Meet the former Army officer who rallied thousands of veterans to Standing Rock.

Wes Clark Jr. is about as close as it gets to U.S. Army royalty.

The son of a renowned four-star general, Clark was born while his father was still fighting in Vietnam. He grew up at various Army bases all across the country before attending Georgetown University's School of Foreign Service, followed by four years of active duty as a cavalry officer.

Wes Clark Jr. (left) with his father on the Democratic primary campaign trail in 2003. Photo by Michael Springer/Getty Images.


When 9/11 happened, Clark was living in New York City. He was eager to re-enlist, but his father talked him out of it. Since then, Clark has looked to other ways of making the world better. Now he's a writer, a climate activist, and a co-host of the popular political web series "The Young Turks."

Clark had been following the ongoing Dakota Access Pipeline conflict for months. As he watched the news, he became more and more enraged.

To Clark, this wasn't just a violation of human rights. It was an insult to veterans like him and his family.

Why? Because despite their continued mistreatment by the U.S. government, Native Americans have been fighting in the American armed forces for 200 years at very high enlistment rates.

Yankton Sioux veterans received the Congressional Medal of Honor in 2013 on behalf of their tribe's contributions as code talkers during World War I. Photo by Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images.

"First Americans have served in the United States Military, defending the soil of our homelands, at a greater percentage than any other group of Americans," Clark wrote. "There is no other people more deserving of veteran support."

Clark took an oath when he joined the Army. He swore to "support and defend the Constitution of the United States against all enemies, foreign and domestic." And by that oath, he believes he and his fellow veterans should be defending the Standing Rock Sioux from the human rights violations perpetrated against them in the past months, both from police departments and private security forces.

Clark put his uniform back on and organized the movement Veterans Stand for Standing Rock. On Dec. 3, 2016, he and his troops left for North Dakota.

The veterans made a plan to join the Standing Rock Sioux in ceremony and prayer at the Oceti Sakowin camp, then form a human shield around the water protectors in direct nonviolent action against the pipeline construction.

"We are there to put our bodies on the line, no matter the physical cost, in complete non-violence to provide a clear representation to all Americans of where evil resides," the co-organizers wrote in the group's official mission briefing.

"We’re not going out there to get in a fight with anyone. They can feel free to beat us up, but we’re 100% nonviolence," Clark added in an interview with Task & Purpose.

The Oceti Sakowin Camp near Cannon Ball, ND after a snowfall. Photo by Scott Olson/Getty Images.

More than 2,000 veterans joined the cause — many more than the 500 they had originally had hoped for.

Photo by Jim Watson/AFP/Getty Images.

The veterans arrived on Dec. 4, and everything went according to plan. There were sage cleansings...

Photo by Scott Olson/Getty Images.

...and a human barricade to protect people from a police line.

Photo by Jim Watson/AFP/Getty Images.

By evening, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers had denied an easement for the pipeline's construction, putting its future in doubt.

Of course, the main credit for this victory should stand with the steadfast water protectors who have been camped out for months and who struggled for decades before that, too. But the massive veteran presence certainly helped.

Photo by Scott Olson/Getty Images.

Last night, on the veterans' first day at camp, there was celebration — but the battle isn't over.

Energy Transfer Partners, the main company behind the pipeline, is still refusing to back down — and given recent violence in pursuit of ETP's goals, it would be foolish for the water protectors to turn their backs just yet. Which means that both the camp and the veterans will remain in place, perhaps indefinitely.

The men and women who serve this country in uniform have always understood the "American experiment" is a work in a progress — and our Native American brothers and sisters have always been intimately aware of just how fragile that experiment can be. But they can all agree that environmental destruction and state-sponsored violence are not compatible with the ideal of freedom on which the country was founded.

As one tribal elder said during Sunday's celebration: "Tomorrow we fight, tonight we dance."

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Disney has come under fire for problematic portrayals of non-white and non-western cultures in many of its older movies. They aren't the only one, of course, but since their movies are an iconic part of most American kids' childhoods, Disney's messaging holds a lot of power.

Fortunately, that power can be used for good, and Disney can serve as an example to other companies if they learn from their mistakes, account for their misdeeds, and do the right thing going forward. Without getting too many hopes up, it appears that the entertainment giant may have actually done just that with the new Frozen II film.

According to NOW Toronto, the producers of Frozen II have entered into a contract with the Sámi people—the Indigenous people of the Scandinavian regions—to ensure that they portray the culture with respect.

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Though there was not a direct portrayal of the Sámi in the first Frozen movie, the choral chant that opens the film was inspired by an ancient Sámi vocal tradition. In addition, the clothing worn by Kristoff closely resembled what a Sámi reindeer herder would wear. The inclusion of these elements of Sámi culture with no context or acknowledgement sparked conversations about cultural appropriation and erasure on social media.

Frozen II features Indigenous culture much more directly, and even addressed the issue of Indigenous erasure. Filmmakers Jennifer Lee and Chris Buck, along with producer Peter Del Vecho, consulted with experts on how to do that respectfully—the experts, of course, being the Sámi people themselves.

Sámi leaders met with Disney producer Peter Del Vecho in September 2019.Sámediggi Sametinget/Flickr

The Sámi parliaments of Norway, Sweden and Finland, and the non-governmental Saami Council reached out to the filmmakers when they found out their culture would be highlighted in the film. They formed a Sámi expert advisory group, called Verddet, to assist filmmakers in with how to accurately and respectfully portray Sámi culture, history, and society.

In a contract signed by Walt Disney Animation Studios and Sámi leaders, the Sámi stated their position that "their collective and individual culture, including aesthetic elements, music, language, stories, histories, and other traditional cultural expressions are property that belong to the Sámi," and "that to adequately respect the rights that the Sámi have to and in their culture, it is necessary to ensure sensitivity, allow for free, prior, and informed consent, and ensure that adequate benefit sharing is employed."

RELATED: This aboriginal Australian used kindness and tea to trump the racism he overheard.

Disney agreed to work with the advisory group, to produce a version of Frozen II in one Sámi language, as well as to "pursue cross-learning opportunities" and "arrange for contributions back to the Sámi society."

Anne Lájla Utsi, managing director at the International Sámi Film Institute, was part of the Verddet advisory group. She told NOW, "This is a good example of how a big, international company like Disney acknowledges the fact that we own our own culture and stories. It hasn't happened before."

"Disney's team really wanted to make it right," said Utsi. "They didn't want to make any mistakes or hurt anybody. We felt that they took it seriously. And the film shows that. We in Verddet are truly proud of this collaboration."

Sounds like you've done well this time, Disney. Let's hope such cultural sensitivity and collaboration continues, and that other filmmakers and production companies will follow suit.

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