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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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