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The Spokesman-Review Newspaper
Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883

Native American activist keeps the peace at Black Lives Matter demonstrations

James Nason Roundstone,  (Colin Mulvany/The Spokesman-Review)

James Nason Roundstone always answers the call to stand against what he opposes or push for what he believes in , whether it’s trying to stop an oil pipeline in North Dakota at the Standing Rock reservation or to bolster the Black Lives Matter movement in Spokane.

And since protests over the killing of George Floyd reached the Lilac City last month, Nason Roundstone, a Spokane Valley resident, has been working to help keep them peaceful.

He is Northern Cheyenne and Hunkpapa Lakota Sioux. He also belongs the Tokala Dog Soldier warrior society. 

“The Tokala society is something they start out as young men and they learn to do all the things that we used to do in the old days,” explained Damian Badboy, Nason Roundstone’s brother.

Members of the Tokala society learn to trap, track and skin a buffalo, and to use the entirety of the animal. But those are just skills. The Tokala people are sacrificial protectors, too, who adhere to a code that means they would die before letting someone else get hurt, Nason Roundstone said.

“They are like our country’s police but different,” said Austin Steele Roundstone, Nason Roundstone’s teen son. “There’s a lot more traditional and sacred ways and values that go along with it.

“We are known as suicide warriors. We are to give our lives for our people to make sure that everybody else gets away safely.”

At the first Spokane protest over Floyd’s death on May 31, Nason Roundstone was asked by several community groups to help keep the peace. They only had three walkie-talkies and made do the best they could.

“We were very limited in our resources for people to be able to try to keep the peace,” Nason Roundstone said. “And for much of the day, those efforts were successful.” But then a group of protesters broke off from what had been a peaceful event at the Spokane County Courthouse early in the evening and looted the downtown Nike store.

“It was a very good event up until those teenagers had busted into the Nike store,” Nason Roundstone said.

Nason Roundstone and Badboy continued to try and keep the peace. They stood between police and protesters telling protesters, “It’s OK to come this far but no further. You’re going to stay back,” Nason Roundstone recalled. “We’re not going to get up in their face. We’re not going to agitate them.

“I tried to keep people back again. I did the best I could. Unfortunately, somebody had thrown a water bottle or something. That triggered one of the officers, and they started gassing us.”

Not long after the first round of teargas was launched, the two men decided it was time to bow out, believing many of the remaining protesters did not maintain the values of the earlier march. But Nason Roundstone’s phone was dead and his son was nowhere to be found. So he took his brother home and came back to find his son.

Nason Roundstone parked his vehicle near a group of protesters on Sprague and got out to find his son.

“Next thing I know, I look over in the direction of my truck and I see a gas canister hit the windshield of my truck,” Nason Roundstone said.

Moments later, Nason Roundstone was hit in the arm by a rubber bullet.

“Honestly, that dropped me to the ground,” he said. “I thought I was shot by a real bullet.”

Bystanders pulled him to cover, cleaned his wound and applied a tourniquet.

“At that point, the police still did not cease to shoot. They kept shooting at us,” he said.

After a few minutes, Nason Roundstone realized he needed to get out of the area. He walked toward his truck with his hands up.

He drove to a nearby hospital, where he got a handful of stitches to close his wound and filed a police report.

“I felt they didn’t exactly treat me as well as they should have because I was a protester or maybe because I was Native American or whatever,” Nason Roundstone said of his experience in the emergency room.

This isn’t Nason Roundstone’s first experience with tense protests. He went to support the Standing Rock tribe in North Dakota three separate times to protest the Dakota Access pipeline.

The Standing Rock reservation is where Sitting Bull, the famous leader of the Lakota Sioux who led tribal members to Canada after the Battle of Little Bighorn, was sent after his surrender in 1881.

The pipeline was completed in 2017, but court cases continue. In 2016, Nason Roundstone and his family were protesting the disturbance of sacred lands and the potential contamination of their water supply.

Nason Roundstone had been following the protest for weeks online from Spokane.

“Looking on Facebook and seeing all these police in riot gear and armor, tanks and stuff like that against women and children unarmed and elders, I said, ‘This ain’t right,’ ” he recalled.

Just a few hours later, Nason Roundstone pulled his son out of school and they headed to North Dakota.

While there, Badboy said his brother grew as a spiritual leader.

“He’s very kind in his stature,” Badboy said.

When protests started in Spokane, Nason Roundstone called his brother and asked him to come help keep the peace.

“He supports his people, and that doesn’t mean just native people. That means all people. If we see something that’s wrong, we’re going to go take care of it,” Badboy said. “That’s real brothership, when you call for that help.”

In the weeks since that first Spokane protest devolved into violence, Nason Roundstone has continued to act as security at protests, despite his healing rubber-bullet wound, which had led to him losing feeling in his little finger. Nason Roundstone was already on disability due to a mix of mental health and physical ailments, including back problems, which have made it difficult to stay mobile. His doctor recommended he see an orthopedic surgeon for his arm.

Despite the injury, he says the last few weeks have gone well and that he’s glad he can still answer the call.

“Belonging to those societies is my job. When called upon to act, there is no, ‘Oh, I can’t’ or ‘I’m too busy,’ ” Nason Roundstone said. “It’s you drop everything and go.”

Editor’s Note: This story has been updated to correct the spelling of Damian Badboy’s name and to correct the name of the warrior society that the Nason Roundstone belongs to. It is the Tokala Dog Soldier society.