Constitutional revision meeting show great divideBy Ivan Star Comes Out
Native Sun News Today Columnist
nativesunnews.today I attended the first of a series of meetings organized by a tribal task force to amend the Oglala Sioux Tribe’s constitution for the fourth time in its history. One major point that must be noted about this effort is that the task force is making an honest effort to involve the voting members of the Pine Ridge Reservation. Previous Secretarial Elections amending the constitution were done from the top down. The audience ranged from those who were ready to go ahead with their own ideas about government to throwing the entire system out. We must remember where democracy came from. It is not a European idea. The colonists found true egalitarianism here among the Iroquois and stole it. However, a lot of Euro-Americans don’t understand don’t want equality, a democratic principle. We must always remember that a true democracy involves its membership, typically through elected representatives. Various indigenous systems of government were based on that quality. The tribal constitution provided for the election of representatives, but it did not provide for fairness. As a result, Oglala people are not happy with the new government because they were excluded from the system. Whether people realize this or not, this long-standing inequity and resulted in a divided nation. This division is deep and has a tendency to overpower what may be a real opportunity for fair public involvement in an egalitarian process. This task force is gathering information with which to amend the constitution before it is presented back to the people for a vote. I noticed that two opposing viewpoints were present in the room. Obviously, disagreements are inflexibly strong. It appears that finding a middle ground is not going to happen. This makes it difficult for any egalitarian process to succeed. Regardless, compromise is inevitable, otherwise we will continue status quo. Let’s keep in mind the historic fact that this same situation led to violence in the early 1970s here on our home land. Perhaps it was inevitable but it did not change anything and seemingly solidified that division. Let’s keep in mind the reality that there was loss of property and lives on both sides of the division. Too much of one thing is not good, there has to be a balance. I found it difficult to define this division to our young people. As a suggestion, perhaps if one can imagine Democrats and Republicans within the national system, it may help to understand what I’m trying to explain here. This division has roots going all the way back to the Vatican, “Manifest Destiny,” and the so-called “Indian” Wars perpetrated by a nascent young nation for the purpose of domination. Basically, there are those who believe in God, Jesus, the Holy Ghost, and Adam and Eve. Then there are those who are still aware of Inyan (Stone) and Unci Maka (Grandmother Earth) and how they created the world. It is truly unfortunate that the U. S. tried to erase the indigenous creation story. Anyway, there are two distinct world views here, just like the two languages, Lakota and English. It should be common knowledge that one sovereign forcefully stripped the other sovereign of land and resources at all cost, including deceit, theft, and genocide. Actually, this cultural domination process is still occurring amongst the tribal membership itself. The division remains obvious. It appears one side favors the new industrialized world while the other appears to be guided by the natural laws of the Oceti Sakowin (Seven Council Fires). The passage of time only solidified this division as I witnessed at this gathering. Anyway, the arguments from both sides of this divide could go on forever. What I believe must be done is to reach a compromise. It is a rather difficult proposition but there are no other options. We can continue going the way we have been or we can make a genuine change. I was asked if there really is a middle ground. Well, I believe that is a choice the voting members of the tribe will have to make. I am always thinking about the ineffectiveness and/or inappropriateness of the federal education system which is directly related to tribal government. Since 1935, the federal government failed to properly educate several generations of youth on the ins and outs of this new system of government. Consequently, no one seems to know how to get out of this mess we are in today. Our elementary schools are forever dealing with high dropout rates and low academic achievement levels since they were created in the wake of the 1868 Fort Laramie Treaty. Recently, I overheard a couple of men discussing this situation and they concluded that it has improved and is no longer a problem as evidenced by the number of college graduates we now have. Yes, we do have a success story from time to time but the majority of our young elementary students still rate low according to state and federal education standards. We are still living in poverty. I point to language-speaking college graduates amongst us and ask, “How many do we have?” Our ancestors did want us to learn the ways of the white man so we would be able to compete, as opposed to merely existing and surviving, in the new world. I don’t think they expected us to completely integrate into mainstream society. They wanted their grandchildren to retain cultural and language competency while holding a college degree in a chosen field.