The Sioux San Hospital is an Indian Health Service facility in Rapid City, South Dakota. Photo: Colorado National Guard Medical Detachment

Elizabeth Cook-Lynn: Let's have a real conversation about our stolen lands

Are we sitting at the wrong table discussing Sioux San land?

By Professor Emerita Elizabeth Cook-Lynn 
Native Sun News Today Columnist

At the Dahl Art Center in Rapid City earlier this month, a gathering said to be called by the Mniluzahan Okolakiciyapi Ambassadors was held and it was well attended.  A Part I and Part II Power Point was presented by three speakers: Kibbe Konti (an employee of the Indian Health Service), Heather Dawn Thompson (an Attorney associated with the Cheyenne River Sioux Tribe), and an independent researcher, a Mr. Eric Zimmer.

Because the meeting opened with an introduction by Karen Mortimer as an organization calling its participants Ambassadors, several questions came to mind.   Some of the wonderment came, probably because many of the Sioux Indians in this part of the country and many who attended the Dahl meeting had just gotten back to town from the four day remembrance of a real historic event called the Fort Laramie Treaty Days of 1868 in Wyoming, where leaders of such events are officers of the forest service and tribal officials.  They are not called ambassadors.   

At the Dahl, a brief white paper was distributed which helped to explain the mission of the MOA.

Why Ambassadors? 

Elizabeth Cook-Lynn

Ordinarily Ambassadors are defined in the dictionary as “diplomatic officials of the highest rank and accredited as representatives in residence of one government to another.  Because of the orientation of tribal-nation government known to many Indians, the question of the use of the term “ambassador” was an intriguing one.  

What governments do the ambassadors at the Dahl represent?  What are the intentions and powers of these representatives?  What   challenges are foremost? 

A hand-out states that the sponsors will  “create safe spaces where our community shares openly,  creates a culture where the community is educated about history,  and creates a community that is willing to build strong relationships.”

Sometimes in historical precedence, there is the ambassador at large who is not assigned to a particular country but assigned to a specific mission, and that seems to be the protocol of both the Dahl event as well as the Fort Laramie event.  The Mayor attended the event and the Chief of Police gave a brief, informal commentary which indicated that the city powers who initiated this educational forum last year have a vested interest.

In Indian history, ambassadors are empowered to negotiate treaties, and we know how that has turned out. But, neither of these recent meetings seems to meet those criteria. Though the National Park Service was in charge of the Fort Laramie meeting last month very little was accomplished. While more bureaucrats and lawyers, city officials and researchers seemed to be in charge of the dialogue of the MOA, nothing much is accomplished there, either.

What are the expectations of the tribal people who attend these affairs? I cannot speak for them,  but, as a professor of  Indian Studies and Federal Indian Policy, I was  reminded of a comment made at a community meeting some years ago, when the now deceased Rosalie Little Thunder rose to say that the US Park Service ‘had no authority’ to negotiate with any tribal nation.” And she mused that “we are again sitting at the wrong table.” 

Because I know she was right, I have had to remind myself that these recent community meetings are just what they are…. community meetings. Even though the Miniluzahan Okolakiciyapi call themselves Ambassadors, they have no authority to meet anyone’s expectation of any real action. Its mission, therefore, is to “advocate for cultural knowledge and awareness.”

 I suppose that is not a bad thing.  More “community conversations” are being scheduled.



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Elizabeth Cook-Lynn is a member of the Crow Creek Sioux Tribe, born and raised at Fort Thompson, South Dakota. Her latest book is A Separate Country: Postcoloniality and American Indian Nations (2012. Texas Tech U Press.) The University of Nebraska Press will publish her memoir In Defense of Loose Translations, available late this summer.   

From the Archive: Native Sun News Today Series on Sioux San

Native Sun News: Loss of land and culture at boarding school (January 31, 2014)
Native Sun News: Taking of boarding school land questioned (February 10, 2014)
Native Sun News: Churches played role in sale of Indian school (June 5, 2014)  

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