LaDuke: Water protector deserves a purple heart

I always question the Fourth of July. This year, I was fortunate enough to stop in at the Sisseton Dakota Pow Wow where everything that is important to me was popping-dancing, rodeo, moccasin games and thousands of beautiful Native people.Veteran...


I always question the Fourth of July. This year, I was fortunate enough to stop in at the Sisseton Dakota Pow Wow where everything that is important to me was popping-dancing, rodeo, moccasin games and thousands of beautiful Native people.

Veterans and patriotism are customarily honored at the opening. That is where I found Sophia Wilansky.

I would like to give her a purple heart, but Sophia Wilansky is someone many North Dakotans would like to forget. Wilansky is the 21-year-old New Yorker's whose arm was blown off by a concussion grenade.

Morton County Sheriff Kirchmeier suggested the water protectors were the perpetrators during the so-called Battle of Backwater Bridge.

In recently released documents, North Dakota official Ben Leingang and Major Amber Balken, a public information officer with the North Dakota National Guard, tried to spin the story stating that "protesters had... attempted to use a chain and tractor.... And the chain attached to the vehicles snapped and grievously wounded..." Wilansky. Her father, attorney Wayne Wilansky, offered a different version.


"At around 4:30 a.m., after the police hit the bridge with water cannons and rubber bullets and pepper spray, they lobbed a number of concussion grenades which are not supposed to be thrown directly at protesters, or protectors as they want to be called. A grenade exploded right as it hit Sophia in the left forearm taking most of the undersurface of her left arm with it. Both her radial and ulnar artery were completely destroyed. Her radius was shattered and a large piece of it is missing. Her medial nerve is missing a large section as well. All of the muscle and soft tissue between her elbow and wrist were blown away. The police did not do this by accident - it was an intentional act of throwing it directly at her. Additionally, police were shooting people in face and groin intending to do the most possible damage..."

As his statement went viral, subsequent police reports stated Wilansky's arm was injured when a propane canister she was attempting to throw exploded. It's hard to get your story straight when it's a lie. Meanwhile, North Dakota officials are trying to sort out TigerSwan, the mercenary security firm who worked closely with state law enforcement officials for at least five months, despite being under investigation by the state. The company, "straight from the war-torn fields in Afghanistan" lead a "unified command structure," according to High Plain Reader's Christopher Hagen, and operated in a warlike scenario.

Sophia earned a big support system at the pow wow. She looked frail, but resolved. I gave her a small hug, introduced myself, and gave her a kiss on the forehead. I told her I was sorry for her injury, and thanked her for her courage.

So, frankly I am trying to sort out my patriotism. I walk in awe and wonder at the Sisseton Dakota Powwow, full of celebration, joy and honor. I am always in awe of the Dakota people, perhaps some of the most persecuted Native people in our region.

According to Wikipedia, "..the Dakota were severely punished: a US military court convicted 303 men of war crimes and sentenced them to death. Of the 303, the Army hanged 38 men the day after Christmas, in the largest mass execution in United States history. Efforts were undertaken to revoke the treaties, abolish the reservation, and expel remaining Dakota people from Minnesota entirely. Bounties of $25 were put on any Dakota found within the boundaries."

And here, the Dakota are honoring Sophia Wilansky A purple heart is awarded for "Being wounded or killed in any action against an enemy of the United States or as a result of an act of any such enemy or opposing armed forces."

I think that Sophia deserves a purple heart for protecting the water and land. I am not sure what nefarious actions North Dakota's Law Enforcement is hoping to deal Sophia Wilansky, but many will stand by her.

Like the Dakota, we remain patriots to this land.


LaDuke is executive director, Honor the Earth, and an Ojibwe writer and economist on Minnesota’s White Earth Reservation.

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