On the same day seven defendants celebrated their acquittal in the armed takeover of a federal wildlife refuge in Oregon, law enforcement officers dressed in riot gear and firing bean bag rounds arrested nearly 150 oil pipeline protesters camped out in North Dakota.
The sudden developments in the two protests drew an unsettling contrast for some between the treatment of mostly Native American citizens at an encampment near the Standing Rock Sioux Reservation and the heavily armed occupiers who held the federal government at bay for weeks in the remote Malheur National Wildlife Refuge.
"How is it that people who were seen on national media with guns having a standoff with police officials were acquitted ... And we're being treated like we're terrorists?" said Cody Hall, a member of the Cheyenne River Sioux Tribe in South Dakota and a spokesman for the pipeline protesters.
Yet experts on public land policy who have watched both situations unfold cautioned it is too soon to draw conclusions about either protest's outcome and pointed to broad yet important themes that underlie movements otherwise separated by hundreds of miles and an ideological chasm.
Both the Standing Rock Sioux and the Oregon occupiers consider themselves marginalized groups fighting to preserve a way of life.
Both movements feel disenfranchised and are disillusioned with federal land policy, said Gregg Cawley, a University of Wyoming political science professor.
"At that level, even though all the details are different, they're very similar," Cawley said. "If you step back far enough ... Then you can start seeing some parallels here."
On Thursday, jurors acquitted the brothers and five others on felony charges that included conspiracy and possession of a gun in a federal facility.
Standing Rock Sioux Chairman Dave Archambault called the action "violence against innocent, prayerful people." The scale of the arrests shocked many onlookers, but public land policy experts cautioned it's too early to make meaningful comparisons between Standing Rock and Oregon.
"These folks on the pipeline have just been arrested, but we don't even know if any of that is going to hit a trial," said John Freemuth, of Boise State University. "I certainly think the tribes will have a point if they find themselves arrested and in jail and these Oregon guys get off."
That's a possibility that deeply worries James Riding In, interim director and associate professor of American Indian Studies at Arizona State University.
The response to the Standing Rock protest has been racially charged since the beginning, he said.
"History has placed the Indian peoples as expendable. And I think that attitude still exists in some circumstances," he said.
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