Double Ditch Indian Village overlooks the Missouri River in North Dakota, about an hour’s drive north from where the Dakota Access Pipeline Water Protectors formed their prayer camps in 2016 on the Standing Rock Sioux Reservation. It’s a historic site of a village where, from 1490 to 1785, members of the Mandan Tribe lived in earth mound dwellings that protected them from extreme temperatures and near-constant winds.
The Mandan flourished for almost three centuries—longer than the United States has been in existence. But in 1782, the smallpox scourge arrived on their homelands, leaving survivors to scatter for safety.
“[W]e have no social distancing. We live in 7 x 7 cubes that are 63 feet by 38 feet. There are 62 men sharing 3 toilets, 1 urinal, 3 showers and 5 sinks. We are a tinderbox waiting for a spark and the guards are the spark.”
Representative Ruth Buffalo, Democrat of Fargo and an enrolled member of the Mandan, Hidatsa, and Arikara Nation, carries in her consciousness the trauma of the decimation of the Mandan people by that pandemic. She is advocating for the release and protection of the 3,898 Native Americans currently incarcerated under the aegis of the Federal Bureau of Prisons (BOP).
“Native people are incarcerated in federal prisons at a rate 38 percent higher than the national average,” Buffalo stated in a press release. “Unless the BOP develops a comprehensive Exposure Control Plan and enacts it immediately, this pandemic could be devastating to our Native population.”
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