December 21, 2022
WPLC files Complaint on behalf of Diné and Oneida Two-Spirit U.S. Marine veteran, Darrell House, against National Park Service for Violation of Civil and Constitutional Rights
Natali Segovia, Water Protector Legal Collective, Legal Director
Nizhoni Begay, Communications & Development Coordinator
Albuquerque, New Mexico, Tiwa and Pueblo lands – On Wednesday, December 21, 2022, the Water Protector Legal Collective (WPLC) filed a civil complaint on behalf of Darrell House (Diné and Oneida) against the National Park Service (NPS) and other Defendants including the City of Albuquerque, U.S. Department of Interior, Secretary of Interior, NPS Director, and NPS Officers Graden and Wineland, for violation of his civil rights and constitutional rights under the Religious Freedom Restoration Act and seeks judicial review of the NPS decision finding no wrongdoing by NPS Officers under the Administrative Procedures Act. WPLC is joined by past WPLC board member and legendary civil rights attorney, Jeffrey Haas, who represented Black Panther Fred Hampton, as co-counsel in representing Darrell.
Content warning: police brutality/misconduct
On December 27, 2020, Darrell House visited the Petroglyph National Monument with his sister and small dog, Geronimo. Darrell went to “pray and honor the earth, consistent with his traditional religious and spiritual practices as a Diné (Navajo) and Oneida person.” Darrell has spent time praying on ancestral lands throughout the Southwest and honoring foreign lands when deployed overseas as a U.S. Marine. He has also joined Indigenous-led nonviolent prayer camps at Standing Rock and Line 3 to protect the Earth and Water for future generations.
The December 2020 hike quickly turned traumatic when they stepped off the trail to practice safe physical distancing during a pandemic. A National Park Service (NPS) officer noticed them off-trail, ordered them back on trail, and followed them as they walked towards the trail. Once Darrell had already complied and returned to the trail, the NPS officer demanded identification. In the wake of the death of George Floyd and other cases of police misconduct and brutality across the nation in 2020, Darrell refused and started calling for help from other hikers. NPS Officer Graden called for backup and moments later, tasered an unarmed Darrell House. Darrell’s life has been impacted directly by this incident, including a diagnosis of acute Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) shortly after the incident in January 2021.
The video of the incident instantly went viral on social media with Indigenous peoples around the world reacting and expressing concern to the use of excessive force. The Red Nation stated, “The Petroglyphs National Monument, which is home to ancient Indigenous rock art that still retains spiritual and cultural significance to Indigenous people today, was initially created at the request of Native activists to protect the area from vandalism and developers…Indigenous people have the right to practice their culture and spiritual ways on Indigenous land without fear of repression, discrimination, or violence.”
Members of the Black, Latinx, and LGBTQI communities were also stunned by the event. Now-Congresswoman Cori Bush tweeted, “He was on sacred land that he visits to pray, when a federal officer confronted him, tasing him & his dog. Militarized police fight to maintain structures of power over Black and Indigenous bodies. Defund the police.” Even then-Congresswoman Deb Haaland, now Secretary of the Interior and attached to this civil suit, said she “alerted the Chairman of the House Natural Resources Committee so proper oversight is conducted especially considering the cultural significance of the site.”
On December 29, 2020, NPS released a statement assuring the community that the incident is under review. Months later on March 12, 2021, NPS released a statement that the officer’s actions were “consistent with agency policy and appropriate.” It continued to detail that “this incident provided a learning experience for us to build on how we incorporate Tribal and Pueblo perspectives in our everyday work” and in the months ahead NPS would “be working with the Pueblo and Tribal communities to develop ways to better coordinate use of the area for ceremonial and religious purposes.” As of today, nothing on the NPS website for Petroglyph describes any process for Indigenous visitors to visit the park for religious or spiritual practices in sacred areas of Petroglyph.
Darrell House reflected on the significance of the complaint filing today, stating: “This case is not just about me. It is about vindication for Indigenous peoples across Turtle Island, that have been systematically disenfranchised, violently removed from, and policed on ancestral lands for centuries. After 500 years of broken promises the federal government needs to do better and it is time the stewardship of national parks returns to Indigenous people. We need a seat at the table. What happened to me was not only uncalled for, it was deeply traumatic and an abuse of power. It is one more example of escalated violence against Black, Indigenous, Latinx, Two-Spirit and Gender-nonconforming peoples that would be invisible but for social media. I’m calling for accountability for all militarized police including NPS as they continuously harm Brown, Black, and LGBT+ people. After two years of replaying this moment over and over in my mind, I am ready to stand up for my people so this never happens again.”
Jeffrey Haas, co-counsel on Darrell’s case said: “This case sheds light on the injustice faced by Darrell House, but is an issue that affects Indigenous peoples across the United States. Darrell was wrongfully tasered for exercising his right to pray on sacred land in Petroglyph National Park. We are seeking damages for Mr. House's physical and emotional injury as well as demanding changes in National Park Service policy to ensure NPS employees treat Indigenous peoples with dignity, honor, and respect, particularly on their own sacred lands.”
Lead counsel, WPLC Legal Director, Natali Segovia, stated: “Justice for Darrell has been a long-time coming. This complaint has been in the making for two years, but justice for Indigenous peoples of Turtle Island has been delayed by several hundred. We are honored to represent Darrell, a peaceful warrior and Water Protector, and support his struggle–which is that of all Indigenous people–to pray and protect the Sacred.”
For media requests from Mr. House or the WPLC legal team, please contact: email@example.com.
Born out of the #NoDAPL movement, the Water Protector Legal Collective is an Indigenous-led legal nonprofit that provides support and advocacy for Indigenous peoples and Original Nations, the Earth, and climate justice movements.