, I know your name so I was going to say jokingly you know with your first name, my last name, we could go into business, you know T.V., or radio station. "Hello, good morning Dennis. Hello Dennis. How are you doing, Dennis?"

DB: I'd be happy to join you on that endeavor, Dennis. The Dennis and Dennis wouldn't be a Jew and a Sioux, would it?

Banks: Uh Ho!

DB: That's me, the Jew, I bring that up because we have a lot of visits from Bill Means. You know he's sort of a regular contributor here, and they all sorta gave me the nickname Burnstick, you know, like holds the light up to the stories that matter.

Banks: There's a family guy named Burnstick.

DB: Oh, yeah? I guess it makes sense. I want to ask you finally about your work, and the way you have decided to do your work, which is to take, shall we say, long walks. You walk to call attention to that which you believe in, and are actively trying to effect change. Issues such as freeing Leonard Peltier, and crucial issues of health, having to do with diabetes, and the epidemic in the indigenous communities, and the restoration of Jim Thorpe's medals. Could you talk a little bit about why you walk, how that works for all the commitments, all the things you've decided to fight for? Why do you walk?

Banks: I just finished my eighth walk across the country. But I feel that when you're walking, of course, you begin to meditate, you begin to think there's this person that needs help, that person, needs support, you know, so you offer your prayers for that person. And walking, and fasting, and running events are to me a form of meditation. And, you know, you're in your deep, your own thoughts when you're out there running or walking. No one is communicating with you and so you've got to then engage yourself into "what can I do while I'm walking?"

DB: And you tend to really tune into your own breath...

BANKS: Absolutely. And sometimes you realize what faults you have, and you know then you've know, when I get through running today I think I'm going to call so-and-so and just say "I'm sorry for how I've acted all these years." I've done that. I've done that many times. I drank in my life. I used to drink, not hard times, but they'd say "Banks are you drunk again?" You know, guys who I call. And [I] say, "Look I'm sorry how I acted." I try to be not that person who is angry.

DB: But Wounded Knee, and the trial in particular, was certainly worth getting angry about? It made a lot of people angry -- all the government corruption and intimidation of witnesses. And the trial was a huge wake up call for you and AIM, that carries you right into the present, to your current work at Standing Rock.

Banks: During the trial at Wounded Knee ["] the judge asked each FBI agent, "What was your specific job at Wounded Knee?" And one of them -- and I used to just sit there and just listen, not even, sometimes not listen -- and then all of a sudden the agent said, "My job was to bring down Dennis Banks." And that's when I got up and looked up -- I woke up.

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Dennis J Bernstein is the host and executive producer of Flashpoints, a daily news magazine broadcast on Pacifica Radio. He is an award-winning investigative reporter, essayist and poet. His articles and essays have appeared in The New York Times, The Boston Globe, The Nation, and (more...)

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