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Tribe ensnared in abortion battle

Here is an article by Tribune reporter Judy Pares.
KYLE, S.D. -- Cecelia Fire Thunder likes to recount the legend of the White Buffalo Calf Woman, who delivered the sacred pipe and its teachings to the Lakota nation. Long ago, the legend goes, two men encountered a holy woman who first appeared to them as a white buffalo calf. One man, awe-struck, prayed. The other had lustful thoughts and tried to grab the woman. He was turned into a pile of bones.

"The first teaching of the pipe is sexual respect for women," said Fire Thunder, the first female president of the Oglala Sioux Tribe of the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation. Fire Thunder told the story recently to the tribal council, which had convened to impeach her over her support for an abortion clinic on the reservation. It did no good: The formidable, outspoken president was found guilty of overstepping her authority and ousted less than five months before the end of her two-year term. Fire Thunder is challenging her removal on procedural grounds. In the meantime, the tribe is embroiled in the politics of abortion--an issue about which the Lakota almost never speak. The battle allows glimpses of how a proud people is struggling amid the influences of a dominant white society, legal trends in South Dakota and political forces buffeting America. A foreign import The "anti-abortion" versus "pro-abortion rights" conflict is a foreign import to Lakota country, the westernmost part of the Great Sioux Nation. Some experts say the Lakota language doesn't even have a word for "abortion." Others insist Lakota women have always had medicines to terminate a pregnancy.

Here's more of the article:
Some of Fire Thunder's opponents argue that a pregnant woman no longer has a choice, because abortion is murder. "We're killing babies in utero all the time with drugs and alcohol," Fire Thunder retorts. "Who's worrying about that?" The motivation behind her removal goes beyond anti-abortion sentiment. Council members have tried to remove her three times since her election in November 2004. (The first two times the charges were dropped.) Opponents say that she is arrogant and spends too much time traveling the country. "Change isn't easy," she said. Both sides in the abortion debate claim to represent Lakota values. Those opposed to abortion--or to Fire Thunder--argue that life is sacred to the Lakota and all unborn children deserve protection. Fire Thunder agrees that life is sacred, then adds, "I don't think the White Buffalo Calf Woman would approve of pregnancy resulting from rape or incest."

The article ends with a quote from Will Peters, the councilman who co-sponsored the impeachment charges saying,
"I know she's been victimized. She has reasons to be a man-hater. But slow down, sister. All of us men are not like that."

That guy really needs to join the 21st century . . .

Tribe ensnared in abortion battle | Chicago Tribune
Jacqueline Keeler
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SD-Init: Abortion ban in trouble

More on the efforts to overturn the draconian anti-abortion law in South Dakota. It looks like they might be able to do it. 47% support the initiative to reject the ban on abortions and 39% are opposed. However, a large group 14% are undecided and nearly 60% would support the law if it included exceptions in the case of rape or incest.

Read more at: Daily Kos: SD-Init: Abortion ban in trouble
Also check out: South Dakota Campaign for Healthy Families - Vote No on 6!

This does nothing to help women on the Oglala Sioux nation, because the state initiative, if it passes, will not effect the tribe's ban on abortions. Who would have thought in the Civil Rights movement that supporting the rights of tribes to self-government would mean less civil rights, not more?
Jacqueline Keeler
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Fire Thunder to file suit in tribe's supreme court

An update on President Fire Thunder and her fight for due process and civil rights in the Lakota court system after her impeachment by anti-abortion activists on her reservation. The first judge recused herself from the case and reversed her decision and a new judge and court date have yet to be assigned to the case. There are only two other judges on the reservation. And the judicial committee that will select the judge is made up of two tribal councilmembers, one of whom filed the impeachment complaint against Fire Thunder.

As you can see from all of this how politicized and incestuous the judicial process is in Indian Country. Will Fire Thunder find justice in such a system?
Battling for her day in tribal court, former Oglala Sioux Tribe president Cecelia Fire Thunder will take her case to the OST Supreme Court, she said Friday.

On the day that Fire Thunder, 59, had been scheduled to appear in tribal court to challenge her removal as president, she announced that her lawyers will file suit next week in the tribe’s Supreme Court.

“This is about constitutional violations, procedural violations and strengthening our tribal courts,” said Fire Thunder, who believes that she is being denied due process in the lower court.

When tribal judge Lisa Adams recused herself from Fire Thunder’s case on July 17, proceedings were delayed to allow the OST Council to appoint a new judge. A new judge and court date has yet to be assigned, and Fire Thunder believes the delay has been too long.

“We’re aware that this is a stall tactic,” Fire Thunder said.

Valeria Apple, OST court administrator, said that a judge and hearing date had not been assigned as of Friday, but it might happen soon.

Apple said tribal council attorney Tom Blanco filed a motion to dismiss Fire Thunder’s case Friday.

Apple said it is up to the tribal council’s judiciary committee to appoint a judge.

She did say that the judiciary committee could appoint a judge for Fire Thunder’s hearing from its pool of two associate judges at Pine Ridge or possibly a judge from another reservation.

Calls from the Rapid City Journal to Blanco and to OST Councilman Garfield Steele of Manderson were not immediately returned Friday.

Steele, one of the two council representatives who filed the impeachment complaint against Fire Thunder, currently heads the judiciary committee, Apple said.

“It’s up to them to appoint the judge,” she said.

In removing the tribe’s first woman president from office, the tribal council cited Fire Thunder’s proposal to build a women’s health clinic on Pine Ridge Indian Reservation. On tribal lands, the proposed clinic likely would have been beyond South Dakota’s jurisdiction of an abortion ban, passed by the Legislature but referred to a statewide vote in November.

The OST council ousted its 36th president June 29 by a vote of 9-5. On July 17, Fire Thunder was briefly reinstated before the tribal judge rescinded her own court order.
The Rapid City Journal

Here's a longer article from an anti-abortion point of view. I love how they call a Planned Parenthood clinic an "abortion business!" Umm, I don't think profit is the motive here . . .
South Dakota Pro-Abortion Indian Tribe President Files Impeachment Lawsuit
Jacqueline Keeler
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Israel's secret war: the humanitarian disaster unfolding in Palestine

I must say that many Native Americans are appalled at terrorism, but one cannot help but to see the penning of the Palestinian people and occupation of their homeland and see parallels. I do wish there was a way that the Jewish people could have a homeland again without having to drive out local populations and displace them. I also wish that the Israeli government would and could win the hearts of the Arab people and that the Arab people could . . . but with bombing and children dying, how could it ever happen?

Independent Online Edition: Israel's secret war: the humanitarian disaster unfolding in Palestine
By Anne Penketh in Gaza City
Jacqueline Keeler
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Civil rights under Bush: It's a conservative Christian thing

The last we heard from [the Boston Globe's Charlie] Savage, he was shining a light on the way in which George W. Bush uses signing statements as a sort of veto lite for legislation he doesn't like but lacks the political will to veto. Now Savage is back with a new investigative report, this one exposing the way that the Bush administration has quietly gone about transforming the Justice Department's Civil Rights Division into a force for conservative legal views.

As Savage writes, prior administrations acknowledged the Civil Rights Division's need for political neutrality by putting panels of career attorneys, rather than political appointees, in charge of reviewing job applications and making recommendations for hires. John Ashcroft eliminated those panels in 2002, Savage says, allowing Bush administration political appointees to oversee hiring decisions themselves.

The results are about what you'd expect: The administration has stuffed 'the permanent ranks with lawyers who have strong conservative credentials but little experience in civil rights.' The numbers are striking. In the two years before Ashcroft changed the hiring procedures, 77 percent of the lawyers who got jobs in the Civil Rights Division had civil rights experience, Savage found. In the three years after, only 42 percent of them did -- and more than half of those 'gained their experience either by defending employers against discrimination lawsuits or by fighting against race-conscious policies,' Savage found.

So what kind of experience did the new breed of lawyers bring? Of 45 lawyers hired since 2003, 11 lawyers were members of the Federalist Society; seven were members of the Republican National Lawyers Association; six claimed membership in conservative Christian groups; and several more worked previously for conservatives like Ken Starr, Ed Meese and Trent Lott, Savage found."

For more read: War Room -
Jacqueline Keeler
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Fire Thunder ousted again

Well, the judge reversed her previous judgement and has revoked the reinstatement of Fire Thunder as President of the Oglala Sioux Tribe.

Will Peters, the tribal councilman who has been a major proponent for impeachment of Fire Thunder for her pro-abortion statements, made the surprise announcment after Fire Thunder's press conference on Tuesday.

"Peters said he and other council members, assisted by an attorney for the tribe, got the reinstatement revoked by citing a tribal law that prohibits injunctions against tribal officials.

The council members also argued, successfully, that the tribal council had not been allowed to defend its position.

Adams rescinded Fire Thunder's reinstatement, according to documents provided by Peters and by the Oglala Sioux Tribe, but the July 28 hearing at 1 p.m. in Pine Ridge stands.

Grey Eagle said he expects that hearing to be "packed."

Grey Eagle also argued that the law that Peters cited applies to permanent injunctions, not temporary injunctions. He said he would file a "memorandum of law" in tribal court in support of the temporary restraining order, but he said Fire Thunder would not directly challenge the most recent ruling. "We'll wait until the hearing July 28," he said."

Another issue brought up is the issue of free speech. I cannot believe this but the council are asserting that a tribal President can only say what the council says the President can say. This seems odd for a political figure. In most nations, the President or Prime Minister can stand in opposition to parliament or congress or whatever legislative body. It is part of the give and take of the political process. I can't imagine a world without it. Without this what power does the President have to effect change or assert leadership? And why are tribal leaders free from injunctions? It seems, that this would make them unaccountable.

"One key issue in the dispute is whether a president of the Oglala Sioux Tribe can make political statements without council approval.

Peters said, "She is free to do so as long as she is speaking in a positive manner about the tribe." But Fire Thunder should not have spoken about abortion without approval of the tribal council, he said. He called her clinic proposal "a slap in the face to the tribal membership," and he said that Fire Thunder had "engaged in unauthorized political activity."

Fire Thunder argued she was speaking as a private citizen and exercising her First Amendment rights. "I'm a real strong proponent of health care," she said."

You can read the rest of the article here:

The Rapid City Journal
Jacqueline Keeler
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Navajo councilwoman challenges Congress over relocation bill

I am watching this with some excitement. My grandmother's family is from the Big Mountain area and my husband Joe and I Sundanced there in support of the Big Mountain resistors right to remain on the land and prevent coal stripmining of the area and the use of some of the last drinking water in the Southwest for transporting the coal.

This councilwoman is the daughter of a former Navajo Chairman Peter MacDonald. He is a relative of my grandmother's and was sent to prison for taking kickbacks. Others contend that it was his desire to demand proper payment for energy resources and to end mineral rights giveaways by the BIA to corporations that led to his targeting by the U.S. government. Probably, a little of both.

ICT [2006/07/10] Navajo councilwoman challenges Congress over relocation bill>
"TUBA CITY, Ariz. - Speaking out against the Navajo Hopi Land Settlement Act of 2005, known also as Senate Bill 1003, Navajo councilman Hope MacDonald-LoneTree said the U.S. government is treating Navajos the same way Iraqi are treated, with disregard to rebuilding nations that have been devastated.
''The job ahead is bigger than trying to rebuild Iraq after bombing the entire infrastructure and disrupting their way of life. The federal government cannot just walk off and complain about the amount of federal monies expended,'' said LoneTree, Navajo council delegate for Tuba City and daughter of former Navajo Chairman Peter MacDonald.
''Money can be recouped, but lives lost and ruination of lives is far more devastating and morally wrong and cannot be recouped. The government needs to apologize and fix the mess they created,'' LoneTree told Indian Country Today. She said a study is necessary to determine exactly where funds should and need to go.
Sponsored by Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., the bill would bring about the closure of the Office of Navajo and Hopi Indian Relocation.
Even after the atomic bombing of Hiroshima, LoneTree said, residents were given the opportunity of a study to determine the damages and needs.
Further, she said U.S. congressmen should visit Navajo families in the affected area and see what misery Navajos have been forced to live with.
''I can't imagine anyone who would be so heartless to sponsor such a bill and yet not visit these areas and people to see the devastation they have endured for years. As well, those who are supporting this bill are not willing to have a study done to show the negative affects on the region and people. Even after Hiroshima, a study was made to avoid similar human tragedy.''
LoneTree said congressmen have dealt recklessly with the lives of people about whom they know little or nothing.
Jacqueline Keeler
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Fire Thunder reinstated

Finally, some good news from the Oglala Sioux Nation. Now, if we can just get the anti-abortion law struck down and the threat of banishment for women and those who seek to help them obtain an abortion.

ICT [2006/07/18] Fire Thunder reinstated

PINE RIDGE, S.D. - Oglala Sioux Tribal President Cecelia Fire Thunder was reinstated as tribal president by Oglala Sioux Tribal Judge Lisa Adams on July 17.

Fire Thunder filed a complaint in tribal court asking for an injunction against the tribal council for removing her from office, as she argues, illegally. She asked that she be reinstated until such time as a formal and lawful impeachment can be brought against her.

The tribal council impeached Fire Thunder from her presidency on June 29 after a hearing that Fire Thunder said violated her civil rights.

Tribal council members who voted against Fire Thunder claimed the justification for her removal was centered on a proposed women's health clinic that her detractors claim was an abortion clinic.

In the complaint Fire Thunder stated that her civil rights were violated because she was not given an evidence from the council so she could prepare her case, that she was not allowed an attorney and that the council vote was improper and not according to the constitution. She stated in her complaint that a two-thirds majority of the council, not of the quorum was needed to remove her. The council impeached her on a nine to four vote with 13 council members recorded as present. The council has 18 members, which Fire Thunder claims requires that 12 votes are needed to meet the two-thirds vote requirement.

She also claims that the council removed her from office on June 29 and a complaint, as is required by the tribal constitution, was not filed until three days later. The complaint, according to tribal law is required to be filed first.

The complaint also stated: ''That your Plaintiff's removal was allegedly based upon her actions as a private person and not as an elected President in violation of the OST Constitution.

''That your Plaintiff's removal from office was purportedly based upon her expression of free speech on a issue that she had the right to express her opinion on under the Indian Civil Rights Act and the OST Constitution and insofar as her removal was based upon her exercise of free speech it was unconstitutional and in violation of the Indian Civil Rights Act.

Councilmen Will Peters and Garfield Steele, who filed the original complaint against Fire Thunder, argued that the tribal council should have been informed of Fire Thunder's decision to start a women's clinic and that she needed council approval to do so.

A formal hearing on the complaint is schedule in tribal court for July 28.
Jacqueline Keeler
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Killing a nation, one airstrike at a time

Here is an article from on the continued bombing of Lebanon.

Killing a nation, one airstrike at a time | Salon News: "July 20, 2006 | BEIRUT, Lebanon -- The war finally hit home for the Francophile Christians of East Beirut when they ran out of baguettes. It was at about the same time the first Israeli airstrikes hit the nearby upscale neighborhood of Ashrafiyah, as Israeli jet fighters put an end to a stationary well-digging truck they confused for a Hezbollah rocket launcher operating from one of the most far-right-wing, anti-Muslim neighborhoods this side of Provo, Utah.
'No baguettes until [someone] implements 1559,' says Habib, my Christian grocer, who has a mangled left eye from his days as a gunman for a Phalange militia fighting alongside the Israelis against the Palestinians and other Muslim militias in Lebanon's brutal civil war, which raged from 1975 to 1990 and whose epilogue continues sadly today.
He's talking about the United Nations resolution that calls for Syria to militarily depart from Lebanon (done) and the disarming of both Hezbollah and a slew of armed factions in the Palestinian refugee community (currently under way via laser-guided airstrikes).
'Now we must let [the Israelis] end Hezbollah,' he continues. 'They have started it and destroyed Lebanon. It has been cruel of them to do this, but it cannot be wasted. At least we can see them disarmed and then maybe there will be peace.'

Early on, most Lebanese agreed that Hezbollah's operation to enter Israel and kidnap two Israeli soldiers was foolish and would draw a tough military response from the Israeli Defense Forces. Even Lebanese sympathetic to the group's aims admitted that it was an act of war (they denied that it was a terrorist act), but said that they hoped Israel would negotiate a release of the Hezbollah prisoners who have been held for years without trials in Guant�namo-style Israeli jails, a harsh legacy of Israel and its proxies' 18-year occupation of southern Lebanon. Nobody, except perhaps Hezbollah's top leadership, wanted a broad war couched in religious imagery. And even Hezbollah head Hassan Nasrallah was probably surprised at the ferocity of the Israeli attack.

The Israelis, and their backer the United States, have seized upon the border operation as a golden opportunity to savagely punish Hezbollah -- and much of Lebanon, while they're at it -- by air. Perhaps remembering it couldn't get the job done in 18 years of face-to-face fighting for control of south Lebanon, Israel has backed down from its earlier demand that Hezbollah be destroyed and disarmed and now seems to be settling for weakening Hezbollah, winning the return of its soldiers and establishing a security zone that will keep Hezbollah's rockets out of range of its border towns and cities.

But even as the Israelis have slightly softened their position, they have continued to smash not just Hezbollah, but Lebanon itself. An Israeli official promised to set the country back 20 years after the Hezbollah attack, and Israel is keeping its word. With the U.S. granting Israel another week to continue its attacks, anything that might conceivably be a Hezbollah asset, and many things that are not, are being bombed. Civilians, who are inevitably going to be killed by aerial bombardment, no matter how accurate, are deemed acceptable collateral damage. There are constant airstrikes against Hezbollah neighborhoods and military positions, Lebanese infrastructure (at least what remains of it) and occasionally against the Lebanese military, which is trying to stay out of the fight as much as possible but which Israel holds responsible for helping Hezbollah, including supposedly helping with a missile strike that severely damaged an Israeli destroyer. On Tuesday, Israeli planes struck a Lebanese army barracks in Kfar Chima near Beirut, killing 11 soldiers. They hit it because they had spotted Hezbollah forces transporting a two-stage missile nearby and were angry the Lebanese army had ignored a giant missile that could hit Tel Aviv being towed 200 meters outside its front gate.

Wednesday was Lebanon's bloodiest day yet. Israeli attacks killed 61 people, all but one of them civilians. Two hundred and ninety-seven Lebanese, all but a handful of them civilians, have been killed by Israeli bombs. Twenty-nine Israelis, most of them also civilians, have died."
Jacqueline Keeler
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Israelis See Their Own Nation As "Neighborhood Bully"

This is an interesting Israeli take on the present war boiling between Israel and Lebanon by Ira Chernus a Professor of Religious Studies at the University of Colorado at Boulder and author of the forthcoming book, "Monsters to Destroy: The Neoconservative War on Terror And Sin: Books: Ira Chernus" and "American Nonviolence: The History of an Idea".

"You can see Lebanon from my sister’s backyard. She and her family and thousands of others in northern Israel live with a constant roar of gunfire -- mostly from Israeli cannons aiming to kill Lebanese, occasionally from a Hezbollah shell that might land on them.

But the real threat to Israel doesn’t come from Lebanese rockets. The real threat comes from the Israelis themselves -- and the rest of the world -- forgetting how and why this war started.

Israel does not go to war just to retrieve kidnapped soldiers. In the past, it has been ready to ransom them by returning Palestinian and Lebanese captives that it holds, just as the kidnappers ask. So why war now? For answers I’ve turned to Jewish writers in Israel’s top newspaper, Ha’aretz.

Last month the two main Palestinian factions, Hamas and Fatah, agreed to form a united government and offer Israel a plan for permanent peace. A Ha’aretz columnist observed at the time that the peace offer “should have sparked a wave of positive reactions from Jerusalem … But Jerusalem's ear as usual is blocked to any sound that might advance the peace process.” Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert still insists on his unilateral “convergence” plan, which is merely “a plan to perpetuate the occupation, only under conditions more convenient for Israel. Moreover, at the end of the plan, if it is ever executed, even more settlers will live in the occupied territories than live there now.”

For the Israeli government, another Ha’aretz columnist wrote, “it is best that the Palestinians remain extremists because then no one will ask the government of Israel to negotiate with them. How do we ensure that the Palestinians remain radical? We simply strike at them, over and over.” So Israel responded to the Palestinian offer of negotiated peace with an allout assault on Gaza. That’s how and why it all began."

For more go to the Common Dreams link below:
Israelis See Their Own Nation As "Neighborhood Bully"
Jacqueline Keeler
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Could Bush Be Prosecuted for War Crimes?

AlterNet: War on Iraq: Could Bush Be Prosecuted for War Crimes?

More on Bush and the potential for persecution for war crimes. The press did not make clear to the American public that an unprovoked war, based on supposition, a preemptive war to take out a perceived, potential threat-- but not an country that has actual attacked us first, is a war crime under international law. Now the chief prosecutor at Nuremburg who successfully prosecuted the Nazi regime says there is a case against the Bush Administration for the "supreme crime against humanity, an illegal war of agression against a sovereign nation."
Jacqueline Keeler
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Col. Janis Karpinski: U.S. Covered Up Deaths of Women Soldiers Who Died Trying to Protect Themsel

Women's Space/The Margins Col. Janis Karpinski: U.S. Covered Up Deaths of Women Soldiers

This is pretty shocking. U.S. women soldiers in Iraq were dying of dehydration in their sleep because they were refusing the evening water in 120 degree heat. The reason? So they wouldn't have to go to the latrines at night were male soldiers were waiting to rape them.

What was the response of the senior US military commander, Lt. General Ricardo Sanchez in Iraq? "The women asked to be here, so now let them take what comes with the territory."
Jacqueline Keeler
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Fire Thunder Impeachment and the Rights of Women

I begin to realize more and more how out of step I am with the majority of Native Americans. The thin veneer of Native American activist, liberal, or educated Indigenous folk, like myself, have done much to promote the idea of an enlightened Indigenous tradition that was lost to U.S. imperialism. But now, faced with the impeachment of the Oglala Sioux Tribal President Cecelia Fire Thunder in South Dakota for doing nothing more than proposing a Planned Parenthood clinic on her own land calls into question the assumptions that I have long held about my own people.

President Fire Thunder stood up for a woman’s right to choose under the flag of tribal sovereignty in opposition to the state of South Dakota's new anti-abortion law, which outlaws abortion even in the case of rape or incest. Tribal sovereignty as it exists now under U.S. constitutional law arises out of an 1831 Supreme Court ruling that determined the legal status of tribes to be “domestic dependent nations.” It laid the precedent that states, occupying a lower tier than tribes could not exert jurisdiction over these “domestic dependent nations”. The federal government alone enjoys this power.

In addition to impeaching the president, the Oglala Tribal council went one step further than the state of South Dakota -- not only making abortion illegal, but they made seeking an abortion, or helping someone seek an abortion punishable by banishment from the reservation. So, if a young women is a victim of incest or rape and seeks help from another woman to find an abortion clinic, she and her friend would be banished. Meanwhile, the tribal council resists efforts to deal as stringently with the issue of rape, incest and violence against women, so the men who perpetuate rape are not similarly punished.

When I say “my own people," I must clarify that I am not Oglala Lakota, but a Navajo tribal member and my father is Yankton Dakota Sioux. My father's tribe is a member of what was once called in history books as The Great Sioux Nation, which included the Tetons as well, of which, the Oglala are a subgroup. And I know, my dad's tribe located some 200 miles across the state of South Dakota are not so different from their cousins west of the Missouri River in cultural ideas and perceptions.

In the parlance of my mother's people I am "born for the Yankton Dakota", however, as we are matrilineal, I am considered to be fully a member of my mother's clan and people. Boys are considered only half-members, and traditionally, would grow up to live with their wife’s people and their children would be of her clan. The Sioux, or Lakota/Dakota have always been more egalitarian in their approach to lineages. Living equally with one side or the other. Grandparents often followed their children and grandchildren and were called “child followers”. Like grandparents in any community, they enjoyed gushing about their little ones and not wanting to be parted from them followed them to long "Indian visits" from October until April to the in-law's encampment. Today, the United States government insists that parents from different tribes, like mine, can only enroll their children in one tribe. So my parents after much soul searching, chose to enroll me and my sisters in the Navajo tribe.

Despite the Federal designation, I have always felt a great affinity to my Yankton side. The writings of great-great aunt Ella Deloria were a revelation to me about what society could be and mean to the individual. She was fluent in all three dialects of Lakota/Dakota/Nakota (abbreviated LDN). My great-aunt interviewed elders in the early 20th century on LDN reservations in Montana, North Dakota, and South Dakota. She recorded their recollections of traditional culture in their own words and then translated them verbatim into English and then did a second translation retaining the idiomatic flavor. Her work has served as a solid foundation for future cultural scholars.

In college, her books were taught in my Native American studies courses. For my senior thesis, I sought out unpublished manuscripts held in collections at the University of South Dakota and the Southwest Museum of the American Indian in Los Angeles and the Dakota Indian Foundation in Chamberlain, South Dakota. My thesis was, quite naturally, on Yankton womanhood and I made note of everything that would help me understand the role of women in Dakota society. I learned things about my culture that were no longer being taught. Later, when I participated in Lakota ceremonies I duly noticed the differences, particularly, in the role women played. Some of the changes were progressive, others painfully regressive.

I found that many of the leaders today of the Wiwang Wacipi, or Sundance as it is called in English, were not Lakota. They had become active in Lakota ceremonies after stints in prison or after hard-living had brought them to this way of life in order to forge a more emotionally honest and solid lifestyle. To be honest, some Lakota men, and men of other tribes, seemed to derive a lot of personal gain from participating. Not so much monetarily, but in personal power over followers and positions of prestige within their spiritual groups. It is somewhat similar to the guru position enjoyed by some traditional spiritual practitioners in India and with similar New Age followers. The lack of knowledge of historical Lakota cultural structure meant that a lot of misinformation was spread and foisted upon these followers who were willing to put up with a lot to have a true Native American experience.

I found myself challenging these misconceptions with personal family stories and research. I was shocked that generally progressive, feminist women were allowing themselves to be bullied by “tradition” into regressive roles. None of the participants had ever read any of my great-aunt’s writings. Although, some wicasa wakan (holy men) told me they had read and been inspired by the writings of her nephew Vine Deloria, Jr. Particularly, "God Is Red: A Native View of Religion" and "Custer Died for Your Sins: An Indian Manifesto".

I know many women in different movements have encountered this experience. They join a movement and find themselves, despite their education and intellect being expected to make the coffee and clean the dishes while male leaders sit around and hold councils and reenact the old days. The modern feminist movement was born of this experience in the Civil Rights and the Free Speech movements. But progressive women seeking traditional Indigenous knowledge are at a distinct disadvantage. They can only, to a limited extent, bring their ideas of womanhood to the table and for the most part must accede to the superior knowledge of the (most likely) male traditionalist.

My great aunt’s descriptions of Lakota life are eloquently encapsulated in two of her books, the ethnographic novel, "Waterlily" and another more polemical work "Speaking of Indians" more in the vein of her famous nephew. The first time I read "Waterlily", I cried. I felt a deep loss for something I had never known. I had lost my place in a community to which I could have completely belonged in a way, that I could not in this fractured, Anglo-centric society.

I remember in my Native American studies class, a white, male student who mocked the descriptions of Lakota society in "Water Lily", saying that the author had to have made up such a perfect society, since everyone knows Indian societies were unfair and brutal places to live. The professor, Elaine A. Jahner, who had edited a book on Ella Deloria’s translations and studied under her, stated simply and firmly, that nothing was made up. Everything was exactly as she had documented it.

But was everything as perfect as she documented it? There was even in earlier days, a reconstruction of Lakota society going on. A reinterpretation as seen in George Sword’s narratives and translated by Ella working for “the father of American anthropology” Franz Boas. George Sword was a Lakota man who was literate in Lakota and wrote these stories down between 1890 and 1910. Later, when Ella tried to verify the stories by going back to the reservations in the 1930's no one could recall ever hearing the stories told that way before. He had reinvented them to fit the conventions of European fairytales. No one had every told the stories that personified the sun and other figures of cosmology. It was a revolutionary development, something Sword pursued as a way of preserving the spirit of the stories yet translating them into new cultural idioms for future generations to enjoy.

Elaine Jahnner delighted in telling the story about an elder in Montana who was the last in her tribe to know the old stories. She visited her at the grandson’s request, because his grandmother wouldn’t tell him the stories. He hoped that Jahnner, his teacher, would have better luck and be able to record the stories before his grandmother died. When she entered the grandmother’s cabin, she was given a book to read. This was a published account done years before of the tribe’s stories. She instructed Jahnner to read the book to her and every time she disagreed with something in the book she would bring her cane down on the floor and roughly poke Elaine with the cane.

Finally, she said, “No more! See? That’s why I won’t tell my stories! I’m going to die with them intact!”

Once, when I asked Vine Deloria, Jr., what his aunt had told him about the old traditions, he shook his head and told me that she wouldn’t tell him anything. She had said that she’d rather die with the information than have the next generation get it all wrong. She said that these things were so important to the elders she knew, and they held them so dear that it would be worse to see them misinterpreted than to see them die out completely.

I was completely frustrated by this attitude. It was the opposite of the method of learning and education I had received in school. I talked to my relative, Phil Lane, Sr., my grandmother’s cousin, but who was more like a grandfather to me. My own grandfather had died when my dad was 15, so I never knew him. Often, traditionally, the mother’s brother is the one who plays the role of instructing his sister’s children. In the Navajo way, he is their clan relative, and of course, the father is not. Although, my dad’s tribe is not matrilineal, the uncle still plays this role. So, in a way as my grandmother’s male relative, as her brothers were all dead, he was just fulfilling an age-old duty, being an uncle to my father and a lala (grandfather) to his children.

When I told him these stories that I had heard at school and how they had upset me he just laughed. He explained to me that in the traditional way they taught in a different way. It wasn’t like in school where everyone is taught the same things at the same time, whether they are ready for it or not. Each individual was evaluated by the elder and then it was determined whether they should know a story or any sort of lesson. He also told me how it was considered extremely impolite to ask someone a question. You waited until they told you. You just figured if they wanted you to know they would tell you. If you really needed to know something that information would be revealed to you, by a vision, a teacher or through observing nature. So, the grandmother’s actions showed that she had judged her grandson not ready to know the stories and that she had confidence in future generations to discover those stories that were important to them on their own through methods available to them. This certainly made me feel better, but I still just wanted to know the traditions and have them told to me.

But, really, it was up on the hill on a vision quest fasting that I came to understand this way of thinking. Seeking a vision of my own, I came to understand how hard won these insights were and how beloved the society was to those that had lost it. It was, as my great-aunt said, “A way of life that worked.” And I would add, for them. Because each generation must find their own way. Their own traditions that work for them at this time. Our elders wanted us to do it that way. We cannot as modern Lakota/Dakota/Nakota or even Dine or American women be constrained by them. We can be informed by them, even inspired, but we must make decisions for our bodies, our future, our well-being that are sensible and that show that we value ourselves. We, as women, are more than our biology, we are more than just baby machines for a Lakota Nation, a Dakota Nation, or a Nakota Nation. We are productive members of society, we are the ones earning the college degrees, holding the jobs and are the ones by and large, that must raise the children, earn wages to buy them shoes and pay for their futures. We must be the ones to be able to make these choices concerning our bodies.

It may be tradition to do this or that, according to this person or that, but we must look clearly at what future we are dealing our young women when we assign them this lot so early in life. Especially, if that child is from rape or incest. Women are capable of knowing whether they have the resources to give a child a good life. Unless, they are able to make that choice the continued cycle of grinding poverty will continue to spiral out of control. This is not about killing babies, but about growing strong families that have the resources to take care of each other. If we speak of a tradition that values life, we must also speak of a tradition that valued self-control. Lakota/Dakota/Nakota men were taught to control their sexual drive. Traditionally, a man was not a man unless he could control himself. A couple that had children closer than four years apart faced deep shame in the community. It was regarded and called “killing the child”. Children were supposed to be spaced four years apart, any less and you endangered the older child. It was a shame that stayed with the “killed child” for the rest of their lives. People who knew would look upon that child with pity. Even in old age it would be remembered how the parents had disrespected their elder child.

So, when we talk about tradition, we must realize that it cannot work in bits and pieces. And that even if wholly intact, it may not work at all today. If women must not commit abortion, then Lakota men on the reservation must practice this traditional form of manhood and have strict control of their sexual drive. The reason women on the reservation face some of the highest rates of rape and incest in the country is because men, obviously, do not practice this. One gender cannot pay the price for a broken society. And we cannot ignore the real price women pay and that children pay raised in difficult circumstances. Raising children is no small feat. And periods of pregnancy and childbirth mark periods of the greatest economic stress for families in the United States on or off the reservation. Expectant parents in the United States are more likely to slide below the poverty level. Women in the workforce, educated or not, are more likely to face negative job performance reviews when they are pregnant. Society punishes women for veering from the male norm. Asking women to bear children in order that no Lakota fetus may be killed sounds noble, but does it change anything? The Oglala tribe resides in Shannon County, consistently ranked as the poorest county in the nation. Resources are scarce. Unemployment at 85%. Pregnancy reduces the chances of young women to get an education, provide for their children and improve the economic status of future generations. Even for college-educated women, paying for childcare can be an expensive proposition and expecting grandma or some other female relative to stay home and watch the children is not always feasible as most of the tribal members who hold jobs on the reservation are female. Most of the college degrees held by tribal members are held by women. Yet, most of tribal council is male.

There was a certain pragmatism to the old Lakota/Dakota/Nakota traditions perceptible in the harsh community condemnation of parents who bore children too close together. It is obvious that they valued the life that already exists more than that might be. That they held self-evident that parents and the community should do everything in their power to ensure the well-being for the children who already exist to not only survive, but thrive. How is the Oglala Nation doing this today if they do not value the lives and potentiality of their women? Why are they willing to create a generation of "killed women"? Even of "killed children" as many of these young women are little more than children themselves? I am a mother and I am raising two children. The effort and daily investment in each child is great even after only 6 years of motherhood. I value my children and as such, I value their potential. I would never demand my daughter, as a teenager, bear a child of rape or of incest. It would be devaluing her. It would be "killing" her because I am forcing into life another life before the present is able to bear it. This was something that our ancestors understood. Perhaps, better than we do now.

And if we create a society of our own, now, today that we love and enjoy and raise children who are beautiful and safe from harm, are we not truly then following in our ancestors' footsteps? Isn’t that really the kind of society they would have understood and valued? Isn’t that, after all, what they had hoped and prayed for in those tumultuous last days before the hoop was broken?
Jacqueline Keeler
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Cecilia Fire Thunder, Some Personal Background

The Rapid City Journal

"She came home to Pine Ridge in 1986 and took a job working the night shift at Bennett County Hospital. She helped found the Oglala Lakota Women's Society and organized against child abuse, domestic violence and fought for the simple principle of 'sober leadership.'

She knew she wanted to participate in tribal politics, but she waited until she thought she was ready.

'Ready for what?' I ask.

'The pain and anger on the reservation is so deep that I knew I would be attacked. I didn't want to run for office until I knew I was strong enough not to take the criticisms personally.

'There are some people in the community who want me to fail because I am a woman. But they have to understand that 68 percent of the college graduates on the reservation are women. Seventy percent of the jobs are held by women. Over 90 percent of the jobs in our schools are held by women.'

She ran for president on a promise to clean up tribal government. But she had no idea just how bad the problems were. 'The first two months were financial chaos. Our credit rating was just horrible. We had huge debt payments coming due, and no money to pay them. I was getting calls at home from vendors saying that we hadn't paid them in a year. It was like walking into a nightmare.'

By the time she sorted it all out, she figured that the tribe was juggling almost $20 million in short-term debt.

True to her spirit as a community organizer, she picked up the phone and started calling ... casino tribes. When no one replied, she told her staff to write letters ... again and again. Finally, the president of the Shakopee Tribe in Minnesota offered to help. After weeks of negotiations, President Fire Thunder secured a $38 million loan at 6.5 percent interest for 15 years. She paid off the tribe's debts and invested half the money in an expansion of the tribe's casino.

For the first time in decades, the tribe is on solid ground financially. But the criticisms keep coming. Some people on the reservation are convinced that she leveraged the loan with tribal land, a charge she vehemently denies."

She sounds like one tough lady, but tribal politics is an ugly thing. Really ugly when you consider how much in debt the tribe was and the thanks they gave her for looking for help!
Jacqueline Keeler
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More on Abortion Rights on the Pine Ridge Reservation

ICT [2006/06/26] Fire Thunder: Halting sexual violence should lead political agenda

This is an excellent article written by a Yakama Indian journalist for The Oregonian here in Portland. I like how she examines the basis of the conflict between men on the tribal council and women who voted for Fire Thunder and tradition. The rise of the abuse of women on the reservation has been the result of colonization and poverty that followed the loss of land and traditional social structures.

I find it ironic that it is now women who will be banished for attempting to have an abortions while Fire Thunder notes that traditionally men were banished for raping women.

"Most women on the Pine Ridge reservation, she said, know someone who has been raped. And the stories pour out as women across the reservation start to talk: stories about children bearing male relatives' babies.

Rape victims in particular, Fire Thunder said, need to have the option to terminate the resulting pregnancy.

'Having sex with a female member of your family was something that we banished for, speaking traditionally,' she said."

This is the unspoken subtext to the debate going on in the reservation.

Another quote, outlines the problem with men in power and why they will not look at the situation with compassion for the women of their tribe.

"Deb Rooks-Cook, who is chairwoman of Oglala Junior District on the Pine Ridge Reservation, remembers, calling on the council to take a stand against sexual violence 20 years ago.

But her dad, who served on the Pine Ridge Council in 1979 and 1980, told her not to expect any response. She remembered him saying, 'You're talking to the perpetrators.'

Two years ago, Rooks-Cook was part of the two-thirds majority who voted for Fire Thunder. "

I don't know if the council is still made up of "perpetuators" as her dad noted 25 years ago, but the inability of the community to deal in an effective manner about the issues of incest and rape denotes a deeply rooted conflict.

As a former program administrator for a teen pregnancy prevention program for Native American youth, I'd have to say that the social and personal cost of teen pregnancy is extremely high to the young woman, her family, her child, her grandchildren and the community. From personal family experience on the reservation, I can say that young women pay a heavy price for taking that route in life. And not just them, but the price in spirally poverty in each generation that follows is even higher. Tribal leaders need to look honestly at the social costs of teen pregnancy and protect children from rape, provide health care that the mother needs or wishes to have and provide real programs with proven success records to help young people build a better future for themselves.
Jacqueline Keeler
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Neo-Nazi's on the Front line

Hate Groups Are Infiltrating the Military, Group Asserts - New York Times

Okay, this might be a little alarmist. How many neo-nazis are there anyway? I think the number is pretty small.
Jacqueline Keeler
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The lost boys of Colorado City

The lost boys of Colorado City | Salon Life

In a companion piece to the previous Salon post, I would like to recommend this article written about the boys who had been banished from their homes in a fundamentalist Mormon town that still practices polygamy. Basically, for any slight moral infraction a boy can be banished from his home, family, etc and left to fend for himself in the neighboring "gentile" towns in southern Utah and northern Arizona.

This fundamental sect split from mainline Mormonism when church leaders agreed to give up polygamy in order to gain statehood for Utah. There is support of this town by local politicos and, according to a former LDS Bishop-- even among the mainline Mormon leadership. Many Mormon leaders have been quoted as saying they would return to polygamy if they could as it is a main tenet of their religion. Since excess boys are not needed in this system they are sort of just abandoned. It's a pretty sad story. They don't have a real education, just a religious one, and have little knowledge of the outside world. Some fall into drugs and prostitution.
Jacqueline Keeler
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The disbeliever

The disbeliever | Salon Books

Check this out. Salon has a great article about the role of absolutist religious ideas in creating havoc and violence in our world. Excellent article. The author, Sam Harris of the book The End of Faith: Religion, Terror, and the Future of Reason is an atheist who feels that even moderate religious folks bear a responsibility for the indulgence and support that extremists get. He also takes a good look at the holy books and finds them pretty scary and not viable to pluralistic and civil society's survival.

Harris is completing his PhD in neuroscience, but keeps his location and university a secret, because of death threats he has received from Christians.
Jacqueline Keeler
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Army Files Three Charges Against Lt. Watada

I have been following the case of Lt. Watada who has refused orders to fight in Iraq because he believes that the war is illegal. He is not opposed to war and will fight in Afghanistan, because he believes we have legitimate cause to be there. I applaud his stance. The war is illegal under international law. You cannot preemptively strike another nation and there is no proof the Iraq government participated in 9-11.

Please check out this site supporting Lt. Watada:

In the present army a soldier is not supposed to question orders. However, when the world judged the Nazi's at Nuremburg, soldiers were held to international law, which requires them to disobey illegal orders. "I was just following orders", is not a sufficient defence.

This also reminds me of a family story of a conversation between my ancestor Chief White Swan and another ancestor General Alfred Sully. After Sully threatened to kill all of our tribe for harboring our cousins, the Santee after the Minnesota Sioux Uprising.

White Swan angrily came at him with a knife saying, "You monster! Come down off that horse and fight me man to man. When your men are fighting you sit on the highest hill on the fastest horse watching from binoculars and if any of your men get scared and run away you shoot them. If our warriors lose heart we figure that they will fight better another day. And when we go to battle my young men come after me saying, 'We have to make sure the old man doesn't get himself killed!' You come down here and fight me and then it will be over with."

Now this system is still in place and I think my great-great grandfather did a good job describing the plight of the soldier versus the warrior of our tribe. Sully backed off when he heard this and said that he didn't mean what he had said about killing all the men, women and children.

White Swan stood back and said, "I don't know what else you could have meant."

The Santee were allowed to stay and the Yanktons lived to tell the tale of their defiance.
Jacqueline Keeler
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Council Bans Anyone Attempting to Get an Abortion from Reservation

I just read this article, which makes the situation even worse. Apparently before the council impeached Fire Thunder they also passed a ban that "contains a provision to banish from the reservation anyone who considers getting an abortion or helps someone else obtain one."

The article continues:

"Then the council turned to Fire Thunder. In a 14-to-1 vote, the council of 18, mostly men, suspended her, pending an impeachment hearing.

Peters, as reported by the newspaper Indian Country Today, thanked those who may have been conceived as a result of rape for attending the meeting. Later, in an interview for Women's eNews, he called for a forum where tribal members could discuss the merits of abortion.

But [Charon] Asetoyer said such a public debate is in complete opposition to the traditional practice of tribal women.
'These matters are not up for scrutiny by our male counterparts,' she said. 'This is a discussion for women to have in privacy of other women. Whoever calls for public debates has been totally converted to a colonial way of thinking.'"

I should note that Charon Asetoyer is an Oklahoma Indian married to a member of my dad's tribe, the Yankton Sioux and runs the Native American Women's Health and Education Resource Center (NAWHERC) on our reservation that has done an excellent job helping women, both in the terms of health education and in job retraining.

The council's ban is a poor response to a State law that does not allow abortions even in the case of rape and incest. Especially when you consider the fact that American Indian women are three times more likely to be the victims of rape than other American women according to U.S. Justice department.
Jacqueline Keeler
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Rosa Brooks: Did Bush commit war crimes?

"THE SUPREME Court on Thursday dealt the Bush administration a stinging rebuke, declaring in Hamdan vs. Rumsfeld that military commissions for trying terrorist suspects violate both U.S. military law and the Geneva Convention.

But the real blockbuster in the Hamdan decision is the court's holding that Common Article 3 of the Geneva Convention applies to the conflict with Al Qaeda — a holding that makes high-ranking Bush administration officials potentially subject to prosecution under the federal War Crimes Act.

The provisions of the Geneva Convention were intended to protect noncombatants — including prisoners — in times of armed conflict. But as the administration has repeatedly noted, most of these protections apply only to conflicts between states. Because Al Qaeda is not a state, the administration argued that the Geneva Convention didn't apply to the war on terror. These assertions gave the administration's arguments about the legal framework for fighting terrorism a through-the-looking-glass quality. On the one hand, the administration argued that the struggle against terrorism was a war, subject only to the law of war, not U.S. criminal or constitutional law. On the other hand, the administration said the Geneva Convention didn't apply to the war with Al Qaeda, which put the war on terror in an anything-goes legal limbo."

Now, we just need the court to look at if pre-emptive war is justified . . .
Jacqueline Keeler
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Fire Thunder impeached

The Chairwoman of the Oglala Tribe on the Pine Ridge Reservation was impeached on June 29th and removed from office by the tribal council. She had proposed building an abortion clinic on the reservation in defiance of a recent South Dakota state ban on abortions-- one of the most comprehensive in the country. Tribal lands are not subject to State Laws as they are considered to be "Dependent Domestic Nations" under Constitutional Law and as such are subject only to Federal jurisdiction. A fact, that has often rankled State's rights activists. Her proposal was greeted with cheers from abortion rights supporters, the only positive news out of South Dakota in recent months.

I suppose it comes as a shock to me to hear that the tribal council would take such a step. Councilman Garfield Steele was quoted as saying, "In the past everything was about the children. I can't tell you [women] what to do with your bodies, but when you are pregnant the person inside you doesn't belong to you. Women with a baby inside don't have a choice." Another councilman, Will Peters, co-signer with Steele on the complaints that led to impeachment of Fire Thunder, is quoted in the Washington Post as saying that under Lakota values, abortion is wrong and life is sacred.

Women don't have a choice? Lakota values say abortion is wrong? Granted, I am Nakota from across the Missouri River, but after a lot of research through my great-aunt Ella Deloria's interviews with Lakota and Nakota elders in the early 1900's, I'd have to say those statements are, from a cultural perspective not true. Women had choices. Today, they do not.
Jacqueline Keeler
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