I’ve followed with interest the editorial confrontation between columnist Tim Giago and Lakota educator and scholar Ryan Wilson over whether it was wise or good for Giago to endorse the candidacy of Kristi Noem, the incumbent Republican candidate for South Dakota’s sole seat in the House of Representatives.
The stated reason for Giago’s endorsement of Noem is because of the attitudes of liberals versus conservatives over such issues of the federal role in economic development – particularly the propensity of liberals to fund non-profit organizations on reservations rather than providing federal funds to commercial banks which would be earmarked to lend for-profit Indian businesses on and off the reservations. He establishes his case for Noem by relating a telephone argument he had with her Democratic opponent, Matt Varilek, who was an aide to Senator Tim Johnson (D-SD) at the time.
Wilson makes a strong case based on Noem’s record in her freshman years in Congress, and he gives case-by-case examples of her voting record on support for budget cuts that would devastate Indian Country in health, education, and social issues such as the VAWA. He also points out the threat of her adherence to Tea Party principles, or the Tea Party’s lack thereof as they apply to budgets and states rights.
Wilson is right in asserting that Giago should do more analysis of Noem’s record on issues that impact tribes and Indian people before bestowing on her a “metaphoric war bonnet,” as he put it.
It is Giago’s right to endorse whomever he pleases, and many columnists do just that. Most newspapers endorse candidates in their editorial pages, and again, that’s their right. So Giago is not completely out of line in endorsing Kristi Noem.
But Giago is looked upon by many in the white communities as the spokesman for Indian Country – the voice of the Indian people. It’s an image he cultivates, intentionally or not, in his columns. To give Noem his endorsement may look to many people that she is held in high esteem by Indian people generally. Which isn’t necessarily the case, or most likely, isn’t the case at all.
A few years ago, Ryan Wilson wouldn’t need to have been concerned; for in those days it used to be said that Giago’s endorsement was a kiss of death to the candidates on whom he conferred his blessing. Those unfortunate pols have included the likes of the late James Abdnor in his bid for reelection to the Senate, Bruce Babbitt in his campaign for the Democratic presidential nomination, and Michael Dukakis in his run for the Presidency. In 2008, Giago endorsed John McCain for President because McCain is a Navy veteran, as is Giago.
Giago’s endorsement, it was noted, seemed to go to candidates who placed the largest ads in his Lakota Times, which caused some to speculate that it was some devious trickster in the Bush-Quayle camp who placed the blaring half-page ad for Dukakis in the Times to entice Giago’s baneful buss on the unwary Bostonian.
And tribal pols weren’t immune to the fatal kiss. To get the Times endorsement for his comeback bid for the Oglala Sioux Tribal presidency, Richard Wilson promised to designate the Lakota Times as the tribe’s official newspaper. He was soundly defeated despite – or, more likely, because of, Giago’s glowing endorsement.
Then came the painful political demise of yet another of Giago’s heroes – Navajo Chairman, Peter MacDonald. In one of his columns Giago said of MacDonald, “I for one believe that history will show that Peter MacDonald has proven to be one of the greatest tribal leaders of all time, bar none.” No mention was made by Giago about the news reports of the MacDonald scandal, nor of the televised spectacle on C-Span of MacDonald’s attorney son, Rocky, testifying under immunity before the Senate Investigating Committee about the huge payoffs made to his father by cohorts who enriched themselves ripping off the poverty-ridden tribe for millions of dollars.
Congresswoman Noem appears to be a shoe-in in the blood-red Republican stronghold of South Dakota, so Giago might be looking to break the spell by endorsing a successful candidate for a change.
Nevertheless it is important for Indian columnists to know the facts before endorsing political candidates, especially their politics and voting record. In these times of Tea Party fanaticism especially, most of the Tea Party’s candidates are pledged to cut budgets and not raise taxes. Thus they have sold their options and their freedom in office to secure the support of fanatics. They are owned by people who likely don’t have any great respect for the tribes, their sovereignty or their trust relationship with the United States.
Kristi Noem is a poster child – better yet, a centerfold – of the Tea Party.
Charles "Chuck" Trimble, was born and raised on the Pine Ridge Indian
Reservation, and is a member of the Oglala Lakota Nation. He was principal
founder of the American Indian Press Association in 1970, and served as
Executive Director of the National Congress of American Indians from 1972-1978.
He is retired and lives in Omaha, NE. He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org
and his website is www.iktomisweb.com.