By Laura Yuen
The Dakota historian who goes by the name Waziyatawin said she received a call this week from the FBI to discuss remarks she made in November at Winona State University.
Waziyatawin, a professor of indigenous history at the University of Victoria in British Columbia who used to go by the name Angela Cavender Wilson, told students that it's time for American Indians to abandon symbolic demonstrations. Truth-telling efforts haven't achieved anything, she said, according to a recording of the speech obtained by the Winona Post.
"We're going to need to take a different kind of action," said Waziyatawin, who grew up on the Upper Sioux Reservation in southwestern Minnesota. "All of you are going to have to figure out your role. For Dakota people, I know we're going to need to recover our land base, by any means necessary."
In an interview, Waziyatawin said her lecture was not a threat to commit violence as some have suggested. But she admits she's no pacifist. An author of books on Minnesota's history of oppressing, and then exiling, the Dakota people, she said removing people from their comfort zone is her job.
But in Winona, some students were shocked when Waziyatawin told them that anyone committed to achieving true justice might have to go on attack.
When someone in the audience asked whether that could happen without violence, Waziyatawin said she was doubtful.
"Right now, for Dakota people, we're going to need to reclaim land. We need to strategize about how we're going to do that, whatever it takes, and those are conversations we have that are internal to Dakota communities," she said. "But in terms of dismantling industrial civilization, I think that can happen in any variety of ways, and I think that's going to be about attacking infrastructure."
But now the FBI is investigating her based on the phrase "by any means necessary"? Really? I see liberal activists saying things like that almost every day.
It's called an "idle threat." It doesn't mean anything unless someone acts on it. It's not something the FBI should be investigating.
Waziyatawin claims that truth-telling efforts haven't achieved anything. Really? Seems to me we see cause and effect in the media constantly. For instance, you reveal a scandal about someone and the person suffers the consequences.
And we've just begun the era of constant information flow via texting, tweeting, and Facebook. It's ridiculous to suggest Indians or others have exhausted all nonviolent strategies at this point. Indeed, I don't think anyone can predict the future of activism accurately. Let's see what the situation is like in 10 years. By then we may have several ways of translating online chatter into on-the-ground action.
Of course, this presupposes that you have a cause worth fighting for. If your plan is to reclaim Indian land by proclaiming yourself the Republic of Lakotah, don't expect anyone to take you seriously. If Waziyatawin has taken reasonable steps to reclaim Dakota territory, let's hear about them. Then we can judge whether "attacks" are needed to achieve her goals.
As for Waziyatawin's claim that violence may be necessary, longtime readers know I've addressed that several times. My position remains unchanged. I'd say the steps one should take to protest injustice are:
1) Work through the political or legal system.
2) Acts of nonviolent civil disobedience.
3) Attacks against property.
4) Attacks against people.
One should exhaust each step before proceeding to the next one. The last step is acceptable only in a self-defense, kill-or-be-killed situation. You know, like when someone launches a war against you with guns and bombs.
"Dismantling industrial civilization" doesn't count as one of those situations. That probably won't happen unless profound physical, political, or philosophical cataclysms rock the world. And unless the majority of Americans and Westerners support the change democratically. It probably won't happen at gunpoint.
For more on the subject, see Violence Against Elected Government Justified? and Should Natives Kill to Save Trees?
Below: "Dakota historian and activist Waziyatawin says a presentation she gave at Winona State University in November has attracted the attention of the FBI."