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ND Pipeline Fight Highlights Tribal Disparities, Discrimination

Chairman Archambault (left) and Chief Arvol Looking Horse are involved in the latest fight against the Dakota Access Pipeline that also spotlights decades of racial discrimination against Native populations in North Dakota. (Photo by Jenni Monet)
Chairman Archambault (left) and Chief Arvol Looking Horse are involved in the latest fight against the Dakota Access Pipeline that also spotlights decades of racial discrimination against Native populations in North Dakota. (Photo by Jenni Monet)
September 19, 2016

BISMARCK, N.D. - For many members of the Lakota Sioux Tribe, the battle against the Dakota Access Pipeline is just the latest symptom of a longstanding racial divide in North Dakota.

Native Americans in the state are jailed and live in poverty at much higher rates than their white neighbors, and some tribe members say North Dakota's strict voter ID laws keep them disconnected from state government.

Earlier this month, anger over these and other issues came to a head when Native protesters were met by security guards with dogs and pepper spray. Days later, Gov. Jack Dalrymple called out the National Guard.

Phyllis Young, a former tribal councilwoman for the Standing Rock Sioux, said she isn't surprised by the extreme response to the protests.

"We've run on empty for a number of generations and we're stepping up," she said. "We have reached a pinnacle and a peak."

Young and other tribal members were interviewed for a YES! Magazine article, which detailed how state policies and social barriers have led to persistent poverty among North Dakota tribes.

National attention on the Dakota Access Pipeline protest has earned support from Hollywood celebrities, activists and other tribes across the country. But Chase Iron Eyes with the Standing Rock Sioux said local policies are to blame for some of the local tribes' frustration, including a state voter ID law that requires a physical address.

"I never had a physical address until, I don't know, until I came back from law school," he said. "Our whole lives, we have P.O. boxes, and so this was something that, in the law, what we do have is a discriminatory impact."

The Obama administration recently put the Dakota Access project on hold in sacred tribal areas while the Sioux Tribe's lawsuit over the pipeline is in federal court. Even if the pipeline is defeated, Lakota spiritual Chief Arvol Looking Horse said he believes more must be done to address the disparities among Native populations.

"The fear of racism, it's alive and well in the Dakotas. Today, it's even gotten worse because of the political leaders," he said. "People of the world don't even know that we exist today. And finally, this is the whole world watching."

The YES! Magazine article is online at yesmagazine.org.

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This story was produced with reporting from Jenni Monet for Yes! Magazine. Monet is an award-winning journalist and member of the Pueblo of Laguna in New Mexico. She's also executive producer and host of the podcast Still Here, launching this month.

Brandon Campbell, Public News Service - ND