Nov 23, 2013 - The Oglala will not sell out the Black Hills by Brandon Ecoffey
The Oglala will not sell out the Black Hills. The people of the Oglala nation will not stand for it.
After a poorly written and irresponsible proposed resolution came to light last week, shock waves were sent across Indian Country fueled by fear and false rhetoric on social media. Media reports written by armchair journalists from near and far gave the panic legs.
Two lessons were learned from the fiasco; one is that you cannot write news based off of one interview and a press release, and more important if any tribal official makes a run at relinquishing our legal and moral claim to the Black Hills, they are committing political suicide.
Despite what many people are saying about the Oglala selling out, this incident proves the opposite. The majority of people on the Pine Ridge reservation would rather choose to live in poverty than turn the most sacred place in the world over to the “fat takers.” The descendants of Red Cloud, Crazy Horse, Dick Wilson, and Russell Means will always be the first to mount our horses when it is time to defend the people, you can guarantee that.
Now truth be told there was an offer put forward from President Obama in 2009 to work with the tribal nations of the 1868 treaty of Ft. Laramie on finding ways to resolve the Black Hills Land Claim. In addition there was an ordinance drafted by someone within the Oglala Sioux Tribe that did not take into account the ramifications of including language that does not clearly outline the consensus view of the people. This truth is that we will not as a tribal government or as a people ever accept money in exchange for the Black Hills. The resolution, once exposed by community members and Native Sun News, became a pariah because of the murky language that could be interpreted as going against the will of the people.
A very small minority of people within tribal government allowed for this resolution to gain momentum and for the questionable language to be included. What is more important to note however is that the people held the government responsible and many council members have now come forward and recognized the inherent and immediate danger of passing this resolution and have vowed to stop it. This is how popular democratic governance is supposed to work and for once it did for the people of the Oglala Nation.
Going forward this provides an opportunity for us to reassess how we educate the people about what is happening in tribal government and how we instill the important knowledge both legal and cultural in to the epistemologies of the coming generations of Oglala.
Tribal governments need to utilize news outlets like Native Sun News that have the ability to reach millions across the country while at the same time doing it in a professional way. Those covering our communities must have a basic sense of the power dynamics that exist in them to adequately report on them. If you haven’t been shaped by the rez you cannot accurately interpret it. Tribes also need to create transparency by providing the people with knowledge through responsible uses of social media via Twitter and Facebook.
Print newspapers like Native Sun News reach the segment of the population who do not access the internet. Working with Native owned and operated papers would allow for the tribe to stop relying on news outlets with only an elementary understanding of our communities from profiting off of the division they create by writing “shock and awe” news . The next step is that by developing a policy of utilizing Twitter and Facebook or websites like LastRealIndians.com the tribe can unveil the inner workings of tribal government from the shadow under which they operate on a daily basis at the same time reaching the millions who do not read print publications.
From my own experience with tribal council members it isn’t that they purposely hide what they do. The majority of them are in their job because they love their children and their community members. Like all people they make mistakes but they would not endure the constant barrage of criticism they receive if they did not care. There are positive projects being developed by the tribe but rarely does the majority hear about them. Finding ways to use social media and a Native American newspaper to provide the people access to what is happening is both a good public relations strategy and a necessary service to the people.
There also must be a dramatic shift in how we instill our reasons for holding on to the Black Hills Land Claim and our legal and moral reasons for not taking the money through education. Culturally our connection and reverence for the land is rooted in our language and spirituality. It is the responsibility of our tribe and the federal government to ensure that there is a place for them in our school system. The tribe must go to bat for language immersion even if it means directly targeting the funding of other programs that serve less of a purpose. What good does basket weaving in Atlanta do for our people on the rez? If NIEA and NCAI are not willing to do it then we must unite and go forward with our allies on the plains at our side and treaty in hand. It is time for us to represent our own interests or no one else will.
Finally basic Federal Indian law needs to be added to the curriculum being used in our schools. Our communities are constantly under attack by politicians and those who are waving the white flag. Giving our youngest people access to this history and knowledge must be institutionalized by the tribe. An educated populace is a powerful one.
The new Indian wars are here. The Oceti Sakowin and our allies are being called upon to defend the people and the land. Tell the warriors to gather the horses it is time for those of us on the Northern Plains to ride together once again.
(Brandon is an enrolled member of the Oglala Sioux Tribe who earned his education at Dartmouth College. He is the managing editor of Native Sun News and a contributor to LastRealIndians.com. He has been published globally and also works as the Life and Current events editor at Native Max Magazine. He can be contacted at email@example.com)