By Vi Waln
I never wanted to be a journalist. The word “journalist” always conjured images of those paparazzi types with huge cameras chasing people or sneaking around to get photos. Journalists were always in the way or in close proximity to someone’s face. It didn’t seem like a very attractive way to share information.
There are unethical reporters taking information and running in the wrong direction with it. Many won’t bother to do any fact checking on the reports they get. Instead, they rush to their computer to create an often embellished account of what happened to share with the world. Consequently, dramatic reports of events will boost newspaper sales and draw readers to websites, even when the accounts are not true.
This is what happened last week when Kyle Kirchmeier, who serves as North Dakota’s Morton County Sheriff, was depicted in a video stating people were “preparing to throw pipe bombs at our line.” He was referring to the now thousands of human beings gathered to peacefully stand against the construction of the Dakota Access Pipeline (DAPL). He called the gathering “an unlawful protest.”
In addition, according to the Morton County Sheriff’s Department Facebook page, the officers’ “top priority in monitoring activity involving the protest of the Dakota Access Pipeline is to keep everyone safe, including those involved in any demonstrations. While officers have not seen weapons present in any of the protests, we have received information and heard mentions of the use of weapons. We treat these reports as viable threats and will take them seriously in order to ensure the safety of all individuals.”
The key words here are “officers have not seen weapons present in any of the protests.” Yet, the Morton County Sheriff made a conscious choice to pass along hearsay to national media outlets. This isn’t the way to “keep everyone safe.” Rumors like this are dangerous.
National media outlets quickly picked up the comment about pipe bombs and distributed the information worldwide. Still, they had no reason not to believe Sheriff Kirchmeier because, after all, he is a law enforcement officer. Obviously, news reports are not always accurate; spreading misinformation, like the embellished report from the Morton County Sheriff, is very risky.
Many people believe everything they read or see in mainstream media. That is, it was on the news so it must be true! For example, HLN’s popular Morning Express with Robin Meade show reported that protestors were “armed with weapons and pipe bombs,” This national television report was watched by millions of viewers, thanks to the skewed information put out there by Sheriff Kirchmeier.
The distortion of media reports last week is similar to the frenzied accounts about Indigenous people during the 19th century. Army officials and media outlets in the 1800s were quick to spread false information about our ancestors. This was especially true during the time of the Ghost Dance, which was a gathering of prayer. Sadly, these unfounded reports resulted in the killing of our ancestors. Tribal leaders, elders, women and children were mercilessly murdered, and often mutilated, by military forces.
Consequently, human emotion is based in either love or fear. What we saw in the news last week was fear-based. It’s a fact that many non-Indians still fear the world’s Indigenous people. They cannot comprehend our spirituality or the level we pray at (remember the Ghost Dance?) and it provokes their innermost fears. As a result of this fear, many angry or disparaging comments have been posted on social media and internet news outlets about the human beings gathered along the Missouri River.
When a person feels fear, they will often react with anger. Many people will deny being afraid; they would rather admit to anger. So, underlying all these reports of violence is a great fear of the peaceful group gathered to protect our Mni Wiconi.
When dealing with people who are afraid, we have to respond with love and prayer, instead of more fear and anger. When people remain calm in the face of adversary, it confuses an angry opponent. Many don’t know how to stay calm, especially when they haven’t dealt with their own inner fears of what the “wild Indians” are capable of. They expect people to react with the same emotion they do. It totally baffles them when others won’t give in to anger.
In reality, the human beings gathered in support of our Mni Wiconi are only “armed” with love, prayer and song. Many are praying with their Cannunpa. The sage, cedar and sweet grass are being used to enhance the prayers for our Water of Life. The big drum is an instrument to spread our love for Water of Life throughout the universe with prayer songs.
Those of us who can’t travel to the camp really appreciate all the reports from the people there! Millions of social media users continue to watch and share the daily events reported from the growing camps near Standing Rock. Your relatives at home look forward to all the social media status updates, photos and video from the front lines. Keep sharing!
Be strong relatives, continue to walk your inner peace. Resist anger. Do not take on the fear of the wasicu. Contrary to the reports of violent acts against our people in the 19th century, which often took weeks or months to reach people in faraway places, today the whole world is watching. Law enforcement, government officials and DAPL know they are being watched by human beings all over Mother Earth.
Human love is a formidable weapon. Water has memory and will remember our powerful prayers. The human beings gathered to protect our Mni Wiconi flowing in the Missouri River are examples of what being a good ancestor looks like. Our most powerful weapons we can use to protect our Mni Wiconi are love, prayer and song. Wopila Tanka!