Men (and women) against DAPL
Halloween, a day where countless women will dress as “Pocahotties” and men will partake as their shirtless, war-painted counterparts.
A day sandwiched between Games 5 and 6 of the World Series that feature one team’s mascot, an animal, and the other’s, an insulting caricature of a people very much alive and, well, trying to be well in this country.
Today, hundreds, if not thousands, of Native and non-Native activists are still holding up camp in opposition to the Dakota Access Pipeline construction.
Even more supporters are on their way. Some are on foot, running over 1,000 miles from Flagstaff, Ariz. to Oceti Sakowin to raise awareness of environmental issues and the sovereign rights of tribal nations.
Not all this Halloween season is dastardly tricks of big oil and folks donning red face. We’ve also had the gift of the third season of the sci-fi-iish British anthology television show Black Mirror streaming on Netflix for the past week and some change.
I’m particularly interested in episode five of the latest season titled “Men Against Fire.”
Don’t lose me guys, there’s a point here.
While many others are analyzing this episode as a general commentary about war and the othering process of the enemy, we Native people are seeing the activity of “Men Against Fire” being acted out—albeit in a less cinematic way—today.
You are now entering the spoiler-iish zone.
The Black Mirror episode follows a newbie soldier nicknamed Stripe (Malachi Kirby) who goes out on his first “roach” hunt in a local village, a disheveled postwar community. Roaches, we later see from Stripe’s vantage point, are vampire-like creatures that seem to terrorize villagers.
On the roach hunt, Stripe’s squad is led to a roach ally named Heidekker (Francis Magee). At the Heidekker farm, Stripe encounters three roaches that make indiscernible noises while attacking him. Stripe guns down one roach, but struggles with a second who attempts to use a makeshift device on him. Stripe repeatedly and brutally stabs the second roach. When he’s sure it’s dead, Stripe picks up the device and inadvertently flashes himself in the eyes with it.
Back at the base, Stripe starts experiencing headaches and visual interferences. He’s ordered to go to a doctor where diagnostics are run on his MASS implant, a technological advancement that aids soldiers in warfare. This is also what gives them the ability to essentially see what the army wants them to see—intel, maps, plans, profiles—without the need for a computer.
Stripe is then directed to Arquette (Michael Kelly), the military psychologist who asks him about his kills and how he feels about them emotionally. In the conversation, Stripe refers to one of the roaches as “he,” at the disapproval of Arquette. Stripe corrects himself, calling the roaches “it” for the remainder of the conversation. When probed further about his feelings, Stripe said he thought he’d feel regret upon killing roaches, but he didn’t.
Later, Stripe’s squad is sent on a reconnaissance mission at an abandoned projects building. Stripe notices he can feel and smell the grass, revealing that he couldn’t smell anything before. His squad mate, Raimon (Madeline Brewer) or “Ray,” comments that she didn’t notice the lack of sensation.
After entering the building, Ray begins shooting at everything that moves. To Stripe’s horror, Ray appears to be shooting human beings. Stripe attacks her to stop her from shooting. He is shot in the process.
Stripe wakes up in the underground home of Catarina (Ariane Labed). After learning that Catarina is a roach, Stripe tries to make sense of it:
Stripe: Roaches don’t speak.
Catarina: You just can’t hear us.
Stripe: The fuck you talkin’ about?
Catarina: Your implants, your army implants.
Stripe: The MASS system?
Catarina: They put it in your head to help you fight, and when it works, you see us as something other.
Animals, monsters, “the other” are words the two use to describe the roaches.
Stripe looks at Catarina dumbfounded while she further intimates that the villagers do not have the MASS implant, therefore they see the roaches as human. It’s the sentiment against the so-called roaches that is embedded so deep: “They hate all the same, because it’s what they’ve been told.”
Same goes for mainstream media messages about Native peoples.
This country’s construction of our identity as Native people has been based on the idea that we were (and perhaps still are) “savages.” Check out the Declaration of Independence. We’re “merciless Indian savages” there.
Read more government documents and it’s more savagery, or we’re child-like and thus unable to manage our own governmental affairs.
The U.S. military and government justified forced removal, stealing Indigenous lands, establishing Indian boarding school systems, sterilizing Native women, etc. all in the last century and a half. And lest we not forget outright massacres of Native people.
All because we have been mischaracterized as inferior and subhuman, animalistic or child-like, by people who did not understand our worldviews. The dehumanization of Native peoples in this country has carried over into racist imagery, mascots, and costumes.
Personally, I didn’t partake in Halloween this year, because seeing the dozen or so people dressed as “Indians” really bums me out. But this, of course, doesn’t stop it from being littered all over social media.
We’re also seeing the remnants of colonization in American sports teams and their fans, particularly the Cleveland Indians who are currently playing in the World Series.
These stereotypical representations have persisted throughout history and, much like the MASS system in “Men Against Fire,” serve to dehumanize and delegitimize Native people while simultaneously desensitizing mainstream populations into viewing us as less than human.
This dehumanization process is what allows armed law enforcement officers in riot gear with armored vehicles to use pepper spray, rubber bullets, and sound cannons against unarmed activists including children, women, and men, Native and non-Native alike.
The legacy of this mentality—of not knowing or understanding Native people as human beings with intellect, substance, and ingenuity—has brought us to this crucial moment. Perhaps a moment that won’t be realized as crucial until it is another stain on American history.
This isn’t about sensitivity.
If we were so sensitive, we wouldn’t be here standing in the way of a multi-billion dollar corporation in its attempts to harm potentially sacred and culturally significant sites, its desecration of the environment and water sources, its evasion of meaningful tribal consultation, and its complete lack of respect for the sovereign rights of Native Nations.
This isn’t about sensitivity—we just see things differently. We understand this moment in time in an historical context.
We have been living “Men Against Fire” for centuries.
Now, where’s our little interference device?
Perhaps our device is to extend a small invitation to see the world differently. An invitation to see us differently.
Perhaps our device is to extend a small invitation to see the world differently. An invitation to see us differently. To see us, hear us as we actually are. Not as the stereotypical “Indian” of mainstream imagination.
Let’s shed the MASS system together.