White invaders have been using dogs to help them steal wealth from Native American lands for the better part of a millennium now, and white oppressors have used dogs as weapons to repress and terrorize people of color throughout US history. The shocking images of Standing Rock Sioux water protectors being attacked by dogs — one dripping blood from its nose and mouth — as they attempt to defend their sacred South Dakota burial site from bulldozers desecrating the land for pipeline and profit are but the latest outrages in a centuries-old pattern of canine-assisted brutality perpetrated against indigenous and other people of color.
In the early years of Columbus’ “discovery,” conquistadors ran butcher shops throughout the Caribbean where the bodies of slain Taino and other indigenous peoples were sold as dog food. Trained to savor the taste of Indian flesh, the genocidal invaders fed live babies to their dogs for amusement and sport, and to terrorize conquered populations into slavery and submission. Columbus’ men also relished what they called la montería infernal — the infernal chase, a bloodthirsty manhunt in which Natives were hunted down and slaughtered. To these invaders, Indians were only good for satisfying their sexual urges and, above all, for gathering as much gold as possible for the enrichment of themselves, their aristocratic patrons and their burgeoning European empires. This blatant, often bloody, imperial theft of indigenous wealth continues to this very day, both at home and around the world.
Centuries after Columbus, future US president Zachary Taylor earned his nickname, “Old Rough and Ready,” hunting and killing Native Americans in the swamps of Florida during the Second Seminole War (1835-1842). General Taylor requested and received dozens of bloodhounds to aid in his Indian extermination efforts. In an 1848 lithograph commemorating the ruthless campaign, soldiers aided by bloodhounds relentlessly pursue Seminole men, women and children retreating further into the inhospitable Florida wilderness, with one dog lunging at the throat of a Seminole brave attempting to shield a woman and a child while Taylor exclaims, “Hurra! Captain, we’ve got them at last, the dogs are at them! Now forward with the rifle and bayonet and give them hell, brave boys, let not a red nigger escape! Show no mercy, exterminate them!” In practice, Taylor’s bloodhounds — which were trained to track the scent of black slaves and not Indians — proved largely ineffective at hunting Seminoles.
In the 373 years between the arrival of Columbus and the end of the US Civil War, slavery reigned supreme over much of the Americas. Africans would come to replace indigenous Americans as slaves of choice for brutal white masters who employed professional slave catchers using dogs, including bloodhounds, to track, chase and capture their fugitive human chattel. In “Slavery and Dogs in the Antebellum South,” historian David Doddington quotes Louisiana slaveholder Bennet H. Barrow, who described how one runaway slave was caught with the help of dogs which “nearly ate his legs off, nearly killing him.”
Slavery may have ended in the United States in 1865, but a century of racist Jim Crow segregation, disenfranchisement and repression followed, and as black Americans fought and died for the freedom and equality they’d been promised but denied for generations, their oppressors fought back with well-organized violence, including Ku Klux Klan and other terrorism, lynchings, political imprisonment and heavy-handed suppression of constitutionally-protected protest. Images of peacefully-protesting blacks, including women and children, being attacked with fire hoses and vicious police dogs in Birmingham, Alabama in 1963 shocked the conscience of the world and accelerated the push for the civil rights legislation that followed.
Attack dogs made headlines once again during the so-called War on Terror when invading US troops sicced them on detainees, many of them innocent men, at the notorious Abu Ghraib prison near Baghdad, Iraq. While Pentagon officials claimed the dogs were only used to terrorize prisoners, maulings did reportedly occur, including one alleged incident in which a Guantánamo detainee had a chunk of flesh torn from his calf. In 2006, Army dog handler Sgt. Michael J. Smith was convicted of torturing Abu Ghraib detainees with his Belgian shepherd for amusement.
Today Native Americans, namely the Standing Rock Sioux and their allies, are once again facing the terror and trauma of attack dogs unleashed upon them, this time by a private corporation backed by powerful, polluting fossil fuel interests and rapacious financial institutions. As these latest invaders and destroyers of Native American lands and traditions bulldoze sacred burial grounds to make way for the Dakota Access pipeline, the Spirit Camp Warriors standing between them and their insatiable lust for yet more indigenous wealth have become the latest people of color to know the excruciating pain and terror of the white man’s dogs of war tearing into their flesh.