Santee Witt, left, a teacher at the Lakota Waldorf School, and Jaramiya Mesteth, a student, perform a Lakota powwow song while students dance outside the school near Kyle, South Dakota. Photo by Kevin Abourezk

Ivan Star Comes Out: Positive law dominates today; natural law is the Lakota way

Native Sun News Today Columnist

Exposure to Lakota language in the very first six years of my life allowed me to be an adequate speaker today. Then, America’s nationalistic curriculum entered my life at one of its on-reservation residential schools. English language, American history and culture dominated. It did not teach me one thing about Lakota except that it was shameful and bad to be Lakota.

Consequently, I lost sight of what little I had learned about Lakota culture. Having endured ten years in that environment, I removed myself and spent my adult life re-learning how to be “Indian.” After several decades, I am able to “see” glimpses of what our ancestors left for us. I am an elder now but, sadly, I am far short of the cultural knowledge base a 12-year old child possessed 200 years ago.

I had great difficulty understanding Lakota cultural concepts, one of them being “traditional law.” There was a time when our elders served as judges in the “tribal” courts. I could not comprehend because my awareness of the standard neo-cultural administration of justice on the reservation is greater than the culture our ancestors had lived for centuries.

Those elder court judges during the 60s and 70s were not law-degreed. It was only recently that this “tribal” government began enforcing educational standards. Today we have law-trained attorneys and judges, including the local court advocates. Nearly all of them speak English only and earn a decent livelihood in the new multi-million dollar “Justice Center.”

Ivan F. Star Comes Out. Photo courtesy Native Sun News Today

I visited the jail and the courts a few times. Cold rules are plastered everywhere in that place. I am unaccustomed to speaking to a person behind a darkened glass window. Each time I had to go there, a feeling that I did something wrong became prominent. Perhaps that comes from my rigid and ordered boarding school days. Anyway, I find myself wanting to avoid the insensitive and ominous atmosphere.

I am inclined to learn what is causing my growing aversion. I have family and tiospaye members employed there. Therefore, I am surmising that the only other cause for my distaste originates from the federal government’s coercive cultural assimilation policy. This shameful strategy affected every resident on this reservation, one way or another.

Today we are enduring a resulting case of “us against them.” It is actually keeping us divided as “duly enrolled” members of the new federally created Oglala Sioux Tribe. We are no longer culturally distinct nor are we a sovereign group of people. I know many will disagree with my statement but we must realize that truth is the only thing that will allow us to break free of this undignified oppressive “lifestyle.”

Most residents here speak English only and are not culturally proficient. Those of us still living the language and old ways are a small and steadily dwindling group. Cultural assimilation, as cruel and devious as it is, is still obliterating Lakota language, culture, and history and continually replacing them with the new Euro-American language (English), culture, and a biased nationalistic history.

America is actually multi-cultural. Certain members of white society are upset with the fact that many ethnic backgrounds and languages exist here. Cultural assimilation certainly works for the new Euro-American society as it curbed indigenous languages and way of life. Assimilation and nationalism worked hand in hand for Nazi Germany when it tried to establish a mono-cultural society.


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Read the rest of the story on Native Sun News Today: Positive law dominates today; natural law is the Lakota way

Ivan F. Star Comes Out can be reached at P.O. Box 147, Oglala, South Dakota, 57764; via phone at 605-867-2448 or via email at

Copyright permission Native Sun News Today

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