Grass Roots Oyate
January 16, 2000
Until we Win
COMMENTARY PROVIDED BY:
MILA YATAPIKA EYAPAHA
& FIRE ON THE PRAIRIE
"Pitfalls Along The Path of Those Who Struggle For A Just Government On Pine Ridge Reservation Co-optation By The U.S. Government
Porcupine, SD, Mila Yatapika Eyapaha, March 31, 2000:
People struggling to replace their corrupt, US government supported IRA (Indian Reorganization Act) government on the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation in southwestern South Dakota want far more than cosmetic changes to the Oglala Sioux Tribal Constitution that was imposed on the people by the US Government. The primary author of the OST Constitution was a white anthropologist named Haviland Scudder-Mekell, who headed up the Applied Anthropology Staff Division of Indian Affairs for the famous reformer John Collier, the Commissioner of Indian Affairs who helped shepherd the IRA through Congress, resulting in its enactment in 1934.
The OST Constitution has been amended several times, but it remains a weak document, silent in many places, and full of loopholes and ambiguities. It functions as it was intended to function, rendering the Oglala Sioux Tribal Government a weak institution that is primarily responsive to outside institutions and commercial interests; it functions as an arm of the federal (United States) government, rather than an instrument for advancing the interests of the Oglala Oyate (people) as a whole.
Unwritten Lakota woope (laws) that governed the conduct of the Oyate, including the leadership, are directly at odds with the IRA form of weak representative government that the people have been saddled with since the 1930s. Wacante ognake is one of the woope that governs traditional Lakota leadership. An acceptable translation is "He (or She) holds the people in his (or her) heart." Putting the interests of the Oyate first, and interests of self last does not fit well with the current style of governance that was designed by Mekeel and bureaucrats within the Indian service in the 1930s. Individuals who hold office in the IRA form of government would be sorely challenged to put wacante ognake into practice under the current structure which allows for de facto, through unacknowledged, interference by US government officials in the business of governance.
The aspirations of many Lakota people who are members of the Oglala Sioux Tribe on Pine Ridge Reservation are in danger of being co-opted by the efforts of the BIA, which is working in concert with other institutions to channel and control the process of change. Assistant Secretary of the Interior for Indian Affairs, Kevin Gover, has offered the technical services of the BIA for effective change. Robert "Little Bob" Ecoffey, the BIAs Pine Ridge Agency Superintendent, was contacted by Lionel Bordeaux, President of Sinte Gleska (Spotted Tail) University in neighboring Rosebud Reservation, offering mediation services and offering to conduct neutral forums for input from the people. Oglala Lakota College on Pine Ridge Reservation is going to play a role. The effort is being backed by the BIA. The Grass Roots Oglala Lakota Oyate have rejected participation and their position has been articulated by Chief Oliver Red Cloud. But the colleges, backed by the BIA, have the resources necessary to conduct their own process. If history is a guide, the BIA will gather input, codify it selectively, and present it back to the people in a referendum, thereby "cooling out the opposition". The pattern is familiar and has been followed time and time again in colonial contexts.
The Grass Roots Oglala Lakota Oyate will need to conduct a vigorous campaign of popular education if they want to counter the move by established institutions to control the process of change. If those institutions are allowed to take the lead role, changes that result will be like window dressing. Unless the people rise to the challenge and control the process of change themselves, the current form of governance, which is in thrall to outside commercial and government interests, and is controlled by a small, self-interested group, will continue.
As with all my emails concerning the Occupation Peoples
please forward to any and all interested parties in its entirety