Tom Daschle? Now what does one write about a friend of nearly 30 years when that friend has become the brunt of the late night talk shows and the object of scorn by the national newspaper columnists?
America has a bad habit of devouring its heroes. I believe it is different in the Native American towns, villages and reservations because we have seen so many of our heroes torn apart and vilified over the years. I am not just talking about those heroes condemned in history books for fighting to defend their homelands from the invaders, but I am talking about some of our friends we grew up with that fell to the ravages of alcohol and drugs and had the ability to rise above these faults and become better men and women because of it.
I needn’t reiterate all of the miscalculations that placed Tom Daschle in hot water, but most of it had to do with the failure to pay certain taxes, a relapse he considered to be an “oversight.” But that is hard to explain to the common man that is now fighting day-by-day for his very survival. Most Americans have been faced with tax problems and some have even had confrontations with the Internal Revenue Service over “forgetfulness,” but nearly all have experienced the immediate swoop of the IRS axe and were left to wonder what hit them. Liens on their possessions or businesses and confiscation of funds in bank accounts have been the aftermath of tax omissions or mistakes by the common man and heaven protect those who think they are above such retributions by the tax man. At least that is how many Americans saw the predicament faced by Daschle.
The truth of it is that Daschle brought a lot of what happened to him on himself. Writing in the local daily on Sunday columnist Kevin Wooster likens compares Daschle to a man who forgot what it was to buy a $4 sports coat at a discount store. Wooster wrote, “Still mixed in among the details of Daschle’s tax-related fall from a sure Obama Cabinet seat are the opulent signs of change. He is less one of us, now, and more one of them.”
The implication here is that Daschle forgot who he is and where he came from and lost the touch of the common man and joined the elite. Another columnist wrote that Daschle wanted to leave a financial legacy to his children and that is why he made $5.2 million in just two short years. Somewhere in between lays the truth.
Let me make one irrevocable truth here and now. I believe to my very core that Tom Daschle is an honest man. Daschle has tried for more than 30 years to make South Dakota a better place to live for the thousands of Indians residing here. He has often had to face the ire of the white population, his major constituents, for stands he has taken in behalf of his Native constituents, and when pressed, he has sometimes taken the side of the white voters against certain Native American factions and issues in order to survive politically. The case of the Sioux Nation and the Black Hills Claims Settlement is a case in point.
Daschle has said that when the U. S. Supreme Court offered monetary settlement in this case that it was considered settled. Not so to the Sioux, but Daschle believed that he had to compromise at times in order to keep the office that allowed him help the Indian people.
I have written for more than 30 years that the lack of adequate healthcare for Native Americans is one of the most terrible of chapters in the history of how America has treated its indigenous population. From the onset of the early diseases to which Indians had no immunity to the present day epidemic of diabetes, heart disease and cancer, American Indians are dying at a much younger rate that all Americans.
Therefore it was imperative that a man with the experience and sensitivity to these health issues on Indian reservations be appointed to the head of Health and Human Services. Daschle was that man and the people that will suffer the most because of the errors that brought him down will be the Native Americans.
Daschle is still a young man and he will rise above this setback. I would admonish those who find it enjoyable to kick a man when he is down. There is an old Western song that goes, “Pick me up on your way down,” so let’s not forget that an elevator goes both ways.
I consider Tom Daschle a true friend and I, for one, will never throw him under the bus for mistakes he has made. I have too many Lakota friends who picked themselves up and started all over again. I believe that from the ashes will rise a better Tom Daschle.
Tim Giago, an Oglala Lakota, was born, raised and educated on the Pine Ridge Reservation in South Dakota. He was the founder and publisher of Indian Country Today, the Lakota Times, and the Lakota Journal. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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