timgiago
Tim Giago. Photo courtesy Native Sun News Today
Notes from Indian Country
Denying its own citizens the right to vote is wrong

In a recent column I wrote about voter suppression on the Pine Ridge Reservation. Some respondents wanted to know more. So I will expand a little on what the column addressed.

The Oglala Sioux Tribal Council has deemed it that if you are a member of the Tribe, but you do not physically live on the Pine Ridge Reservation you cannot vote in tribal elections. That is voter suppression plain and simple.

There are several thousand Lakota men and women who were born, raised, enrolled and educated on the Pine Ridge Reservation and who are also land holders there, but they are not allowed to vote or run for office on their home reservation.

This is a law that was enacted by the Oglala Sioux Tribal Council. It is their law to keep or to change.

The Department of the Interior or the federal justice department are not going to infringe on the quasi-sovereignty of any Indian nation even though that Indian nation would deny voting rights to its own citizens, Therefore even though the OST is in essence breaking the laws of the United States, it is scot-free to do so because it stands on its quasi-sovereignty.

For many years we have suggested that the OST Council create a voting district in communities like Rapid City with extremely large Native populations, a voting district that would allow us to vote and to have legal representation on the Tribal Council.

When Kevin Killer announced that he was going to run for the office of President of the Oglala Sioux Tribe, one of the campaign promises he made is that he would make every effort to allow legal members of the OST who do not live on the reservation to vote and run for office. It seems that this is one of the campaign promises of every presidential candidate, but it never happens. They are soon beset by member of the Tribal Council and some tribal members that they do not want “off-reservation” Indians voting. As the old Jewish adage goes, “What are we; chopped liver?”

In other words we are not considered members of the Tribe and yet when the Tribe is seeking funding for its annual budget, we are counted as members. The laws passed by the OST impact any Lakota who is a land holder on the reservation. So those Indians living off of the reservation are not innocent bystanders when it comes to Tribal law.

It is estimated that there are nearly 20,000 Lakota from Pine Ridge and the other reservations in the state living in Rapid City. Most moved here because there were few job opportunities on the reservation and jobs could be found in Rapid City. We came here to work and live out of necessity. Should that move cost us our citizenship?

One of the most basic rights of every American is the right to vote. Those Lakota who do not physically reside on the reservation, but who are land holders on the reservation, should have every legal right to vote. Nearly every Tribe in America allows there off-reservation citizens to vote in tribal elections. They believe it is their legal right.

Voter suppression or voter denial are against the laws created by the U. S. Constitution. It should not matter that the tribes are recognized as sovereign nations. It still does not give them the right to deny its citizens the basic human rights reserved for every American, Native American or not.

The federal government or the U. S. Justice Department will not step in to correct this grievous miscarriage of justice simply because it does not want to step on the tender toes of tribal sovereignty and as tribal members we must accept that premise and so the only other option for those of us denied our rights to vote or run for office can only be solved through adjudication. A lawsuit must be brought against the Oglala Sioux Tribe in tribal court first and if no resolution to this injustice can be found there, then it must proceed to federal court forcing the court to decide whether we have the same legal rights as all other Americans.

But the easiest and most effective solution to this problem must be handled by the members of the Oglala Sioux Tribal Council. Council woman Jackie Siers was a part of a group made up mostly of Lakota women who took a resolution around the voting districts of the reservation a couple of years ago making that very suggestion, that a voting district be established in Rapid City so that all Lakota would have equal rights. That resolution died in the tribal council.

It is now time for the OST to reconsider this crime against its own people and bring it to the Council floor. It is high time for President Killer to stand by the campaign promises he made to the people. It is against the culture and the traditions of the Oglala Sioux Tribe to deny its own citizens equal protection under the law.


Tim Giago (Oglala Lakota) is the founder of the Native American Journalists Association and of Indian Country Today. Contact him at najournalist1@gmail.com.