What happened to Standing Rock water protector Red Fawn Fallis is what has happened to many women political dissenters who go up against Big Government/Corporate power. After she was viciously tackled by several police officers (caught on video), she was brought up on serious charges of harming those who harmed her. Fallis, after months of intense corporate/military surveillance and handy informant reports, was targeted as a coordinator and a leader, a symbol and an inspiration. For daring to make a stand for her people against the encroaching poison and destruction brought by the Dakota Access gas pipeline, she became a political prisoner.
Native-American women suffering dire consequences because of the ever-expanding needs of capitalist/white rule is nothing new. Native-Americans have endured environmental racism for a very long time—from New England merchants to men seeking gold and to “tame” the West. Late 20thcentury technology brought uranium mining and nuclear testing to the Southwest, bringing new and far-reaching disaster. The Dakota oil pipeline, carrying explosive crude Canadian oil, goes through tribal lands, without tribal consent, potentially poisoning their water and desecrating their sacred sites. Women have been on the frontlines of DAPL resistance, with their traditional ties to “Mother Earth” and to ancient matriarchal spiritual leadership. But Standing Rock women resister/water protectors, faced all -out war from government/corporate forces.
In a militarized police state, colonized Native-Americans taking a stand to protect their land and water from rapacious banks and oil companies can expect what was unleashed against them. In one battle late in 2016, troopers from North Dakota and neighboring states launched an attack against hundreds of united, unarmed Native-American protesters and their allies. Rubber bullets, icy water cannons, concussion grenades, mace and tear gas did enormous damage. As head of the Medic and Healer Council Linda Black Elk put it, she was attacked as part of the “continued legacy of oppression by the United States government.” Native-American women have felt this legacy of oppression in particular ways directed at “squaws.” Natïve women were raped, imprisoned, tortured, mutilated and killed by white colonial settlers, and that tradition and mentality still lives on in the experience of Red Fawn Fallis and her fellow women water protectors.
White police forcibly assaulted, stripped and searched demonstrators. In a very familiar pattern, Prairie McLaughlin, daughter of LaDonna Brave Bull Allard, Lakota historian, was cited with “resisting arrest,” after objecting to being forcibly stripped. An officer broke Apache-Navajo Laurie Howland’s wrist during her arrest. Echoing Annie May Aquash, who was killed during the Wounded Knee uprising, Howland thought the white officers objected to her not being white and not praying to Jesus. Women dissidents against governmental authority, from Shaker Mother Ann Lee, to women militant suffragists, to black freedom riders, to revolutionary weatherwomen, have met male police violence, as “unnatural” noncompliant women. For black and Native-American women, branded by a racist culture as even more beneath contempt, it is always worse. So naturally, Red Fawn Fallis, singled out as a leader by the authorities, would be thrown down and arrested, and then brought up on serious charges which she would have no hope of beating.
It was October 2016, when 40-year-old Red Fawn Fallis was arrested after being tackled and pinned by several officers. Fallis came from a family well used to resistance and its consequences. Red Fawn is an Oglala Sioux from Pine Ridge. Fallis’ mother Troylynn Yellow Wood was active in AIM (American Indian Movement) and was at the Wounded Knee protest in 1973. She died shortly before the Standing Rock demonstrations. She had taught her daughter to fight for “social and environmental justice” and to “stand up for her people.” Red Fawn was serving as a medic at Standing Rock. She was known as a “mother” to young activists, known to be “dedicated to peaceful tactics.” When she was accused of shooting at a police officer, her supporters found it hard to believe. Terrell Ironshell of the Indigenous Youth Council said that Fallis told them: “You don’t have to be afraid of the government. This is our land.” Apparently the government has not yet been convinced of that.
On October 27, 2016, there was a 400-person rally near a DAPL construction site. The police used the occasion to raid an “1851 treaty camp” and to take and destroy ceremonial and sacred items from a sweat lodge. They dispersed the crowd with rubber bullets, tear gas and a “long-range acoustic device.” There were 147 arrested that day and all were released except Red Fawn. Deputy Thad Schmit said he spotted Fallis “being an instigator and disorderly” so he “took her to the ground.” She allegedly fired a gun while down, and according to the arresting officers told them they were lucky she didn’t “shoot all you fuckers.” [What military conference do they go to for this stuff?] A video taken at the time clearly shows her being violently tackled by a dozen police, who then pinned her down, with a gun (according to witnesses) in her back. The scene is horrific and typical of fascist militarized authorities quelling unarmed protesters. It was the same response shown when black women protesters confronted Ferguson police and when Occupy demonstrators met up with the NYPD.
The initial (state) charge against Red Fawn Fallis was “attempted murder” of a police officer. This was dropped in November in favor of federal charges of “civil disorder” and “possession of a firearm by a convicted felon” (a felon for allegedly driving the car while her male companion shot and wounded another man). US authorities ordered her held without bail—standard for political prisoners, whether black Panther or Weatherwoman or water protector. At a June 2017 hearing, she was denied bail, purportedly because the judge said Standing Rock protesters were “violent.” In October she finally was released to a half- way house in Fargo, after being in North Dakota jails for months.
In January 2018, she had a trial, but of course the defense could not use the abrogation of treaty rights or the elaborate military-style surveillance and intelligence reports used to target her, reports which equated her with “jihadist fighters”; or the role of the swarmy FBI informant Heath Harmon, who insinuated himself into a relationship with Fallis, and said he provided her with the gun she allegedly fired. With the defense hamstrung, as it always is when a woman political is a supposed terrorist, “eco-terrorist” in her case, she and her lawyer Bruce Ellison (Leonard Peltier’s attorney—hm), decided it’d be best to take a plea deal for civil disorder and possession of a firearm, with the dropping of the discharge of firearm (potentially a life sentence). She also had to express remorse for causing any danger to the police [!]. After some delays, Red Fawn was finally sentenced on July 11, to 57 months in federal prison, with 18 months credit for prison time served. She will serve about 39 months and three years probation. She is appealing, but—vicious government prosecutors in North Dakota courts not known for Native-American sympathies–? Not much chance. Interestingly, Fallis said, before sentencing, she “wanted to move forward in a positive way away from Harmon and the things he tried to put on me while I was trying to push him away.” Guess he got even.
When it comes to political dissent, the US government has a long history of violently suppressing it. When it comes to women dissenters, US authorities have a long history of saving special kinds of punishments for them. In 1973, black liberationist Assata Shakur was pulled over in a traffic stop, ended up being shot and then falsely accused of shooting her attacker. Knowing she’d be killed in prison, her comrades helped her escape to Cuba. In 1990, environmentalist Judi Bari was blown up with a car bomb in California, very likely by the FBI and the Pacific Lumber Company. She was charged with “possession of an explosive device.” She never recovered from her injuries. Muslim- Pakistani scientist Aafia Siddiqui, a Boston doctor, was caught up in the horror of false terrorism charges in the early 2000s. After years of imprisonment, rape and torture, she was set up for a staged shooting of US army officers in Afghanistan, was herself grievously wounded in the stomach, and, as an accused “terrorist,” got 86 years in prison. Occcupy’s Cecily McMillan was sexually accosted by an NYPD officer, tackled by a number of other officers, and was charged with attacking the police. She served time in Rikers and was released. Black Lives Matter activist Sandra Bland was pulled over in Texas for not signaling for a lane change, was tackled with her head hitting the ground, charged with the felony of attacking an officer, and was found hanged in her cell a few days later under suspicious circumstances. In a police state, you can be a New Jersey mother on a beach and get accosted by cops, a black woman at a waffle house and be tackled by officers, a young woman jaywalking and get attacked by the police. This is the mark of an authoritarian, patriarchal power structure.
Red Fawn Fallis will serve hard time in federal prison because she stood up to government/corporate power. The Free Red Fawn facebook page says—on July 12, 2018—that she is a “political prisoner. She stood up for justice against environmental genocide, encroachment of our land and water.” Like other Native-American and Puerto Rican women politicals , Fallis sees her status as a war captive of the US government. She knows she faces a long prison sentence, but has heard her supporters sing outside her window. She says, “So I stand strong. . . I grow stronger every passing hour.” She was treated brutally and with a punishment far in excess of any possible crime. Such treatment of women political prisoners is the mark of a state which has little patience for defiant women resisters: a fascist state, a police state –notone beginning with Trump—Standing Rock and Ferguson happened under Obama. The repression against those women who have fought for freedom and justice began with the first settlers.
Linda Ford is a women’s historian and antiquarian bookseller in central NY. Her forthcoming book is Women Politicals: Jailed Dissidents from Mother Jones to Lynne Stewart.