From Lewis to Standing Rock

Growing in number and spirit, the Standing Rock Sioux protest against the Dakota Access Pipeline is swiftly gaining strength and international solidarity, and overcoming a media that doesn’t want to know.

A news commentator broadcasts to mainstream America: “This country was founded on genocide”. On “The Last Word” on MSNBC Lawrence O’Donnell outlines 500 years of colonialism in the context of the protests at Standing Rock by native Americans and the Trump movement’s xenophobia.

Stuart Christie asks: “I wonder if Donald Trump, “Schrödinger’s douchebag“, disgrace to the MacLeods of Lewis and all the victims of the Clearances — and all his cretinous enthusiasts — watched this, and, if they did, felt any sense of shame?”

Given his recent announcement to “to deport millions during ‘first hour in office'” and his constant reference to Elizabeth Warren as ‘Pocahontas’ – I think that will be a no.

As the National Lawyers Guild writes:

“The proposed pipeline route crosses ancestral lands of the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe and the Missouri River. The Missouri River is a major source of water for the Tribe. The ancestral lands and water are sacred to the Tribe and its people, and they possess a responsibility to Mother Earth and to future generations to protect these ancestral lands and water.

Energy Transfer Partners, the Texas company behind the Dakota Access Pipeline, and its affiliated entities, have a long history of violations of environmental laws including pending lawsuits by the states of New Jersey, Vermont, Pennsylvania, and the Commonwealth of Puerto Rico and the City of Breau Bridge in Louisiana over MTBE contamination of groundwater, as well as citations for releases of hazardous materials from its pipelines and facilities in Ohio, Oklahoma, Louisiana, Missouri, Texas, Pennsylvania, and Hawaii. Pipelines leak and spill. In one year alone, there were over 300 pipeline breaks in North Dakota. Numerous pipeline spills of millions of gallons of oil and contaminants into the Missouri River and its tributaries have already occurred. In January, over 50,000 gallons of Bakken crude oil spilled into the Yellowstone River in Montana. Oil from the Bakken field is more volatile than other crudes.”

CqFuEtQUEAAoYTsBut the Lawrence O’Donnell monologue is remarkable for several reasons. It seems to counter the perceived media blackout that the huge Standing Rock protests have endured. Nick Bernabe writes on Global Research:

“The first point is actually very simple: Native Americans standing up for themselves is not polarizing. In an age of institutionalized media divisiveness and hyper-partisanship, the story of Native Americans in North Dakota fighting for land and water rights just doesn’t fit the script of deep, societal divides plaguing the nation’s law and order, nor does it fit in with the left-right paradigm. People from both sides of the political spectrum pretty much agree that Native Americans have been screwed by the U.S. government and resource-snatching corporations long enough. Considering this sentiment, there’s really no exploitable controversy on this issue from the mainstream media perspective, which inherently drives topical, superficial news narratives.”

The second reason for the media silence is, he argues: “The second and more obvious reason why mainstream outlets have not focused on the situation in North Dakota is money — oil money, to be exact. The corporate media in the United States is deeply in bed with oil interests. From fracking advertisements on MSNBC to individuals on Big Oil’s payroll literally working for Fox News and the Wall Street Journal, the ties cannot be understated. Why would mainstream media publicize a standoff that could potentially kill an oil pipeline when their own financial interests would be negatively affected? The answer is they wouldn’t.”

And yet that’s MSNBC broadcasting O’Donnell’s powerful piece to camera.

The integrity of the protest, the magnitude of the climate crisis and the visceral language of the Trump campaign is opening spaces for real news and real solidarity, what John Holloway calls ‘cracks’ in the system.

Tong ya Bass

There’s a reason why Trump’s own immigrant status is an oddly missing narrative in his campaign.

In fact as the Irish Central reminds us: “Donald Trump could well be the first ever presidential candidate to be able to speak some words of Gaelic due to his Scottish mother.”

“Trump focuses only on his father’s upbringing, rarely mentioning he is the son of an immigrant himself, from the tiny village of Tong on the island of Lewis, which is located in the Outer Hebrides 40 miles off the Scottish mainland as Politico magazine this week showed. By making immigrants a focal point and building a wall to stop them a key part of his negative message, Trump is clearly ignoring his own roots deep in Scottish soil.”

Scottish Heritage tells us this remarkable family history:  “Mary Anne MacLeod was born in the village of Tong, in the parish of Stornoway on 10th May 1912, to a fisherman named Malcolm MacLeod and his wife, Mary Smith. This couple had been married in 1891 and both were Gaelic speakers, and, although not so widespread as it once was, the language is still alive and well in that region. It is thus likely that Mary Anne herself would have spoken it and the young Donald may well have been soothed by Gaelic lullabies as a child.”

78c2cb560ae3c176607a7bbf6bb08950If we could offer Trump some light reading as his campaign reaches its concussion, we’d recommend James Hunter’s ‘Glencoe and the Indians’ (Mainstream Publishing, 1996) or Colin G Calloway’s “White People, Indians, and Highlanders: Tribal People and Colonial” (Oxford University USA 2008).

Calloway writes:

“For Highland Scots and American Indians, identities were forged in part by their experiences with colonialism, and they continue to be shaped by memories – real or imagined – of those experiences. Those that were uprooted from their homelands that held so much of their identity carried core pieces of their culture with them, as if carefully wrapped for transportation, to be preserved in another place and revitalised in another era. Despite centuries of dispossession and dislocation, Indian country survives,a  mixture of old and new, a network of relationships as much as a place, reaching into everyday life as well as across reservations. In similar ways diasporic Scots created a new Gaidhealtachd in North America, a network of relationships and interests deriving its core values and values from the Highlands of Scotland but adapted to a new world.”

In Hunter’s seminal book he charts the story of Duncan McDonald, a young man fought at the Battle of Little Big Horn with the Sioux. He was descended from chiefs of the Nez Perce and from chiefs of the McDonald clan. Duncan’s family (first as Highlanders, then as Native Americans)  were victims of massacre and dispossession.

O’Donnell’s testimony to camera is significant and it is worth re-telling this story to America and to ourselves in Scotland. It’s a story of dislocation and trying to retrieve the wisdom of people that were rooted in place. This isn’t to ascribe some magic exceptionalism to either Native Americans or the Gaels, but to try and find another tool in the armoury against the insanity of the violence against culture and environment that is being carried out before our eyes.



Comments (12)

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  1. Alan says:

    I don’t think we should romanticise the Scots, Native Americas or their relationship. There’s a lengthy historical record that is very varied across the vastness that is the North American continent. It’s easy to pick out the good bits and ignore others. Some years ago I spend some time in a community on the Hudson Bay where one of the first HBC trading posts had been located. Some of the Cree there had Scots names because there was intermarriage between the traders, who were often highland Scots. The Cree, as anyone who is aware of their history and the history of the fur trade, were not a people “rooted in place”. On the other hand the history of Scots-Irish (the original “red necks”), a people who had gone through a series of dislocations and weren’t above dislocating others, and Native Americans in states like Pennsylvania and Virginia during the pre-revolutionary period was often a murderous one.

    1. Agreed Alan (hence saying “This isn’t to ascribe some magic exceptionalism to either Native Americans or the Gaels’). It’s a point explored by Hunter who looks at the differing responses of the people forced off the land in Scotland, some of whom, like Duncan McDonald, integrated into the indigenous population, and other Scots who took a full part in persecuting the native people.

      1. Thrawn says:

        One fleeting disclaimer doesn’t over-ride the tone of the article which seeks to crowbar in some historic Scottish/Gaelic greivances into the current issues of the North Dakota people. There was a great article to be written here about their struggle but it got lost because as per usual for a Nationalist your empathy can only operate through the filter of your “nationality”

        1. Have you read James Hunter’s work?

          1. Thrawn says:

            No I haven’t…but from the little I can glean from your article it does sound like an interesting read…I just fail to see how it has anything to do with what the North Dakota peoples are doing right now other than…they are Native Americans…we are Scots…and there are a couple of books highlighting some shared tangential history.

            Also to be honest I am not sure that most native Americans would appreciate us trying to equate their quasi-genocide at the hands of white colonisers to the undoubtedly traumatic but nevertheless largely bloodless (and much more limited in numbers) Highland Clearances. Can we not just let them have their own pain without having to hitch ours onto it….

          2. I’m not trying to equate the two experiences, the native American genocide was on a scale and level of atrocity incomprehensible to us, and in no way comparable.

            The point I was making was threefold:

            1) The oil pipeline represents yet another significant rupture in our disastrous environmental relations.
            2) People who live off the land and have a strong connection with place have a different relationship with nature, and we can and should learn something from this. ‘Progress’ isn’t a straight line.
            3) It’s significant that Trumps hypocrisy on immigration isn’t being called out as it should. And it was an interesting revelation that he had gaelic-speaking parents.

  2. john young says:

    Alan there is no denying that there are good/bad in all races,native Americans as well.

  3. Finlay Macleoid says:

    How is it there is always a SNIDDY remark when Gaelic is involved or anyone connected with Gaelic. I work with native American communities in the USA and Canada with regards to language revitalisation in their communities. Yet we don’t see sniddy remarks ever about what English speaking Scots and English speakers in general did to cause the complete destruction of their communities.

  4. Drew McNaughton says:

    Thank you for your well informed and thoughtful piece about this ongoing action to protect indigenous rights and the environment.

    Please come to the Scottish Parliament on Tues September 13th 12pm to show solidarity for the Protector Camp in North Dakota. RSVP here:

    #NoDAPL #WaterIsSacred

  5. Mathew says:

    A powerful speech by O’Donnell. Thanks for this article Bella – will have a look for the books you recommend.

  6. Finlay Macleoid says:

    There are so many things Scots of all shades and culture could do to help the Native communities in both the USA and Canada but with the exception of a very few it doesn’t happen. The Scots here in Scotland are just as prone to misrepresent the Native communities as anywhere in the world. Strange isn’t it how the Scottish Society For The Propagation of Christian Knowledge which was set up in Edinburgh and experimented in ways as how to kill the Gaelic language and change the Gaelic speakers from their barbarous ways used exactly the same methods on the North American Native communities to exterminate their languages through the residential school system. The Scots were in particular firmly of the belief that their languages had to die to take the INDIAN out of the child. It seems nothing really changed when they tried to do the same in Scotland which I am told was an excellent training ground for them in the Gaelic speaking areas.

  7. Finlay Macleoid says:

    I find this article very interesting in the way it uses Gaelic speakers as if one lump of people. Yet we never hear about the Chief Officer of Monsanto who comes from Lanarkshire and who is altering and killing more half the world’s foods and insects just for profit and will have destroyed the natural food products throughout the world. I have no idea what Mr Donald Trump will do in the years to come as I suspect you don’t have a crystal ball either. But I do see with my own eyes how the restrained greed of the Chief Executive from Lanarkshire is doing to not only the Native Americans but all of us and it is definitely doesn’t look good.

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