At Standing Rock, women lead fighting in face of Mace, apprehends and strip searches

Native American girls are leading the movement against the Dakota Access pipeline, but say they face cruel and inhumane treatment from police

Prairie McLaughlin said she has daily flashbacks daymares about the police.

Sitting inside a small tipi where she is camped out while protesting the Dakota Access pipeline, she took a drag of her cigarette and recounted how policemen took her to a North Dakota jail last month where, she tells, a group of males and guards forcibly removed her clothes when she refused to strip in front of them.

Im beyond traumatized, the 33 -year-old Native American woman told through tears.

But, when asked if she was prepared to keep defending the Standing Rock tribes water, McLaughlins face hardened. Everyone needs to stand up, she said.

McLaughlin, the daughter of LaDonna Brave Bull Allard, a Standing Rock Sioux tribe member and founder of the Sacred Stone camp, is one of hundreds of women who have led the growing motion to stop the $3.7 bn project threatening their land and cultural activities. Her friends have been arrested and subjected to what they describe as cruel and inhumane treatment.

Many say that female water protectors, in some cases depicting on matriarchal tribal structures, are the core spiritual leader strategizing how to block the black snake pipeline and planning actions to stand up to a police force that has gone to great lengths to defend anoil corporation.

Prairie Prairie McLaughlin, who tells she was forced to strip in front of males and guards. Photograph: Sara Lafleur-Vetter for the Guardian

Women are the backbone of every tribe and every indigenous community, told Caro Gonzales, a 26 -year-old member of the Chemehuevi tribe.

Gonzales, who also goes by the name Guarding Red Tarantula Woman, identifies as two spirit, a word for indigenous queer people.

Whether feeding people or being on the frontlines its all indigenous women and two spirits.

Native girls say they are protecting the basic human right to clean water. But for some indigenous activists, the internationally recognized motion has become a larger fight against a history of misogyny, combating racism and abuse by law enforcement.

Native lives matter

Indigenous girls have long had a fraught relationship with American police whether in the form of questionable fatal shootings or law enforcement inaction in the face of human trafficking crisis and sexual assault epidemics.

Its always been happening, McLaughlin told, but people in the world see it now.

Although indigenous rights are often dismissed in the discussion of police barbarism, studies have shown that Native Americans are more likely than any other racial group to be killed by law enforcement, inspiring some to adopt the rallying cry, Native lives matter, a reference to the Black Lives Matter movement.

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Native tribal leaders have also repeatedly argued that oil booms in countries like North Dakota have had dire consequences for indigenous girls due to the influx of highly paid oil employees living in so-called man camps. Law enforcement officials have found that the temporary camps can lead to upticks in human trafficking, assault, rape and drug crimes.

When speaking out against the Keystone XL pipeline, native leaders argued that indigenous women were sexually assaulted by non-native humen at alarmingly high rates and that police have failed to prevent and prosecute these crimes when they accelerate amid an oil boom.

For native girls leading at Standing Rock, police disrespect of indigenous culture and women is unsurprising.

North Dakota law enforcement have no qualms about grabbing people and hurling them to the ground, told Cheryl Angel, a Sicangu Lakota tribe member.

I just felt kind of violated all because of being Native American, told Johanna Holy Elk Face, a 63 -year-old woman who was recently apprehended.

Its unclear how many many girls have been apprehended in the more than 400 apprehends police have made of Dakota Access pipeline activists. But some girls said they felt targeted.

They picked out people who they considers it to be leaders, told Xhopakelxhit, a Native American woman who was recently arrested during a protest. It was outright brutal force.

LaDonna LaDonna Brave Bull Allard, founder of the Sacred Stone camp. Photograph: Sara Lafleur-Vetter for the Guardian

Brutalized and dehumanized

Angel, 56, recounted the birth of the Sacred Stone camp when the pipeline was just a drawing in a piece of paper.

She and a few others were chatting in a group message and knew they had to find a way to stop the project on the ground. In April, members of the Standing Rock Lakota and other indigenous nations rode on horseback and established the first spiritual camp.

It was women on the frontlines praying, she told. One of our traits that is very strong is to protect. There was no fear.

Elder girls, under threat of apprehend, have led prayer circles immediately on land where building is planned. Young girls leading the Standing Rock youth council have faced Mace, teargas and rubber bullets during increasingly tense stalemates with police.

Several women who were arrested said they were crowded into vans and cells. Behind bars they encountered largely native girls, many who were incarcerated for what appeared to be low-level offenses.

Gonzales said the jail was packed with native women incarcerated for reasons other than the pipeline actions, including one who was pregnant and feared she was having a miscarriage and another who appeared to be severely ill.

They were brutalized and dehumanized the same way I was, told Gonzales, adding that it seemed clear many were lock the door for nonviolent offenses or because they were too poor to immediately pay bail. Brown and black people and native people get put away for really doing nothing.

Caro Caro Gonzales, a member of the Chemehuevi tribe: Women are the backbone of every tribe. Photograph: Sara Lafleur-Vetter for the Guardian

McLaughlin, who was charged with defying apprehend, became most distraught recounting police violence against young women at the center of demonstrations where law enforcement are systematically fired rubber bullets.

You know what its like to watch a little girl get pushed down and shot phase blank in the face while were trying to save her?

Asked about McLaughlins arrest, a spokeswoman for the Morton County sheriffs office said she refused to cooperate during the intake and assessment and was escorted into an isolation cell where she was instructed to lay on a jail mattress and change. McLaughlin was eventually undressed by female jail faculty, the spokesperson said.

Lauren Howland, a 21 -year-old youth council leader and member of the San Carlos and Jicarilla Apache tribes and Navajo Nation, said she felt that police were discriminating against indigenous people.

I think they want to say youre under arrest for being not white and praying not to Jesus or not to God, told Howland, who told an officer violated her wrist during one incident.

The experience has shaken her faith in law enforcement, she added.

Are they really there to protect and serve me? Or if someone dedicates them a few hundred bucks are they going to come over here and beat me again?

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