The Voice Heard at Standing Rock: Dennis' Story
In the wake of the massive community at Standing Rock that has been seized by authorities, I want to share with you the most powerful story I have ever heard, and it comes from a US Veteran, a member of the Seneca Territory, and a Water Protector at Standing Rock.
This is an interview I conducted for a project called The Voice Heard. While I only grabbed a few interviews before Water Cannon Night shifted my responsibilities at camp, everything was worth it to hear this man's mighty story of history repeating itself.
Unfortunately I learned the hard way to walk further away from others before recording, so please excuse the background noise and my learning process.
Please follow along with the transcript below for reference.
I also learned the hard way that I don't listen as well as I want to when I get nervous, so Dennis I apologize for my excitement, and I'll be hushing up better in future interviews :).
The main camp, Oceti Sakowin, can be seen in the video in its ceremonious days beyond the Missouri River.
As you experience Dennis' story, please pray for his people that he has watched suffer his entire life at the hands of the U.S. government, and please pray that he, his family, and other Indigenous people find true safety and peace.
The Voice Heard: Dennis' Story
NIKI: What would you say brought you to Standing Rock?
[technical issues while Dennis begins talking about decades ago in Seneca Territory, New York]
DENNIS: They put a highway in, Interstate 86. They promised us free registration, free licenses for our vehicles, and we never got that either. We lost a lot.
NIKI: You lost 10,000 acres you said right?
DENNIS: Yeah, yeah.
NIKI: 10,000 acres, for, what was the phrase, when they came through with what I called an excuse...eminent domain.
DENNIS: Eminent domain, yes, yes.
NIKI: Eminent domain. And they burned everything, the property and everything, when they refused to leave.
DENNIS: And the people were still in the houses when they started.
NIKI: Wow. Still in the houses.
DENNIS: There were holdouts of course you know, you have always holdouts and then there were other people like sheep who'll just move along. And the holdouts got burned out, lost everything they had. You know it's a thing that in my mind we're second-class people, you know...I don't know, I got drafted by Uncle Sam for the service. Fought for this country and what that lead to. . . shit on us. Sorry...
NIKI: Don't be sorry. This is reality.
DENNIS: Yeah. Yeah.
NIKI: You went to Vietnam [your wife] said, right?
NIKI: Yeah. Yeah. And that's something, to be drafted to fight for a country that took everything from you.
DENNIS: Yeah. They took me and my brother, which I thought was wrong because I thought they had a stipulation where if one brother's in they don't touch the other brother, but they took both me and him.
NIKI: I've heard that as well, that's surprising. I guess I want it to be more surprising than it is.
DENNIS: Yeah, and that's kinda what brought me here.
NKI: Yeah of course, reliving that from the 70's when the Army Corp of Engineers came in, right. Thank you for being here. And I'm sure this next question you can go on forever but, what's been an emotional experience that you've had here? Something emotional that you've experienced here, something either moving, upsetting...?
DENNIS: The way that Gestapo treats our people, you know, you don't see that in, when there's a lot of what non-Natives do, they form groups and they parade down the road and protest this protest that and the cops don't do anything to them.
NIKI: Right, they let them.
DENNIS: What happens here? We get scraped, we get dogs put on us, and it's not right. It's just that in Uncle Sam's eyes we are expendable, if you wanna call it that. But yeah, that's what brought me out here, was what I saw my people getting done to them.
NIKI: Right, right, and then seeing the protests here, seeing them not even be able to peacefully protest here is upsetting.
DENNIS: Right, right. We closed the highway down, we didn't allow the state police or anybody on our territory, and this was back in '94, back in '94 we had an uprising.
NIKI: In Seneca?
DENNIS: Yeah, Seneca Territory. We closed down Interstate 90.
NIKI: It's your territory.
NIKI: And if I'm correct it's not technically a part of our, of the American country, of I mean the U.S., it's your own nation.
DENNIS: Yeah, no it's not, we're a sovereign nation. We're not treated that way, but we're a sovereign nation. And another bad thing is that we got our casinos in and now we have corruption in our territory. Our president, who's been in almost 18 years now, it's a dictatorship our nation is in right now. All under the control of one man, who's taken scrapes off from the tops of the casino moneys, and as a whole tribe we don't get any of the moneys coming from the casinos.
NIKI: Wow. And the president, is that one of the elders, is that one of the lead elders, or is that something entirely different?
DENNIS: It's set up under the principle just like white government. We have a president, we have a treasurer, we have a controller, we have a council, and everybody that's in council right now are business owners, and all business owners think of nothing but money. So they have control of their rate- Let me put it this way, when their new budget comes in every year it seems to double. We're up to $158 million a year to run our nation of 8,000 people. Now, everybody should be living on top of the world with that kind of money, but the only ones who are making it are the upper crust; the president, the treasurer, the councilors, the councilors are getting paid $140,000 a year, and the peons of the nation that work for it are making just a little over minimum wage, $10 an hour. And if you vote wrong you lose your job, that's what I mean by a dictatorship.
NIKI: Wow, if you don't vote the way they want. Right, right.
DENNIS: And the votes are bought, the younger generation now goes for the money which puts it in power every year, plus a little manipulation of the machines, and it's just a dictatorship that we've had, and I thought we had a chance this election, we had one on the first, and another party was raised by one nation. And normal people, I mean, regular citizens from the tribe that are in this one nation, all of a sudden Seneca party says they won with a sweep, and I don't know how they did that but they did.
NIKI: Do you think they could just be saying that? Because I do.
DENNIS: Yeah, yeah, like I say it's been a dictatorship for 18 years on our territory, and they give us a little pittance every month, which we get from our enterprises we have on territory. There's one city, Salamanca, that's on our lands and they have to pay a lease every year for living on our territory, and that's what we get our checks from. So they give us these saying that we're getting money from the casinos that's why we're getting these, and we all know where the money's coming from...and, I've just come to see here because it seems like we're starting all over again.
NIKI: Right...starting all over again...
DENNIS: I fought in three wars, I might as well put it that way, two on territory, and one in Vietnam.
NIKI: Right, right, that's definitely a realistic way to put it, especially when you hear what's been going on there. And I hate uh, especially after hearing your story just a side bar, I've heard less open-minded folks say, and I'll quote this so forgive my political incorrectness, but "The Indians are fine, they get money every month, they get money all the time, the Indians are fine," but you know, hearing all these stories you see how untrue that is, it's not spread-
DENNIS: I don't how it's like here, with ya know with the casino they've got I don't know if they get money.
NIKI: I've heard many similar stories back at Sacred Stone, many similar stories, from I mean all different tribes, I've heard there's 300 tribes here and I haven't heard anything different, not so far.
DENNIS: I know for a fact that our president is connected with the Buffalo Mafia, he even dresses like them, he looks like a little [?] standing up there when he's on TV, that's the way I see it.
NIKI: And just let me clarify if that's okay, are those Natives that are the president and the treasury, those are natives right but they've been corrupted?
DENNIS: Right, right.
NIKI: Right. I believe somebody called them Lost, Stolen Children? Lost Children? That's a phrase that was being used for...
DENNIS: Maybe here, yeah.
NIKI: Maybe there, maybe a different tribe.
DENNIS: But it's, you've gotta be in the clique to be in, and the thing was I was a cop for the nation for 13 years.
NIKI: Really? So you've served and served. Bless your heart.
DENNIS: You know, we're part of the underclass, we're the underclass of the underclass let's put it that way, on our territory, so...I guess that was part of that answer-
NIKI: Yeah no, that definitely was it. And the last question is just so general anyway that that's perfect, you know it's just "What message would you like to tell to the public," so that's kind of a catch-all and I think you know that definitely covered it and if there's something else that you would like to get out there because there is so much information being misconstrued...
DENNIS: Come out, people come out.
NIKI: Come here, see for yourself, help.
DENNIS: Right. You've gotta actually feel it here; there's a feeling when you get here, and it kind of grabs you, you know and, and you don't wanna leave, so...
NIKI: That's right, it's hard to, like I said I'm already torn between I can't imagine leaving and not being here to help, but I really feel called to go home and do this, and you know I accidentally met Dave over there, he's from two hours from home for me, so we're already organizing this big thing back in Ohio to raise more awareness because there's, it upset me, I had a very hard time not being angry at people who had no idea why I was coming to North Dakota, you know what I mean?
DENNIS: We stopped for breakfast the first day, or the first time we came out, and where did we stop for breakfast that morning?
DENNIS' WIFE, VICKY: Our first time? Right before you hit South Dakota territory, it starts with an M.
DENNIS: Well whatever it was just a small town and it was a cafe we stopped and had breakfast and we were talking about it and this girl didn't even know anything about Standing Rock, didn't even know there was a protest going on here.
NIKI: Actually we went to Mandan, which is what 45 minutes from here, hour from here? We went to Mandan to get firewood a couple of days ago, trucks and trucks of firewood, of course we got stopped by the police a couple times.
DENNIS: Oh of course.
NIKI: Yeah of course, they followed us the whole way here.
VICKY: Only a couple?
NIKI: Once we got stopped and then we got followed the whole way back. But I was talking to um, we stopped at a gas station, I was buying some toe warmers, and the guy's like, "So are you camping?" And I was like, "Yeah," and he was like, "Where?" And I was like "At Standing Rock," and he said "What's that?"...and I...you're 45 minutes from here, what do you mean what's that?
DENNIS: They don't care, that's what it is, they don't care, it don't bother their life, so...
NIKI: So right, and if you hear about it once, twice, even that's not enough, you really have to, I mean you have to make people pay attention.
DENNIS: Yes you do.
NIKI: Yes. Good, conclusion, that's good?
DENNIS: Good by me.
NIKI: Good good, well thank you so much.
DENNIS: Oh, no problem.