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Fire Thunder Running For President Again

Tom Giago, founder of Indian Country Today wrote a strong response to the present situation on the Pine Ridge Reservation where the tribal president was impeached for taking a stand against the state of South Dakota's new strigent anti-abortion law. He is himself an Oglala tribal member.
"Hopefully some candidates fed up with the hypocrisy and lethargy of the present tribal council will prevail and bring some semblance of order back to a once proud tribal council. At a time when the Lakota people of the Oglala Sioux Tribe needed, nay demanded, strong, honest and decent leadership, this council became so enamored of its own power that it threw out all of the rules of good conduct and sank into a mud puddle of indecision and a viciousness unseen since the 1970s.

By first suspending and then impeaching the first woman ever elected to serve as President of the Oglala Sioux Tribe, Cecilia Fire Thunder, and doing these dirty deeds while she was not even present or was never given the opportunity to face her accusers, this tribal council has brought great shame upon itself and tarnished those members of this same council that did not go along with its shameful acts of self-indulgence.

The list of presidential candidates includes a few members of this disgraced council apparently hoping to win the presidency in order to carry on their chicanery on a higher level. "
He goes on to note that Cecelia Fire Thunder, knowing that she will not get a fair hearing about the legality of the impeachment proceedings is concentrating her efforts on getting re-elected. It is a shame that she has not been allowed to represent the people who elected her as president due to the machinations of the council. "Shameful acts of self-indulgence?" I could think of stronger words . . .

And one wonders, if the democratically-elected leader of a nation could be so easily sidelined, how strong is the democratic process? I mean, Clinton endured impeachment proceedings, but they were not done behind his back and with no recourse through the courts. And his presidency was not put into deep freeze until the next election. The Republicans tried to subvert the electoral process, but failed. Now they focus on fixing the elections through tampering with Diabold electronic voting machines. Will Peters and his crew won't have to do that, since the Oglala tribal democratic system is heavily weighted in their favor. And the similarity of their tactics to that of the neoconservative Republicans is striking as they have received so much support from the religious right in their anti-abortion/pro-life stance.

The judicial committee is made up of council members who initiated impeachment proceedings against her. They have yet to appoint a tribal judge for her case and it seems, will not before the elections in November. There are only two judges on the Oglala reservation and one has already recused herself from the case. So, the appointment should be obvious, but has not been done. The conflict of interest of some of the judicial committee members calls into question the undue influence of the council on the tribal courts.

Now, acting tribal president and presidential candidate Alex White Plume, a traditionalist, has proposed a law that would forbid members of the tribe from running for president who do not speak their language. His take on the tug of war between the council and the president that landed him in the presidency is as follows:
I know. I came to a realization that we created all these problems by using the English language because that's the general rule of thumb; now we are trying to solve the problems using the same language, and it's not working. So my feelings have to use a different language to solve those problems, this is the only way this can happen.
Someone tell White Plume (someone fluent in Lakota) that corruption and the venality of politicians is the same in any language. So how will they enforce the rule? Not many fluent in Lakota anymore-- how to explain the disenfranchisement of such a large number of Oglala? There are about 18,000 Oglala, 3,000 self-identified as Lakota-speaking. In the entire hemisphere there are only 14,000 Lakota speakers (that's including Canada). In a previous post I noted that the latest census numbers for Sioux was 120,000 (not including Canada, but including Nakota and Dakota). In Pine Ridge, that leaves about 16 per cent of the population to rule the rest. Probably less than that since the number is self-reported and of various abilities. Who knows how many would pass a Lakota fluency test if required for the Presidency?

I'm all for learning the language. I've actually made more headway learning Nakota than Navajo, but the price the tribe would pay in a dearth of qualified candidates makes the trade-off unreasonable. Or is White Plume using a cultural issue that should unify the people to divide the electorate and eliminate the competition? If so, it is a politically clumsy move and solves nothing. Take for example the Navajo tribe, which has had president after president who speaks Navajo fluently. I have not seen one that seems uniquely gifted to deal with the issues at hand. If it were not for the political necessity to give speeches in Navajo (most of the elderly electorate does not speak English and they vote at very high rates), I don't know if it would be absolutely necessary. I mean it's preferable, but good leadership is a combination of many things. Mainly the ability to form coalitions, a working governmental structure, the power to negotiate relationships with foreign entities, economic policy planning, management of social services and education, planning and, of course, "the vision thing". If a Lakota speaker shows signs of being a particularly promising leader people will notice. It doesn't matter if non-Lakota speaking Oglala are running against her.

In a perfect world, all Oglala would speak Lakota, but today, here and now, I think the Oglala people need the very best leadership and need to spread the net as wide as they can to find those leaders. Even 18,000 is not a lot to choose from. And that may require considering some off reservation-raised, non-Lakota speaking Oglala. I mean, you can learn a language, but the qualities that make a great leader are nebulous and rare-- as history has shown us over and over again. I suppose a lot of Lakota male traditionalists cloaked in the superiority of their purity are probably choking on their tunspina, oh, I mean tunspila right now.

Anyway, the problem in Pine Ridge at hand is not language. Language is something we can agree upon. The problem is a crisis in ethics and civil rights. I think White Plume's analysis of the situation is frighteningly flawed. Strengthen the separation of powers and a recommitment to civil rights and law. These are the answers in any language.

In his article entitled "Where Have All the Leaders Gone?" Giago goes on to say,
Former Principle Chief of the Cherokee Nation, Wilma Mankiller, told Fire Thunder two weeks ago to forget trying to get a fair hearing from the present tribal council and judiciary, but instead to concentrate on her efforts to get re-elected. I agree. There is an old saying that is senseless to kick a dead horse and that is where Fire Thunder’s efforts to get re-instated now rest. With only two months left to campaign it will take all of her will power and persuasion to re-enforce minds and to clear her good name.

Every member of the tribe who cast ballots for the current members of the tribal council should re-examine the reasons they supported those candidates. They should be asking themselves the following question: What did those people now serving on the tribal council accomplish for them and their districts in the past two years? And more important, what did they accomplish for the good of the Oglala Sioux Tribe?

If this sounds like I am supporting any single candidate it is not intended that way. I am a strong believer in justice and the way this council used its power to defraud the legal president of the OST, Ms. Fire Thunder, draws my ire. She did nothing that was deserving of this harsh and unfair treatment. As I said in a previous column, she was punished for her thoughts instead of her deeds.

But if every member of the Oglala Sioux Tribe would take an open-minded look at the things she did accomplish while under siege, I think they would be sufficiently impressed to re-consider her position as president.
I agree!
Jacqueline Keeler
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