Billie Sutton, a Democratic state lawmaker and candidate for governor in South Dakota, addresses the Fort Randall Casino Indian Day Celebration Wacipi, hosted by the Yankton Sioux Tribe in Lake Andes on June 24, 2017. Photo: Billie Sutton
Opinion | Politics

James Giago Davies: We're just Native puppets in some politician's game

It doesn’t matter who gets elected governor

They will not be accessible to you
By James Giago Davies
Native Sun News Today Columnist

My friend Jeff Turning Heart is a man of principle and compassion, and he supports Billy Sutton for governor. I will vote for Billy come election day, not because my support is the same as Jeff’s, but because the Republican alternative is far worse. It’s all a matter of degrees. Noem is worse than Jackley and Jackley is worse than Sutton.

If the candidate prevailing in the GOP primary will defeat Sutton in the fall. I prefer that be Jackley, and I liked Jackley when I met him in Aberdeen, but I am still a social progressive against most of what he stands for, so I have to vote on principle for Sutton.

The problem here is all of these progressives the Lakota have been supporting all these years have stood against our core interests as much as any Republicans. Tom Daschle, Tim Johnson, Stephanie Herseth, these folks were not your friends. They did not support us on the issues that mattered most, on issues about corps land, on the return of the Black Hills. They cynically weighed the political fallout with their favored Wasicu constituency, and found it too severe to risk over what some Indians might want or deserve.

When Bernie Sanders came to South Dakota he said, “I have met with your chiefs.” Oh, really? Did you dig up Little Wound and Red Cloud? Because those are my chiefs, and they are long dead. There have been no chiefs, official or traditional, since then that have the right or power to speak for tribal members. If Bernie meant he spoke with the IRA selected tribal chairmen, then he spoke with no chiefs. It’s like when the Daily Kos attacked Tim Giago without ever calling him for a comment but quoting comments against him by the “hereditary chiefs” of the Lakota. Did they not know that the Lakota have no “hereditary chiefs?”


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I had a chance to meet with Sutton on New Years Day, the only time he could make for me. I sacrificed that holiday time with my family. He never showed up. His campaign representative, Clay, apologized for him, but I never received any apology or communication from Sutton himself. I have been given the top columnist award by the Native American Journalists Association. I have won five awards from the South Dakota Newspaper Association this year alone. If Sutton has no time for someone like me, what chance do you think he has time for your family and friends, for all the worrisome issues that concern you personally?

Contact him to find out why. Just don’t be surprised when you never get a response.

James Giago Davies. Photo courtesy Native Sun News Today

These people will tell you what they really think of you in inadvertent ways which cynically express their true attitude toward Lakota and their issues. Even with these Democrat progressives, you will always take a back seat to some white person’s concerns.

When these campaigning politicians extend a hand of friendship that is when you graciously accept it and hear what they have to say, and let them hear your concerns and ideas. How they act on what you share will tell you who they truly are. Once elected, odds are you will never find them anywhere near your everyday world.

Your smartest move, is to stop allowing tribal councils to run every reservation to its ruin. Get involved, understand the issues, don’t trust some guy just because he is your cousin or you went to high school with him. Fix your reservation first, force responsible, honest government. You do have that power. Then, united as a people, we can confront Wasicu politicians full of campaign promise, but once elected, indifferent to everything tribal.

The problem is we have lost the ability to recognize honest, skilled people of principle. We put tribal people in office who are too corrupt, ignorant or incompetent to handle the responsibility, and we tend to believe every foolish thing they say, and accept every stupid thing they do. When we do resist them, it is usually because some other foolish, stupid person is using us, wants our support, to take their place.

Bottom line is, the folks in Pierre don’t care much for your problems, and they generally only rub elbows with Lakota gaming the same system they game. It really doesn’t matter who becomes governor, because as long as you don’t understand how your own reservation actually operates, and who are the operators you can’t trust, you will always be the aboriginal puppet is some cynical politician’s scheme.

James Giago Davies is an enrolled member of the Oglala Lakota tribe. He can be reached at

Copyright permission Native Sun News Today