Charles Trimble: Hitman takes aim at Oglala Sioux Tribe leaders

I’ve read with interest over the past several weeks Jeffrey Whalen’s criticisms of the Oglala Sioux tribal government. I’m not certain, but it seems to me that Jeffrey Whalen is the designated hit man to carry out the pledge of the Native Sun News founder to keep a watch dog eye on tribal governments to make sure they don’t, “run rough shod over their citizens,” as he said they are wont to do. Whalen’s criticisms are hard hitting and extensive, covering everything from lack of formal education to halitosis.

This brings back to me something I read long ago by the great legal scholar and philosopher Felix Cohen. He wrote: “Not all who speak of self-government mean the same thing by the term. Therefore let me say at the outset that by self-government I mean that form of government in which decisions are made not by the people who are wisest, or ablest, or closest to some throne in Washington or in Heaven, but, rather by the people who are most directly affected by the decisions. I think that if we conceive of self-government in these matter-of-fact terms, we may avoid some confusion.”

In his last column published in the Native Sun News and on-line at, Whalen laments the fact that the OST Council has so few educated people, by which he means so few of them are college graduates. I think a good case could be made that the United States Congress is one of the most educated in the world, with most of their members having not only a college degree, but a law degree as well. Yet, their ability to get the nation into financial trouble and world crises seems boundless; but their ability to work us out of those problems are anemic and hampered by partisan squabbling, and fear of special-interest lunatics who they feel put them into office.

I would put more store in Whalen’s contention if some candidate for tribal or any elected office held a college degree in common sense. Unfortunately, I know of no college that even offers a course in the subject.

But Whalen is not out of bounds – not by a long shot. As a journalist, he would be remiss if he knew of wrongdoing or problems that are hurting the tribe and its people and didn’t report it or comment on it. And to that extent, he is right in his criticisms.

But it is so easy for a person to be only negative and to shoot from scope-sight range. A citizen can wring his hands and shout from the pulpit of editorial heights about the need for better government; but it is far more difficult to get involved, to encourage worthy candidates and help them get elected.

And there is nothing stopping those highly-educated citizens on the reservation from getting involved and selling their enlightened positions and ideas to the Council and the President. It takes some initiative on their part, not just whining that they are not appreciated or called upon. Most likely, the tribe or their own Indian blood quantum helped them to get an advanced education. Perhaps they should feel some debt to the tribe and to their people.

There are many “uneducated” people who have over many decades kept the tribe alive and operating, however inefficiently, and against great odds. Our youth should be encouraged to go on to college and get a good education, and their new knowledge and expertise should be called upon and utilized when they graduate.

But it does little or no good to ridicule leaders who want to serve because they have not been so lucky to have gone to college. And it takes real leadership to get the most out of the people who want to serve, “uneducated” as they might be.

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 and his website is

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