The first of seven Native American water protectors was sentenced to 36 months in federal prison late last month.
Michael “Little Feather” Giron, 45, was accused by federal prosecutors of federal felony crimes while protesting a proposed pipeline at the Standing Rock Reservation in North Dakota in October 2016.
During the protests, demonstrators had set up barricades, and some had set them on fire. Giron was initially charged with the crime of “[Using] Fire to Commit a Federal Felony,” which carried with it a 10-year minimum sentencing.
Giron had, in fact, not started any fire. He did, according to prosecutors, pour fuel onto a pre-existing fire.
Giron ended up accepting a non-cooperating plea agreement in which he would be sentenced for aiding a “civil disorder,” thereby dropping the 10-year sentence. He was instead sentenced to 36 months in federal prison, of which 15 months will already be counted as having been served. His lawyers said they are also hopeful that he can be released in 11 months to a halfway house.
Giron’s previous battles with drug addiction may have led Federal District of North Dakota Chief Judge Daniel Hovland to accept the 36-month sentencing deal.
“It seems as though you've turned things around in your life, sir,” the judge said to him.
Despite the leniency in his sentencing, it’s still odd to think that Giron somehow presented some kind of threat, as prosecutors alleged, to law enforcement. After adding fuel to the fire that was meant to serve as a blockade, “it's lucky no one was hurt,” U.S. Attorney David Hagler said — even as law enforcement had their guns pointed at protesters at the time.
Giron earned his title of “Little Feather” while attending the protests. He discovered part of his Native American identity while protesting against a pipeline that would have undoubtedly affected the people living in that area.
He will serve some of his life behind bars, but who is truly at fault for the events that took place during that time? The federal government had no right to assume “ownership” of a land that was promised to Native Americans, and Giron would never have contributed to a blockade had law enforcement not encroached on their land.
A deeper respect for the rights of Native Americans is gravely needed, and Giron should be granted an earlier release date than the 11 months he’s hoping for.