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In Long-Awaited Victory, Rattler, former #NoDAPL Political Prisoner, Granted Early Release

Updated: Nov 11, 2022


In Long-Awaited Victory, Michael “Rattler” Markus, former #NoDAPL Political Prisoner, Granted Early Release

North Dakota – On November 3, 2022, a North Dakota judge granted #NoDAPL political prisoner Michael “Rattler” Markus early termination of supervised release. Rattler had served half of his supervised release and had eighteen months remaining. In 2018, after a non-cooperating plea, Rattler was sentenced to 36 months federal prison followed by three years supervised release. On October 27, 2022, six years to the day of Rattler’s arrest, Water Protector Legal Collective (WPLC) attorney Sandra Freeman filed a motion requesting Rattler’s early release. The federal court order granting early termination of supervised release is a long-awaited ruling and a victory for Rattler.

Rattler reflected after the news, “When I went to prison I went with my head high. I knew that what I did and am going to do is for the people and unci Maka. I have no regrets. And I will not back down when it comes to our children's future. So I say to you that read this. Do not fear that you might go to jail. Because you have a world of people that support you and stand next to you. Fear the future we leave our children's children if we do nothing.”

Rattler arrived at the Oceti Sakowin resistance camp as a Water Protector in September 2016. On October 27, 2016, militarized police raided the 1851 Treaty Camp, a frontline camp in the pathway of DAPL. Law enforcement officials used sound cannons, tanks, tasers, bean bags, rubber bullets, and pepper spray against unarmed Water Protectors. They broke sacred objects, tore down tipis, confiscated prayer staffs, and demolished an inipi (sweat lodge), arresting the people in the middle of a ceremony inside. This resulted in the arrest of 141 Water Protectors and 2017 federal indictment of seven Indigenous #NoDAPL political prisoners.

On January 23, 2017, Rattler was arrested for federal charges criminalizing the work he engaged in as an Akicita to protect Land, Water, People, and Treaties against militarized police and mercenaries working for the Dakota Access Pipeline (DAPL). Rattler was charged with Civil Disorder and Using Fire to Commit a Felony (which was later dismissed).

In a February 2017 interview with The Guardian, attorney Sandra Freeman explained that Rattler had been prosecuted under a law that’s rarely used in federal court and was passed in 1968 to control the American Indian Movement, Black Liberation Movement, and Vietnam war protests. The charges were clearly meant to repress free speech rights. Sandra stated, “Law enforcement tactics started escalating and markedly changing in January. It was no longer a confrontation at demonstrations, but single people being picked off, being brutalized, and being interrogated. In general, it’s law enforcement out of control.

The courts refused to grant Rattler a change of venue despite alerting the judge to statistics proving 77% of potential jurors in Morton County and 85% in Burleigh County had already decided that defendants were guilty and many potential jurors have close connections to law enforcement or the oil industry. Rattler entered into a non-cooperating plea deal. He was sentenced to 3 years in prison on September 28, 2018, for “Civil Disorder” in relation to his nonviolent actions as an Akicita Water Protector at Standing Rock. At his sentencing, he explained that he initially only arrived at Oceti Sakowin to deliver supplies but decided to stay after the events of September 3, 2016, when DAPL bulldozers destroyed sacred sites, including graves, and private security forces used dogs on Water Protectors. Rattler resolved to serve as akicita and defender, standing between police and Water Protectors in hopes of “keeping everybody safe.”

Akicita is a traditional role among the Lakota Nation that protect the peace. “Akicita is a life commitment, living a life of service and accountability…Akicita leave no one behind.”

Akicita Michael “Rattler” Markus is Oglala Lakota from Pine Ridge, SD. He is a descendant of the war Chief Makpiya Luta, translated as Red Cloud. Chief Red Cloud, who after many successful battles, signed the 1868 Treaty of Fort Laramie in an effort to protect his people. Rattler's Lakota name is Mato Tanka, meaning Big Bear. He is a Sundancer and Canupa (sacred pipe) carrier. Rattler is also a US Marine veteran.

Standing Rock was a training ground. It was started by children, by the youth. Those are the generations that we’re thinking about. What are we going to leave them—birds animals, rivers? What kind of legacy do you want to leave your children? For rich people, it’s a big bank account. For me it’s Mni Wiconi—water is life.Rattler


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