by Jess Ramirez
Indigenous peoples and communities have long used stories to understand the world and our place in it. Seedcast is a story-centered podcast by Nia Tero and a special monthly column produced in partnership with the South Seattle Emerald about nurturing and rooting stories of the Indigenous experience.
We are living through some of the most historic events in the short history of the United States right now, and there’s a question I can’t shake: how does the reaction of law enforcement to the storming of the Capitol on Wednesday, January 6, 2021, compare to the reaction of law enforcement to Indigenous-led protests over the Dakota Access Pipeline or Standing Rock? We’re spending the first part of 2021 deep in planning for our next set of Seedcast episodes, so here is a separate conversation I had with community steward/organizer and father Matt Remle (Hunkpapa Lakota) about his take on last week’s insurgency, his assessment of the inequalities laid bare, and our hopes and responsibilities in the wake of it. We got to know each other while working on the campaign to get Wells Fargo to divest from the Dakota Access Pipeline. Matt is a member of the Standing Rock Sioux tribe and was a local Seattle leader in that campaign.
Our conversation was edited for length and clarity.
Matt: Hau mitakuyepi. Cante wasteyanapechiyuzapi. Wakinyan Wa’anatan emaciyapi. Inyan Woslalhan ematehan. Ate waye kin Charles Remle. Ina waye kin Donna Jean Harrison. Seattle el wati. Anpetu ki le Tulalip makoche kin el wahi.
“Hello my Lakota name is Wakinyan Wa’anatan, and my English name is Matt Remle. I’m Hunkpapa Lakota from Standing Rock but live in Seattle, though I work up in Stó:lō territory known as the Tulalip Reservation. So it’s where I’m calling in from today, up here, here on the Tulalip Rez. And my parents are Charles Remle and Donna Harrison.”
Jess Ramirez / Seedcast: On January 6, we saw pro-Trump insurrectionists break windows, climb walls, push past law enforcement at the Capitol building in Washington D.C. Can you share with me how you took it in and how you’re processing it?
Matt Remle: I appreciate how you introduced those folks as insurrectionists. I really dislike when people refer to them as protesters, because they’re not. It had nothing to do with protesting. These are folks with deep roots in militia activity and far-right extremist activities. Sadly, a lot of it is rooted here in the Northwest.
I honestly wasn’t surprised at all. I think if anybody had been paying attention to these malicious and right-wing activities, not only of the past four years, but, you know, stretching back even further to Oklahoma City, to Ruby Ridge, what we’ve all been witnessing is a very, very, very fringe right-wing extremism that has, under Trump, gone mainstream.
The only thing that did surprise me was the lack of [police] response. And no riot police. We’re talking about the Capitol here. Having been involved in a lot of direct action over the years, we get [law enforcement] response really quickly, which, I’ll be honest, is what we expect.
Beyond that, what I found not surprising, but troubling, was that their intentions were known. It wasn’t like they were hiding in secret with their plans.
Jess Ramirez / Seedcast: That’s exactly it. It’s just been dumbfounding to witness this upside down world that we’re living in, after having been a part of direct actions where I have directly witnessed the brutality of police force.
Matt Remle: Absolutely. And it’s not only the swift and brutal police response but the legislative actions that are taken against us following these actions. For example, we really ramped up a lot of direct action against oil trains and other pipelines, even before the Dakota Access Pipeline. But what you’ve seen after the Dakota Access Pipeline is state legislatures passing laws that criminalize or make it a felony to protest what they call “critical infrastructure,” which is fossil fuel infrastructure or banks. So now it’s in the labeling: water protectors as domestic terrorists. And you’re not seeing those same types of legislative actions take place against these militia types.
So we get hit by the police, but then we also get hit by the legislation.
Jess Ramirez / Seedcast: Where does the concept of land sovereignty and guardianship of the earth fit into the insurrection at the Capitol?
Matt Remle: I am cautiously optimistic with the nomination of Deb Haaland for Secretary of the Interior. I think that could have massive implications for Land Back. I don’t think most non-native people know that Native peoples are the only group to be managed by a federal department. You’ve got Indians, land, and wildlife managed together under the Department of Interior, which is insanity. Deb’s a great person. She spent time out at the NoDAPL camps, and I know where her heart is.
My biggest fear is that sometimes activists or people who identify themselves as being on the left tend to take a back seat when a Democratic administration gets into office.
Jess Ramirez / Seedcast: I think a lot about just how much energy it takes to even get to some of these pivotal moments and how tired people are after the wins. And also the wins are not the endgame, right? What is the endgame for you? What does that look like?
Matt Remle: I have always said that I don’t consider myself an activist at all, nor an organizer. We have in our Lakota ways Lakota teachings — which I have come to understand are pretty similar to, not only other tribes or First Nations, but Indigenous peoples globally — that we have roles and responsibilities as Lakota.
All of creation has a role and responsibility. The trees right now are filtering carbon and releasing oxygen, which not only helps them but helps all of us to live. You can literally go through all of creation and see how what they do in their everyday action contributes to life. As the youngest of all of creation, humans are the only ones who have strayed from our roles and responsibilities. If we look at the chaos around us, it’s not too hard to draw that line between the two. Most peoples have stopped engaging because of colonialism, genocide, slavery, assimilation, indoctrination. So now you have very, very, very few small groups of peoples globally who continue to fulfill these responsibilities.
Jess Remirez / Seedcast: It’s a way of being.
Matt Remle: Lakota culture is matriarchal, and typically grandmothers are the ultimate decision makers. If you can remember back to when NoDAPL was happening, the actions, the camps, they started when the Lakota grandmothers, one of them being my auntie, my blood relation, LaDonna Brave Bull Allard, said, “It’s time to be warriors, it’s time to set up these camps.”
We have to do what our grandmothers tell us to do. There are so many different levels of responsibilities. Sometimes I refer to them as like a toolbox: we’re battling colonialism and white supremacy and genocide. Divestment is one angle. Bringing out the stories is a tool.
Matt Remle (Hunkpapa Lakota) lives in Duwamish Territory (Seattle, WA) with his family. He is the editor and writer for Last Real Indians, co-founder of Mazaska Talks, and works for the Office of Native Education. He is the author of many resolutions for the City of Seattle, including Seattle’s Indigenous Peoples’ Day Resolution and Seattle’s ordinance to divest from Wells Fargo. He serves on the City of Seattle’s stakeholders committee to establish a public bank and serves on Seattle’s Green New Deal Steering Committee.
Jessica Ramirez identifies as a queer Mexican of Indigenous descent who is a multi-disciplinary creative and community organizer, residing on the traditional unceded territory of the Duwamish peoples with her dog, Luna Ramirez Thomas. Jessica attended the University of Washington, where she received a bachelor of arts/science degree in American Ethnic Studies with a concentration in Chicano Studies and minors in Labor Studies and Law Societies & Justice. She is a creative producer at Nia Tero and the host of their podcast Seedcast.
Featured image: Matt Remle (Photo courtesy of Matt Remle)