He still has an open eye and ear for anything and
everything happening in Indian Country. It is one of the main
interests in his life and it shows.
Senator Tim Johnson
(D-S.D.) moves a little slower,
shakes hands with his left hand because he has not recovered the
strength in his right hand, walks with a cane, and speaks a little
slower, but he still has the gleam in his eye and that determination
in his voice. But more than that, if any Native American sits and
visits with him for any length of time, they would soon discover that
this U. S. Senator knows more about the good, the bad and the ugly in
Indian Country than any other sitting senator.
On December 13, 2006, Senator Johnson was doing a live
broadcast on radio station WNAX, Yankton, when he suffered an attack
of bleeding in the brain, an illness known as cerebral arteriovenous
malformation that causes enlarged and tangled blood vessels in the
brain. No one knew the seriousness of this sudden attack, but Sen.
Johnson survived the operation following the illness and is well on
his way to recovery.
He won re-election to his third term as senator in 2008,
limiting his campaign appearances because of his slow recovery, but
trusting the people of South Dakota to remember the time and service
he had given them in the past. They remembered and he won his senate
seat hands down.
Sen. Johnson is the only member of the Senate with a son,
Brooks, serving in the United States Army. His wife Barbara is a
professional social worker and he has another son, Brendan, and a
daughter, Kelsey. When his wife had a bout with breast cancer, he was
by her side every step of the way.
In order to understand the man, these are just a few of
the things one should know about him. We met on Saturday morning over
cups of hot coffee, bagels with cream cheese and fruit, supplied by
his loyal staff at his Rapid City office.
With the recession racking most of America, these are
tough times for anyone serving in the House or the Senate. Sen.
Johnson's focus for the near future of Indian country is on jobs,
housing, health and education. We talked about those things with the
understanding that without jobs, a home, or good health, education is
bound to suffer because good schools and good teachers have a hard
time making up for unemployed parents, no home, or with serious
illness in the family.
Sen. Johnson was elated to hear that Oglala Lakota
College will have the highest enrollment this fall than it has ever
had in its short history. More than 1,700 students have applied for
admission so far and the counting is not over. "My very good friend
Tom Short Bull has done a terrific job with OLC and I really admire
and support his efforts," Sen. Johnson said.
We talked about the 2,000 pound elephant in the room, the
one that will never go away until a solution is found, and that is
about the settlement of the Black Hills issue, an ongoing problem that
has existed since the unlawful taking of the Hills in the late 1800s.
This issue is one that could be the destruction of a political career
and all South Dakota politicians to date wouldn't touch it with a
10-foot pole. All would say that the ruling by the U. S. Supreme Court
in 1980 settled the issue when a monetary award was made, but since
the tribes of the Great Sioux Nation refuse to accept that award
although they are among the poorest of tribes in America, the issue is
still a hot one.
Sen. Johnson reflected on this and surmised that perhaps
things have changed in Washington and in South Dakota since 1980 when
an attempt was made to introduce the Bradley Bill. "I've heard that
President Obama addressed the issue of the Black Hills when he was
campaigning out here, but I haven't seen anything written about it,"
Senator Johnson said.
However, he does believe that there is definitely a
different attitude about a lot of things that were verboten 20 years
ago and he believes that people can solve age old problems if they
meet with open minds and talk about them. He doesn't know where the
issue will lead, but does admit that it is an issue that will not go
away. He is open to constructive discussion.
And finally, Senator Johnson wanted all of his friends in
Indian Country to know that his health is coming back strong and that
he is working very hard in their behalf to bring stimulus money to the
reservations for law enforcement, housing, health, education and jobs.
Senator Johnson has been my good friend for 30 years and
as his friend I will attest to the fact that there is no one better,
no one more qualified, and definitely no one in the U. S. Senate more
knowledgeable about the issues facing every Indian Nation in America.
So all of you tribal leaders, judges and police officers, educators,
healthcare workers, and housing specialists, I urge you to trust this
man and offer him your advice and your concerns because you will get
an honest answer from him. You can contact him the old fashioned way
by calling his Washington, D. C. office at 1-202-224-5842.
Tim Giago, an Oglala Lakota, is the publisher of Native Sun News. He was the
founder and first president of the Native American Journalists Association, the
1985 recipient of the H. L. Mencken Award, and a Nieman Fellow at Harvard with
the Class of 1991. Giago was inducted into the South Dakota Newspaper Hall of
Fame in 2008. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
More Tim Giago:Tim Giago: Real problems of US health care
(8/17)Tim Giago: Sotomayor
puts dent in glass ceiling
Giago: Standing ground at Mount Rushmore
(8/3) Tim Giago: Voting Native and voting independent
(7/27) Tim Giago: Rapid City is changing
for the better
(7/20) Tim Giago:
Frontier mentality still alive in 2009
(7/13) Tim Giago: The execution of Chief Two Sticks
(7/6) Tim Giago: McDonald's mentality
(6/29) Tim Giago: National
health care debate and IHS
Giago: South Dakota restricts tribal growth
(6/15) Tim Giago: No more status quo for BIA education
(6/8) Tim Giago: Being Indian and being
(6/1) Tim Giago: Let Oglala
Sioux president do her job
Giago: Memorial Day speech at Black Hills
(5/25) Tim Giago: Small victories in battle against
(5/18) Tim Giago: A day of
tribal victory at Little Bighorn
(5/11) Tim Giago: Negative Native images in the news
(5/4) Tim Giago: Resolving ownership of
the Black Hills
(4/27) Tim Giago: Good
things and bad things come in April
(4/20) Tim Giago: An open letter to South Dakota governor
(4/13) Tim Giago: Nostalgia and South
(4/6) Tim Giago: An
older brother who paved the way
(3/30) Tim Giago: Sticks and stones and Charles Trimble
(3/17) Tim Giago: Pine Ridge team
triumphs at tournament
(3/16) Tim Giago:
Announcing the Native Sun News
Giago: No winners at Wounded Knee 1973
(3/5) Tim Giago: The real victims of Wounded Knee 1973
(3/2) Tim Giago: No outrage over abuse
(2/23) Tim Giago: A
perspective on the fairness doctrine
(2/16) Tim Giago: Throwing Tom Daschle under the bus
(2/9) Tim Giago: Native people out of
sight, out of mind
(2/2) Tim Giago:
Native veteran loses fight against VA
(1/26) Tim Giago: The Wellbriety Journey for Forgiveness
(1/19) Tim Giago: The stolen generations
in the U.S.
(1/12) Tim Giago: Indian
Country looks to Tom Daschle for help