Drumming inside a tipi at the Lakota Waldorf School on the Pine Ridge Reservation in South Dakota. Photo by Kevin Abourezk

Tim Giago: Racism is a two-way street

Notes from Indian Country
Racism is a two-way street

If Native Americans are going to seriously discuss racism I think we should be taking a close look at ourselves.

In the mid-1800s the government had set up a rations program for the Native of the Plains. Providing cattle and beef to the local Native was a big part of the rations program. The cattle were driven from Texas through New Mexico, Colorado and Wyoming into the Dakotas. It was a pretty rigorous trip so along the way the cattle owners would pick up drovers to help them continue the drive.

Many of the drovers came from the Native American reservations known as Pueblos in New Mexico. Because New Mexico had been occupied by the Spanish conquistadors who started the Indian mission programs, they had been taken from their families, placed in these mission boarding schools and they had their often difficult to pronounce Pueblo names changed to Spanish names.

So by the time they arrived in South Dakota with the cattle herds, they arrived as Maldonado’s, Hernandez’s, Mendoza’s, Garcia’s, Archuleta’s, or Gallegos (pronounced Giago). Many of them met and married Lakota women, produced Lakota children, and went on to become good citizens of Pine Ridge. Some Lakota people called them “Spiolas.”

Tim Giago. Photo courtesy Native Sun News Today

Many years ago a group of Lakota girls were a short way from their village swimming when a troop of U. S. soldiers rode up. There was no such things as swimming suits back then so the girls were swimming nude. The soldiers dragged them from the water and raped them. Some of the girls got pregnant and gave birth to mixed blood children. When the black Buffalo Soldiers patrolled the Dakotas along with their white cavalry companions they would sometimes fall in love with Lakota women, marry them and have children. Their children were called Hasapa’s by the Lakota. The children of mixed white blood were called Iyeska. Actually the word Iyeska was first used as a name for the translators who were usually half French.

And so on one Indian reservation we had children of mixed blood from the Pueblos of New Mexico, children born of rape by white soldiers, and children of mixed blood from the Buffalo soldiers. Through no fault of their own these children were not pure blood Lakota.

Every one of these children experienced racial discrimination from members of their own tribe. One who rose to be a prominent attorney was often dismissed as a “Mexican” even though on his mother’s side of his family, he carried the blood of Lakota chiefs.

One day I was on KILI radio and someone called in and said I was nothing but a “Mexican." A highly respected Lakota woman from Kyle immediately called and refuted that name calling. She said she had known my family for years and that my great grandmother, Winyan Wakan, had been a highly respected medicine woman. She said that my grandmother Sophie had been a highly respected Lakota leader in the Pejuta Haka community.

On all of the reservations in South Dakota we have names like Bordeaux, Mousseau, Ladeaux, Valandra, Montileaux, Pourier, and Janis and more, and we have names like O’Brian, O’Rourke, Jones, Smith, and the list goes on. Nearly all of these Lakota people are of mixed descent. We don’t call them French, Irish or English and yet many call those of Hispanic blood Spiola. Those Hispanics did not come here on the Mayflower. They are indigenous to this Hemisphere.

Unless one knows the complete history and ancestry of those they may malign it is best not to indulge in racism. There are Natives I know who absolutely hate white people even though they often have white friends. That is why I say we have to clean up our own racist attitudes before we start pointing the finger of racism at those who are different than us.

Now let’s look at the other side of the coin. The Iyeska were often treated favorably for jobs and housing by the BIA because they were closer in appearance to the white BIA supervisors. The Iyeska often got the high paying jobs and best homes, but they in turn looked down on the people the BIA referred as “full bloods.” They often called the traditional Lakota (full bloods) “bucks” and the women “squaws” and worse.

Because of the favoritism often bestowed upon the Iyeska they often controlled the tribal government because they helped write the tribal constitutions and were often good at organizing their fellow Iyeska in using their votes to win tribal elections.

When the wars broke out in the 1970s between the American Indian Movement and the OST Tribal Government in the 1970s, an Iyeska was President of the Oglala Sioux Tribe. But a new element of racism was introduced due to the fact that many of those “urban Indians” coming to the reservation knew little or nothing about the politics or traditions of the reservation. They brought violence to the reservation that did not exist before their arrival. Many of the AIM arrivals were Iyeska themselves, products of the infamous BIA Relocation Programs of the 1950s.

And so since the Indian Reorganization Act became law in 1934 and beyond, there has been this shaky relationship between the different factions on the reservation. Yes, there has been a horrific situation of racism between Indians and whites for more than 200 years. Racism is racism in whatever form. It will take another full article to address this issue and so I will have to take it up at a later date because lack of space causes me to end here.

Contact Tim Giago at najournalist1@gmail.com

Note: Content © Tim Giago

Join the Conversation