By EDDIE CELAYA
No one can accuse former Pima Community College journalism instructor Jenni Monet of staying on the sidelines.
Monet, a native of New Mexico’s Laguna Pueblo tribe, recently added a new line to her resume: misdemeanor riot charges.
The charges came while Monet was covering environmental/native-rights protests in Standing Rock, North Dakota, at the site of the Dakota Access Pipeline.
Monet has reported from inside the protesters’ camp since last September. She was arrested Feb. 1 while taking pictures and conducting interviews with protesters who were attempting to establish a new camp on private land.
“It was just another demonstration at what was known as the Last Child camp,” she said in a telephone interview. “I was with a group of water protectors to go cover their resistance campaign, like I did in all the other work that I do.
She is facing charges of criminal trespassing and engaging in a riot. Both are Class B misdemeanors and carry a maximum sentence of 30 days in jail and/or a $500 fine.
Police accounts depict Monet as uncooperative.
“If she’s claiming she wasn’t warned, that’s absolutely not true,” North Dakota Highway Patrol Lt. Tom Iverson told the Bismarck Tribune.
Iverson told the Tribune he warned Monet, saying, “I understand you’re a journalist, but you’re on private property and need to leave.”
The Morton County Sheriff’s Department issued a statement saying, “After repeated warnings to vacate a camp being illegally set up on private property in southern Morton County, approximately 76 members of a rogue group of protesters were arrested.”
Monet asserts she readily identified herself.
“When asked to show my press credentials, I did,” she said. “When asked to step back from the police line, I did. And when asked to leave, I complied and I was still arrested.”
Authorities have previously arrested at least eight journalists at Standing Rock.
Ironically, the arrest last year of Amy Goodman first shed a national spotlight on the protests. Goodman, a well-known, white, liberal journalist, hosts the syndicated radio program “Democracy Now.”
Media outlets quickly took up Goodman’s plight, with publications such as the New York Times, Salon and Variety criticizing governmental overreach.
Monet’s struggle with local authorities has not piqued the same interest. “And we’re both charged with the same thing,” she noted.
“I think it’s indicative of how big media has handled the story out here at Standing Rock,” Monet said. “It’s on the reservation, it’s one of those stories that I think is generalized a lot.”
Stories supporting Monet have appeared in Yes! Magazine and the Columbia Journalism Review, but the mainstream press has been slow to champion her story.
When the Los Angeles Times ran a story about Monet by freelance reporter Sandy Tolan, it published a photo of Goodman.
“Showing a white women in a profile piece about me, where I am completely absent, that’s not OK,” Monet said. “It’s wrong and would be the case for any profile piece. You just don’t. It’s 101 stuff.”
Web publications such as the Center for Investigative Reporting and Native-media outlets like High Country News and Native News Online have all stepped up for Monet, making it clear they find her charges unacceptable.
For her part, Monet has not let her arrest and pending court date affect her work.
“I’ve worked very diligently to build strong relationships here at the tribal, state, county level,” she said. “I will continue to maintain these relationships to report at a very critical time.”
The tenor of the protests began shifting after Donald Trump became president, Monet said
“I think there is a small sense of defeat among the water protectors,” she said.
It changed again when authorities began the process of removing protesters from their camps.
“People are feeling a little bit of loss, but also some last-minute attempts to kind of stand ground,” Monet said.
With all the uncertainty, Monet remains focused on reporting.
“I’m hoping that the charges get dropped and I can get back to work,” she said.
Jenni Monet Bio:
Jenni Monet is a freelance journalist who specializes in covering indigenous peoples, both in the United States and internationally. Before becoming a freelancer, Monet worked as a TV news anchor for a CBS affiliate, and as a reporter for Al Jazeera. She also taught Journalism 101 and 102 at West Campus last semester.