|The following story was written and reported by Talli Nauman, Native Sun News
Health & Environment Editor. All content © Native
Among the elders on Day Four of the Oglala District sit-in on the Pine Ridge Reservation were, from left, Elizabeth Makes Him First, Oglala Community Housing; Feleta Two Bulls, Collier Community; and Rosalind Jumping Bull, Oglala Community Housing.
PHOTO COURTESY/NATHAN BLINDMAN
Pine Ridge elders stage protest
Claim financial corruption
By Talli Nauman
Native Sun News
Health & Environment Editor
OGLALA — Elders of Oglala District on the Pine Ridge Reservation extended a weeklong sit-in at district staff headquarters begun Aug. 28 into the week of Sept. 2, in protest over the Oglala Sioux Tribal Council’s refusal to impeach and replace the district executive board for alleged mishandling of funds.
Among members of the district board’s elderly advisory committee, protester and former tribal Chairman Gerald One Feather told Native Sun News the action would soon involve all nine reservation districts, because it has resulted in a call for an injunction to postpone this year’s tribal elections pending the establishment of district and community legal boundaries.
“We’re in this for the long haul,” One Feather said, noting that the quarrel over funding disbursement in his district has raised awareness of a jurisdictional “crisis” that dates back to 1971, when the Oglala Sioux Tribe created the districts but did not follow up with boundary determinations.
Protesters invited the other nine district representatives to discuss the “crisis” at the elderly services building in Oglala on Sept. 4.
“This is a very important issue, the invitation states. “Our Constitution and bylaws were not upheld and we intend to file an injunction on the tribal election. How can you have a tribal election without boundary lines?” it concludes.
Members of the Oglala District Executive Board’s elderly advisors council began expressing concern about funding and jurisdiction when the board failed to confirm the advisory members elected June 12.
Executive board President Floyd Brings Plenty submitted memoranda to staff on June 12 and Aug. 22 noting that incumbent elderly committee members would continue in their posts until a re-election was scheduled because the new officers included both One Feather and his wife Ingrid. This raised complaints and questions of ethics, Brings Plenty said in the memorandum.
“The executive committee is not trying to impede the efforts of the elderly program, they are simply establishing proper ethics,” he said in the Aug. 22 memorandum, written after a July 25 order to hold a new election for the elderly advisory body.
Ingrid One Feather, the Turtle Unit Community Executive Committee chair, told Native Sun News that she only accepted the position on the elderly committee because no one else wanted it. Brings Plenty was protecting his mother-in-law’s position on the elderly council by failing to recognize the newly elected members, she said.
Brings Plenty mentioned in his June memorandum to staff that the communities were out of compliance with the district constitution. But protesters said he never told the community executive boards of that.
In a resolution submitted to tribal council by Oglala District Councilor Valerie Janis on Aug. 28, the elders proposed that the chairs of the district’s 10 communities be recognized as the legitimate new committee, because the current executive board members supposedly failed to equitably disburse $100,000 the district received in November.
Oglala District, like each of the other eight districts on the reservation, received $100,000 in November for its share of a legal settlement between the Oglala Sioux Tribe and Alltel Corp.
“Our executive board, they’re not listening to the 10 communities within Oglala District,” said Collier Community Executive Committee Chair Martha “Trixy” Two Bulls. “Instead of disbursing money equally amongst us, they held onto it and spent it mostly on themselves,” she charged.
“We have no help for the elderly in any of the communities, so this is what our argument is,” said Two Bulls.
However, Oglala District Executive Board Secretary Helena Little-Breuinger testified to the Pine Ridge Tribal Council, meeting at Pine Ridge Village on Aug. 28, that rules pertaining to Article 6 of the tribal Constitution bar the proposed substitution process, and the council promptly tabled the resolution.
Later that day the community chairs in the district, calling themselves an “interim board,” resolved to reaffirm their authority by returning to the council session on Aug. 29 with the same request for substitution of the district board members.
The board in place since 2011 consists of President Floyd Brings Plenty, Vice President Avis Blacksmith, Secretary Helena Little-Breuinger, Treasurer Stanley Star Comes Out and Fifth Member Darlene Helper.
The interim board is President Corrine Brave, Vice President Gilson Ten Fingers, Secretary Martha Two Bulls, Treasurer Ingrid One Feather and Fifth Member Gerald Two Bulls.
They filed a complaint on Aug. 22 that compelled law enforcement officers to serve papers requesting each pre-existing board member to appear at a hearing Aug. 27. The Oglala Sioux Tribe Department of Public Safety served the papers to all of them.
Brings Plenty and Little-Breuinger refused to take service. Public notices about the hearing were torn down. None of the executive board members appeared at the hearing, and the interim board turned to the tribal council with the resolution for approval of an “impeachment complaint” against the old board and a “certified affidavit” of the new one.
“The impeachment complaint and sworn affidavit is based on ‘gross negligence’ (against the bona fide members of the Oglala District) and ‘direct violations of the standards’ (of the constitution and bylaws of the Oglala District),” the resolution said.
When the tribal council tabled the resolution, Ingrid One Feather stood up on the council floor and announced that the decision gave dissidents no choice but to occupy the district office until the tribal council made a decision.
The elders attending the tribal council session proceeded directly to the office in Oglala and began the sit-in inside the prefabricated modular facility, where they voted to take the resolution back to the council.
The next day, Aug. 29, the council again entertained the resolution and submitted the motion to the tribal Supreme Court for a decision. The high court remanded it to the Appeals Court.
Protesters considered the move a case of “passing the buck,” as one said. They returned to the sit-in.
By Aug. 30, the third day of the protest, 14 protesters had packed into the office at 7 a.m. They hoisted posters, discussed experiences, learned about tribal government, ate meals and prayed together there. Those who had regularly scheduled medical appointments came and went to attend them, then returned to the office.
They went to their homes to sleep at night, except when an evacuation order resulting from the Wellnitz fire forced some to stay on cots at the Billy Mills Hall and in the Prairie Wind Casino.
“It’s a peaceful sit-in,” said 75-year-old Catherine Looking Elk of Oglala Junior Community. “We’re sitting here talking about the hard things going on in the district and the tribal council and learning about IRA (Indian Reorganization Act) government.
“There are a lot of issues here. People don’t have jobs, and that money could have been used to support students from K through 12 with school supplies,” she said, adding, “At one time they did have a budget, but they didn’t follow it, so they just got greedy with it.”
On Aug. 31, the beginning of a three-day official holiday weekend, she vowed protesters would continue the sit-in for the foreseeable future.
Oglala Sioux Tribal Vice President Tom Poor Bear attended an Aug. 28 meeting of the de facto executive committee at the district staff headquarters sit-in. He assured elders the tribe would cover their food costs while they are there.
However, neither his office nor the tribal president’s office responded to Native Sun News inquiries regarding the tribal government’s response to protesters.
NSN contributor and longtime essayist Ivan Starr anticipated the issue coming to a head and explained the motive of the council’s decision in an opinion piece a week before the hearing, resolution and protest occurred.
He interpreted a 1997 amendment of the tribal constitution’s Article 6 to mean that “our district constitution and bylaws exist only on paper; they no longer have the force of law.”
He claimed that the amendment “effectively eliminated the communities that once comprised Oglala District,” noting, “An exception may be Oglala Junior and Redshirt; they are federally recognized as ‘independent communities.” The district has “no community officers to speak of,” he wrote.
“The actions of this group (of dissidents) seem to be based on that former or obsolete constitutional system of district government. Oglala District no longer has community officials, only the district executive committee,” he continued.
He contended the only way to change the composition of the board, established by the tribal government system federally approved under the 1935 Indian Reorganization Act, is through elections, which occur this fall.
In the IRA government, the Pine Ridge Reservation is supposed to have 57 elected officials. The elected body is made up of a tribal council president, vice president and 19 tribal council members, all of whom are paid, as well as 36 district executive committee members, none of whom is paid, according to Starr.
Starr’s position and others like it irk community protest leaders, who argue that the elections can’t be held unless the boundary lines are drawn.
“According to them, under Article 6, we don’t exist,” Two Bulls mused.
The Oglala District Executive Board spent all but 87 cents of the $100,000 received from the Alltel settlement, according to Loneman Community member Darlis Morrison-Crow, who obtained the district’s financial report to the tribe.
“We have it all in black and white – a full financial report from the tribe,” she said. “It’s really crazy the corruption going on in our district, and we thought that as a people we would be heard.”
Morrison-Crow noted that activists are considering filing evidence of corruption with the federal District Attorney and the Bureau of Indian Affairs Criminal Investigation Office.
“If they did this stuff off-reservation, there would have been an investigation. But because we’re on the reservation, all we can do is try and get the papers together,” she said.
Protester Roselyn Holy Rock, a 79-year-old retired school teacher from Oglala Junior, said she laments the lack of a budget to help not only the elderly, but also young families.
“It makes me sick,” she told NSN. “I thought they’d give some of that to the people, but they just spent it all on themselves. Us elderlies are having a hard time. We live on Social Security, which don’t pay very much, and we have to pay bills and gas and stuff. And there’s a lot of people here that are not working, and they have big families.”
Corrine Brave, Loneman Community Executive Committee chair, said she believes in treating “people equally on finances,” adding, “Winter’s coming. Why didn’t the executive board think about that?”
Oglala District is a sprawling western section of the Pine Ridge Reservation, stretching from near Hermosa on the north to near Pine Ridge Village on the southeast. It includes the traditional communities of Redshirt, Collier, Oglala Junior, Loneman, Turtle Unit, Dry Wood, No Water, White River, Lakeside and Little Grass Creek.
Half of them applied to the district to use the settlement money to move outbuildings from Loneman School to their respective locations to serve as community centers, when the school received funding for a new building, according to Two Bulls.
“This $100,000 would have helped tremendously in that,” she said.
Unless an injunction causes delays, tribal council members and district executive board members alike are supposed to be up for election in the primaries on Oct. 9 and general polling on Nov. 6.
(Contact Talli Nauman at firstname.lastname@example.org)