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Editorial . . .

A Thread Runs Through It

A Chippewa acquaintance of ours was speaking to a group of Indian educators about the importance of including Native culture in their school curriculums. During the course of his address he told the audience that, today, too many Indians have contracted the white man's disease. Both men and women Indians have this disease, he said, but mostly the men. He said the disease is six inches long and has a head on it. Then he reached into his pocket and pulled out a one-dollar bill and showed it to the audience.

A movement of change is beginning to spread through Indian Country. And we at NC Native News are glad to see it.

The most notable evidence, at least on this Web page, is the current situation with the Grass Roots Oglala Lakota Oyate and the Indian Reorganization Act (IRA) tribal government on the Pine Ridge reservation in South Dakota. (See the Archives for related stories.)

Members of the Grass Roots Oyate have not given up their hold on the Oglala tribal offices since January 16. They remain steadfast in their demand that the Bureau of Indian Affairs conduct a five-year forensic audit of tribal finances and make those audit findings public knowledge for the Oglala people. They also demand that the IRA tribal government fire Tribal Treasurer Wesley "Chuck" Jacobs and rid the tribal council of members who have benefited financially from tribal funds at the expense of tribal programs and the Oglala people.

In the latest development, the Grass Roots Oyate has declared that its General Council is now the governing body of the Oglala Lakota Nation and have put the U.S. government on notice that it will deal with the Oglala Lakota Oyate as a truly sovereign and independent nation.

Why all this? Because enough Oglala people have said, "We won't take it anymore." They are saying they won't live under an IRA tribal government that fosters corruption and mishandling of tribal funds. They don't want to be guided and led by tribal government officials who line their pockets and look after their own rather than all the Oglala people.

We have Oglala friends who say this takeover and episode at Pine Ridge is nothing new. That when the principals of the Grass Roots Oyate line their own pockets and take care of their own immediate families, everything will return to normal. Tribal government business as usual.

We respectfully disagree with our Oglala friends. We feel a change is coming and happening in Indian Country.

A similar, but less pronounced, uprising occurred among the Sisseton-Wahpeton Lakota in Sisseton, SD shortly after the Grass Roots Oyate overtook the Oglala tribal offices. The Sisseton-Wahpeton rose up to protest what they deemed "corrupt tribal council members."

The Indian Nation Confederacy of the Round Valley Nation in California voted overwhelmingly earlier this spring to adopt a new tribal constitution and begin governing themselves according to traditional tribal law, rather than continue under an IRA form of tribal government.

Officials and members of other tribes have visited the Grass Roots Oyate at Pine Ridge to learn what they are doing and to see how they, themselves, might change their own tribal governments to better benefit the people.

As the fictional Oglala fugitive Jimmy said in the movie ThunderHeart, "We know the difference between the reality of freedom and the illusion of freedom. It's in our genes." The Oglala, Sicangu, Sisseton-Wahpeton and other bands and other tribes appear to be reawakening to the realization that the white man's form of government, as presently structured, is not working for Indian tribes.

Here in North Carolina the Lumbee people are in a situation not unlike the Oglala and most other tribes. They are presently governed by the Lumbee Regional Development Association, a private, non-profit organization run by a 20-member board of directors. On the surface, it is more a business than a true tribal government of the people.

The young Lumbee lady who recently wrote to NC Native News indicated there are a number of Lumbee people who do not always agree with LRDA policies and actions. Two recently elected new LRDA board members from the Fairmont community have said publicly they want to see better things from the LRDA. Leroy Freeman, elected to a five-year term, said the LRDA is "often criticized as being unresponsive." Freeman added, "LRDA does so many things, but few people have a clear idea of the organization." This, in our opinion, is not good representative government.

The LRDA controls, literally, millions of federal dollars that come into Robeson County for Indian housing, energy needs, childcare, and food distribution.

As long as there's money dangling out there on a string from a stick, there will be tribal officials who want to control that money and get what they can for themselves and the select few. True representative government be damned.

That's the thread, or six-inch disease, which runs through so much of Indian Country today, and it's causing many tribal members to take a long, hard look at the way they have been governed and treated for the past 66 years.