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Traveling the road to "cultural suicide"

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  • Traveling the road to "cultural suicide"

    Notes from Indian Country
    Traveling the road to “cultural suicide”
    by Tim Giago (Nanwica Kciji)
    Native American Times - 17 July 2006

    To govern is to exercise authority, control, influence and objectivity. One of the most important elements of governance should be restraint. Too many tribal governments do all of the above, with the exception of restraint and objectivity, excessively.

    On any given day one has only to go to, probably the best Indian online media source, and read the daily screw ups of tribal leadership and governance.

    On any Indian reservation in America, and probably in Canada where they are called reserves, the weeks leading up to an election, finds the Native politicians smiling, shaking hands, waving at prospective voters, and just being gracious and hospitable to all. Several weeks after they are elected their entire demeanor changes, and not for the good I might add.

    Let me just say here that I am generalizing because to every rule there is an exception. But since I have been the editor of major Indian newspapers for more than 30 years I believe I have heard it all. Letter after letter from tribal members from as far away as California or as near as Nebraska, had driven home to me the discontent so many Indians have with their elected leadership.

    Oh, it is without a doubt, the nature of the beast to have political dissent on most Indian reservations. For every ruling party there is a party of discontent. For nearly every elected tribal leader there is a challenger. But that does not explain the ongoing rumble of anger I have heard across the political spectrum of Indian country.

    In the 1970s the Pine Ridge Reservation in South Dakota was torn apart by those opposed to the leadership of Tribal Chairman Dick Wilson. It didn’t just end in rhetoric, but instead settled into a near bloody war between the factions. Somewhere in the argument there should have been a middle ground, but in the heat of political dissent and propaganda, none could be found.

    After the turmoil and the waning interest by the national media had taken hold, many members of the opposition, the American Indian Movement, left the reservation and went back to wherever it was they came from while those who supported Chairman Wilson remained to clean up the mess. AIM had the ear of the media and the propaganda machine to go with it. Even to this day you will see movies and documentaries that tell only their side of the argument.

    For the most part there is no separation of powers on most Indian reservations. I have seen tribal councils have their election board members jailed because they dared to disagree with the dictates of the council.

    When an elected tribal council can arbitrarily suspend a sitting president without a hearing, things have gone totally awry. Such was the case of Cecilia Fire Thunder, the first woman, and the duly elected president of the Oglala Sioux Tribe. Fire Thunder, who is legally deaf, was in Iowa for treatment of her hearing loss when the tribal council suspended her.

    She was effectively denied her equal rights and protections under the Constitution of the United States, but not in the eyes of the tribal council and in their reckoning, not under the auspices of the Oglala Sioux Tribal Constitution.

    Fire Thunder was then impeached for “recommending” the construction of a Planned Parenthood Clinic on the reservation in lieu of a law passed by the South Dakota State Legislature that would have banned all abortions in the state, not even making an exception for rape and incest. Fire Thunder thought that this was wrong and since she is a former nurse, she immediately considered ways and means to prevent pregnancy, not to end it, and in her mind, a Planned Parenthood Clinic would be the answer.

    In other words, she was impeached for her thoughts and not for her actions. This backward tribal council was engulfed in the political propaganda spewed by the rightwing legislators in state government that besmirched the reputation of the employees of Planned Parenthood and shouted religious obscenities in an effort to destroy it. And for the most part, most of the shouting was done by white males, that is until the Indian males and Christian females of the Oglala Sioux Tribal Council joined the chorus.

    But the tribal council of the Pine Ridge Reservation is not alone in its inadequacies. I have heard from readers in Arizona, Oklahoma, Iowa, California, Montana, North Dakota, Wyoming, New Mexico, New York, Michigan, Wisconsin and Minnesota condemning the actions of tribal councils ruling Indian reservations located in those states.

    As long as the people of the Indian nations continue to elect uneducated dummies to serve as their governing bodies there will always be drastic problems in Indian country. As long as those politicians with the largest families of voting age are elected, not because of their qualifications but because of their family support, unqualified leaders will continue to rule.

    America became a nation 230 years ago and tribal governments came into vogue 72 years ago. Authority, control and influence appear to be the factors predominant in both cultures. Restraint and objectivity have been pushed to the rear of the bus. As tribal governments move further in the direction of the mainstream, traditional systems of restraint, fair play, cultural separation, and the loss of inherent rights have been shoved aside in the name of so-called progress. And as we move into the age of “casino mentality,” the situation will worsen. In the end we will have sold our very souls for money and power.

    I am afraid that the Indian Nations are on the road to “cultural suicide.”

    (Tim Giago is the president of the Native American Journalists Foundation, Inc., and the publisher of Native American Review Magazine. He can be reached at [email protected] or by writing him at 2050 W. Main St., Suite 6, Rapid City, SD., 57702. He was also the founder and former editor and publisher of the Lakota Times and Indian Country Today newspapers)

    NAT Article#: 8004

    "Be good, be kind, help each other."
    "Respect the ground, respect the drum, respect each other."

    --Abe Conklin, Ponca/Osage (1926-1995)

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