Jeffrey Whalen: Oglala Sioux Tribe denies off-reservation voters

The following opinion was written by Jeffrey Whalen for the Native Sun News. All content © Native Sun News.

The flag of the Oglala Sioux Tribe

Why is the OST not recognizing members living off the reservation?
By Jeffrey Whalen

The tribal folks in the Great Plains Region should be concerned about how their constitutions were drafted and the subsequent language that is contained in them. For the Oglala the issue of not allowing tribal members to vote who live off the reservation can be a detriment to the entire tribe in terms of blatantly disregarding the 1851 and 1868 Fort Laramie Treaties.

Because Pine Ridge won’t allow tribal members who live off the reservation to vote or run for office, they are basically recognizing the illegal March 2, 1889 Act that divided the Great Sioux Nation into individual land bases and established the boundaries for all the Sioux including the Oglala.

I call the March 2 Act illegal because of Article 6 in the United States Constitution that reads in part; “This Constitution, and the laws of the United States which shall be made in pursuance thereof; and all treaties made, or which shall be made, under the authority of the United States, shall be the supreme Law of the land…”

Now go back to the 1851 and 1868 Ft. Laramie Treaties. Aren’t these treaties the “Supreme Law of the land” because they were made by the authority of the United States? There are probably some folks out there who claim that the United States can do what they want with the Tribes because they retain Plenary Power over Tribes. Plenary power means that the United States has complete authority over the tribes. But still, these treaties are the law of the land.

It seems that once the United States negotiated with the Tribes and produced treaties, that the treaties would be honored forever. That is not the case because the United States Congress passed the Act of March 2, 1889 which divided the Great Sioux Nation into different land bases. It would seem that the Treaties could never be superseded by a Congressional Act but apparently and due to the alleged plenary authority, they did whatever they wanted to do, and got away with it.

Fast forward to the 1934 Indian Reorganization Act and the development of the Oglala Sioux Tribal Constitution. The tribe did not write this, a guy named John Collier who was appointed as the Commissioner of Indian Affairs by President Roosevelt and another guy named Harold Ickes who was the Secretary of the Interior on Jan. 7, 1936 were the federal representatives who approved this and had a lot to do with the language that was inserted into the Oglala Constitution.

The Oglala are a part of the Seven Council Fires and according to some tribal elders; they are responsible for the well-being of the Black Hills area. The historical Oglala Tribal members knew what their tasks were, but the current Oglala Tribal members and leaders have seemed to lose their way. They must not realize that as a member of the Seven Council Fires, they are still supposed to take care of the Black Hills area.

If the 1851 and 1868 Ft. Laramie Treaties are the Supreme Law of the Land, why are the Oglala restricting themselves to the land base established according to a Congressional Act that is basically illegal and against the United States Constitution? If the Oglala leaders are supposed to take care of the Black Hills Area as a part of the Seven Council Fires, then why are they not recognizing our Tribal members who live in the city?

The Oglala Constitution has some conflicting language in it, actually conflicting language can be found everywhere but I’m only going to focus on the parts that deny our members to vote or run for office if they live “off the reservation.”

In Article I, of the Oglala Constitution titled Territory; “The jurisdiction of the Oglala Sioux Tribe of Indians shall extend to the territory within the original confines of the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation…”

According to that Constitutional provision, these Pine Ridge confines are the limit of the Oglala’s jurisdiction. The jurisdiction only extends are far as the surveyed point identified in the March 2, 1889 Act. But wait; doesn’t the Oglala’s have responsibility for the Black Hills area as well, in the traditional sense? All of the Oglala Council’s which are a part of an Indian Reorganization Act (IRA) government have only recognized what was provided to them under some federal law and have seemed to have given up a huge land base in terms of the Black Hills area.

Now we go to Art. VII titled Elections. Sec. 1., “All members of the Tribe 18 years or over, who have resided on the reservation for a period of one year immediately prior to any election shall have the right to vote.” Again the IRA government kicks in and they are only allowing a limited number of Tribal members to actually vote in the tribal elections based on where they live.

Let’s go to Article XIV: Qualifications of Tribal Council Representatives and Executive Committee Officers. “Any person elected as a Tribal Council Representative or as an Executive Committee Officer must be a member of the Oglala Sioux Tribe, be at least 30 years of age at the time of the election, and must reside within the exterior boundaries of the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation as defined in Article I.” This is where the Tribe denies anyone who lives off the reservation from running for office or a council seat.

Now we go to Article XV: Oath of Office. It reads; “I do solemnly swear that I will promote, preserve and strengthen the general health and welfare of the Oglala Lakota Oyate; and I will support and defend this Constitution and the human rights of the Oglala Lakota Oyate and the human rights of other peoples as recognized in international laws, treaties, which includes both the 1851 and 1868 Ft. Laramie Treaties, and declarations.”

Article XV is where the conflict exists because the Council is sworn under oath to defend the Ft. Laramie Treaties and those treaties have a huge land base which includes parts of Montana, North Dakota, South Dakota, Nebraska and Wyoming. Article I goes against Article XV because it only recognized the March 2, 1889 Act establishing the much smaller boundaries of the Pine Ridge Reservation. Article VII also goes against Article XV because it demands that tribal voters must live in the Pine Ridge area and finally Article XIV goes against Article XV as well because it demands that candidates must live in the Pine Ridge area.

The Oglala have tribal offices established in Rapid City. Those offices are staffed with Tribal members who mostly live in the city and not within the boundaries of the so called Pine Ridge Indian Reservation. All of those employees receive a tribal payroll check at the end of the pay period and according to our own Constitution, they are also prohibited from running for office or from voting in any Oglala Tribal election because of where they live. How wrong is that?

The Oglala have to stay on their toes because someday someone will claim that we are denying the 1851 and 1868 Ft. Laramie Treaties which are according to the United States Constitution, the supreme law of the land. They will claim that the Oglala’s deny the treaty territory because they have unequivocally accepted the March 2, 1889 Act boundaries that established Pine Ridge as a separate reservation from the rest of the Great Sioux Nation.

Their proof will be in the Oglala Constitution where we are prohibiting Tribal members who live in the Black Hills area from voting or from running for elected office and thus were are essentially recognizing and accepting the March 2, 1889 Act over the Ft. Laramie Treaties. This is very dangerous folks and we must start working on changing our Oglala Constitution immediately. There is way too many conflicting articles attached to this constitution and it seems that it was purposely done way back in history when the original document was drafted by Harold Ickes and John Collier.

The last Oglala administration promised that we would have a constitutional convention. They even set a date and location for the event. Then that date passed so they set another date which passed as well. Now we are relying on a much better team of Tribal Council members to get the convention going. We have to stop denying our own members from running for office even when they live in the city and work for the tribe and we must stop denying our Treaties.

(Jeffrey Whalen can be reached at

Copyright permission Native Sun News

Join the Conversation