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Pine Ridge

Occupation Peoples

Grass Roots Oyate

January 16, 2000

Until we Win

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 David Seals is not a Spokesperson for the Grass Roots Oyate


Another Sioux Uprising in the Black Hills

Analysis by David Seals

    Trillions are at stake.

    Americans glance at "The Indian Problem" and see only a quaint reminder of a minor 19th century irritant, which is marked by high melodrama like Custer's Last Stand, and vestigial relics called Treaties which are about as relevant to them as the butter urns of Pioneers.

    If they also occasionally hear a word or two about the descendents of Sitting Bull and Pocahontas protesting for Casinos or against Chief Wahoo, in the name of those same arcane treaties, then it is a little saddening to them to see the final deterioration of the memory of the once glorious and romantic and tragic Old Chiefs, who were the last real Indians.

    But a few policymakers in the U.S. Government know better. They know that millions of square miles of the United States are legally in jeopardy. Like the American people they represent they don't care that the opinion of much of the rest of the world is sympathetic to the "plight" of the "American Indians", who are suffering with 85% unemployment, rampant alcoholic sickness and fetal syndromes and abysmal health care, a huge percentage of the prison population compared to their per capita, a median death age for Native men of 46 compared to 76 for the general population - the statistics of systematic racial repression go on and on and have been documented many times in books and newspapers.

No, the Americans don't care what the rest of the world thinks about their internal problems and policies. But they do care very much that trillions of dollars are at stake in the massive Land Claims the Indians are always making in court, according to those 373 Treaties that the young ambitious US signed and ratified in the years between when George Washington and Ulysses S. Grant were winning the West.

    The Black Hills bio-region of the High Plains has often been a central crucible for this conflict that is both symbolic and very very real. The battle of the Little Bighorn River and the massacres of Wounded Knee are here, as well as Mount Rushmore, with its idealists of commerce presiding regally over the vast gold and uranium fields, Nuclear Bomber Bases, Deadwood Casinos, and a Real Estate Empire of corn and coal and water greater than western Europe.

    No, the American People don't give a damn what anybody thinks about the absurd Cheyenne and Sioux claims for all this Land - the Trans-Missouri Basin of the 1851 Fort Laramie Treaty alone extends all the way south to the Arkansas River to include Denver, and on north to Canada to encompass most of Wyoming, the Dakotas, and Montana, and well into Alberta and Saskatchewan. Liberals or conservatives, Sierra Club or Peabody Coal, alike, ignore Indian treaties when they are crafting Wilderness Bills or strip-mines. Shoshones in Wyoming and Assiniboines in Montana are irrelevant to Yuppies from Carmel or cowboys from Aspen when it comes to preserving the ecosystems of wolves and buffaloes in Yellowstone National Park.

    But still the Indians keep alive the memory and the history, and periodically conflicts flare up that the Americans have to notice a little bit, like the 1973 American Indian Movement (AIM) occupation of Wounded Knee. They they have to turn a blind eye and a deaf ear to the illegalities of  their Government, and say, "Do what you have to do, quietly, tacitly, but take care of it."

    And the FBI and the Army have always done their dirty work. In Pine Ridge today, where Wounded Knee lies buried under neglect and poverty, where the descendents of Crazy Horse and Red Cloud are still being pitted against each other by the forces of one of America's most effective tools of genocide - Democracy - the Grassroots Oyate (the People) are fighting madly amongst each other for the few bare bones America is throwing from the richest table on earth.

    They have a democratic form of government called a Tribal Council, which was forced on them by the good Roosevelt liberals in 1934, replacing their hopelessly simplistic elder's councils which had functioned in a primitive kind of efficiency for aeons. No, democracy was better. The Indian Reorganization Act of 1934 saw to it that elections would be held, so that a fair majority could rule instead of the old unanimity of the traditional system of government.

    Before 1934, despite the hideous annihilation of their Buffalo Economy in the 19th century, beget by deliberate National Policy again by the same generals who had learned to annihilate the southern economy as the best way to win the Civil War of 1861-1865, the Indians were still able to govern themselves at a subsistence level with gardening and hunting, and a modicum of law and order from the elders and clan mothers of the Tiyospayes and Oyates of the Ta Ominicye councils.

    After 1934 welfare set in. Today, about 15% of the people elect Tribal Councilmen and a Chairman every 2 years or 4 years. It doesn't matter. The American people generously provide the benevolent Bureau of Indian Affairs with about $3 billion a year to administer and feed all the Indians on all the reservations from Alaska and Hawaii to Florida.  The American people are happy to know the Indians are being taken care of. If they can't get out of their welfare mindset of dependency, and hideous inexplicable alcoholic addiction, and get a job and make something of themselves in the richest country in the world, then that's not the fault of the American people.

    The Grassroots Oyate in Pine Ridge Indian Reservation, in South Dakota, have occupied their own Tribal Council headquarters building, named after Chief Red Cloud who proudly went to Washington D.C. and met the Great White Father General-President Grant. They are claiming massive misappropriation of tribal funds and want the entire Council to be impeached. It's an ugly fight, between people so desperate for the few scraps they are fed (Shannon County, South Dakota is the poorest county in the entire country) and brother fighting against brother and sister for a few miserable shacks and trailer houses built haphazardly by Washington's Housing and Urban Development (HUD).

    It's cold and bleak in South Dakota this winter. A number of grisly murders have sprung up in a number of places, Indians found floating in the creek in nearly Rapid City, and on the White Clay liquor-town, in trash cans in Mobridge, run over by pickups in Sisseton, ugly murders of Indians killing Indians in drunken brawls, beating their wives and children to death with ax handles.

    The Governor of South Dakota, William Janklow, has bred an atmosphere of racial hate and smug patriotic piety with the instigation of Boot Camps for teenage offenders and minor criminals; and one overweight girl died of heat exhaustion this summer in one of the Nazi Camps. The governor is under investigation for his leadership in this and many other examples of torture in the Boot Camps, even as he builds more and more prisons. Indians make up 7% of the State's decreasing population but 40% of the inmates in jails.

    The Army corps of engineers is flooding a graveyard on the Missouri river, and stealing thousands of acres of Treaty land farther north, with the complicity of powerful Senator Daschle, a liberal friend of President Clinton's.    

    Clinton came to Pine Ridge last summer and made a few speeches about the terrible poverty, and promised to provide some entrepreneur-zones to develop jobs and businesses. But so far nothing has happened. The Civil Rights Commission came here in December and heard hearings about all the murders of Indians, and the failure of the courts and cops to do much investigation, but no one expects anything constructive to result from this paper Commission.

    And the grassroots people are still inside Red Cloud Administration building, driven to the ironic desperation of appealing to the same FBI and BIA to expose the corruption of the "elected" Chairman and Treasurer and Council, and already everyone is hurling blame on everyone else.  The American media has lost interest in the story, and the people of South Dakota continue happily buying and selling the rich farmland for rich retirees and tourists and yuppies from California and New York who want to come out West to play cowboy and Indian, like Kevin Costner and Ted Turner.

    For all their faults, and they are legion, the Sioux and Cheyenne are still speaking more truth than anyone else. Despite the corruption of the old AIM leadership, and involvement in their own grisly internal murders of Anna Mae Aquash in 1975, and the continued sickening incarceration of Leonard Peltier after 24 years, accused of killing 2 FBI Agents when everybody knows another AIM leader named Dennis Banks did it, the New AIM is working with the grassroots Oyate against all reason and hope to bring the Treaty and the Truth to the forefront.

Despite the corruption of the Tribal Council, where can be found only the few jobs available at all, a semblance of democracy in action is still showing in lively debates and open discussions among many peoples. But it's fatally flawed by the insidious incessant underhanded intervention and provocative counter-surveillance of the Justice Department and the Interior Department (FBI and BIA), doing the dirty work of the merchants and bankers and realtors of America.

    But there is hope in the good prayers of many of the women working to solve this crisis constructively, and those of us who have learned a lot from the mistakes of the 1970s, and the 1870s. We don't trust America at all, anymore. That's a first step, and a major breakthrough, for many people now agree with the principles advocated by Sitting Bull and Crazy Horse. There are still those who are angrily speaking for law and order and respect for elected leaders, and courtesy dealing with the media, and free enterprise as a foundation of survival. But they aren't many.


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