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Slowly. A quarter moon pristine in black but waning in violet slips to the farthest plain and lifts its tide of darkness from the buttes and draws and cottonwoods stalking along the river's shores. Ashes that will be embers in the fire of day. Silence in a breeze that wraps around those who will make words to a song, the buffalo, the antelope, the elk and bear. Silence is the chorus beneath the eagle's wings. Ponies, paint and sorrel, emerge from river breaks amassed in muscle and mane. Tipis welcome the dawn in circles and sunlight streamers flow from the east to meadowlarks and mothers singing . . . . The picture fades. Reality calls. Another day in the fall out from Manifest Destiny begins.
Without stepping foot upon our lands you will have seen that image, be it from a movie or conjured from literature, it thrives in the imagination. The sentence imposed upon us by those who have romanticized our ancestors, and by doing so have trivialized their sacrifice, amounts to the term we serve from those who sought to dehumanize us and re-invent the history of this continent to hide, or at least justify, one of the greatest acts of genocide in world history. We are still wading through 500 years of propaganda, misinformation, misinterpretation and absurdities intended to drown us. Today, as from the first moment Europeans called us 'Sioux', the reality of who we are and the issues we fight to contend with are submerged in stereotypes and fiction. Non-Indians 'wannabe' us without ever having spoken with us or knowing what it's like to live one day in our lives. People who have never visited with us argue about what's best for us as if we are incapable, reducing us to a 'hobby' or 'interest'. They still take without asking and enter without being invited.
We speak to you from the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation, the Oglala Lakota nation, with contributions from our relatives in Rosebud, Standing Rock and Cheyenne River. The realities we face on the Oglala Lakota nation are not only replicated amongst the Lakota, Nakota and Dakota nations, but throughout numerous communities within sovereign Indian nations. In common with many of them, when you cross the border into the Oglala Lakota nation you enter a Third World country; a Third World environment hidden from the international community in the heart of 'America', the most prosperous 'super-power' on earth; a Third World country called Pine Ridge populated by human beings who are rendered invisible by the media and perceived as anachronisms or anomalies by the dominant society. Judaic/Christian doctrines and corresponding political policies have been conceived and executed during various time frames to either eradicate or assimilate us so that our race, and the holocaust we survived, would melt into the 'mainstream' of American society. Due to their implementation we still find ourselves fighting to overcome the effects from the theft of the Black HIlls, the enforced boarding school regime, the Dawes General Allotment Act, the Major Crimes Act, the Indian Reorganization Act, the Termination Period, and on and on to the latest threat to our sovereignty and treaty rights - the Janklow (Governor of South Dakota)/Daschle (South Dakota Senator and Senate Minority leader) inspired 'Mitigation Bill' (see News & Current Events page).
Pine Ridge is bereft of investment or infrastructure and the possibility of one, so that the other could follow, appears remote. Shannon County, located on the reservation, is consistently the poorest area in the United States according to official sources. National statistics suggest that one in seven Indian people live on less than $2,500 per year; that over 40% of Indian people on reservations live below the poverty line; and that nationally 48 - 52% of Indian people are unemployed. Ours is a reservation where even those statistics deteriorate. The unemployment rate on Pine Ridge exceeds 90%. Over 30% of our people are homeless and of those that have homes 60% are substandard; 20% are without indoor plumbing; 50% have no telecommunications; 16% have no electricity. Some people exist in broken down cars. Levels of disease can be five and six times the national average without adequate or readily accessible health care facilities to counter and control. Our people have the lowest life expectancy, the highest rate of teen suicide, and the highest infant mortality rate of any ethnic group in the United States. Alcohol remains the scourge it has been since the Europeans introduced it to our people and it's purpose and their intent, to debilitate, placate and destroy us, also remains unchanged. Liquor stores litter reservation border towns and the revenue from alcohol is the lifeblood of those communities which are kept alive by the addiction, despondency and deaths of our people, young and old, who succumb to colonial power. On Pine Ridge we have children of kindergarten age inhaling glue and gasoline. There are kids as young as eight years old addicted to a drug called crank that is rampant among our youth. Why does alcohol remain such a problem? Why is there only one law enforcement officer specifically trained and qualified to contend with narcotics on a reservation populated by some 16, 000 people?
Under the guise of ending dependency, articles aligned with the federal Personal Responsibility and Work Opportunity Act were introduced to lever Indian people from the grip of welfare. The stark reality of the policy is a return to the Termination era, only this time by appropriation. In keeping with other Indian nations, when the Lakotas established treaties with the United States on a government to government basis we were supposed to be compensated for what was relinquished by means of funding proportionately related to that which was forfeited in order to secure and support self-determination. That the principle and foundations of such autonomy were subsequently abused and denied - education, health care provisions, housing, basic subsistence, religious freedom and human rights - does not alter the fundamental premise that what became termed as 'welfare' should, in regard to Indian people, be defined as a 'treaty right'. Budget cuts under the Clinton administration have effectively halved federal assistance to the reservation. On Pine Ridge approximately four out of five households survive through 'welfare' - initiatives such as the Job Opportunities and Basic Skills Program allow welfare recipients two years to remove themselves from the welfare rolls. If you haven't found full-time employment, a form of vocational training, or enrolled for further education, what will happen to you when your grace period elapses? On a reservation with a 90% unemployment rate and no infrastructure how can you meet the criteria? Do you stay on a familiar street or leave for bigger ones off the reservation, in a city that theoretically should offer employment opportunities. Even if you take racism out of the equation, you still have to overcome the restrictions of an inadequate education provision. Once described as 'a national tragedy and national disgrace' by the Kennedy Special Subcommittee, the consequences of that and subsequent eras have left many stranded in the present economic climate without the relevant skills to contend in a competitive jobs market. Do you sell or starve?
The same swathe of federal cuts crippled financial aid for legal assistance which severely undermines a tribal memberships ability to defend water and mineral rights. Over 60% of the continent's uranium and vast coal and petroleum reserves lay within the Grants Mineral Belt, an area comprised of a checkerboard of Indian reservations. Multi-national energy corporations and the federal government decreed it to be a 'national sacrifice area', much of the region to be plundered being composed of the Lakota nation and the bordering lands of the Northern Cheyenne, Arapaho, Crow and Shoshone. The 'national sacrifice area' was, apparently, in the best interests of the citizens of the United States (were they all consulted?), the economy and primarily Peabody Western Mining/Texas Utilities, Kerr McGee, Tennessee Valley Authority, Union Carbide, Brohme, Homestake, Amoco and Gulf. If encouragement were needed the energy companies were permitted to purchase federal land - that wasn't their's to sell (not unlike how 40% of the Pine Ridge reservation fell into the hands of wasicus) - for $3 per acre. Similar areas exist today where corporate interests only have to pay a pittance of $30 per acre. The multi-nationals get rich. Our people get cancer, a disease that ultimately displays no racial preference. The Black Hills Alliance, supported by Women of All Red Nations, drew attention to, opposed and restricted the uranium 'gold rush' but, like the strip-mining operations, it hasn't gone away. We watch and wait. The water table is lowered. The acquifers empty.
Of the eighty-three Bureau of Indian Affairs reservation offices, only five employ anybody with qualified environmental expertise. In light of which, is it any wonder that BIA offices flout the National Environmental Protection Act by approving land leases that do not adhere to the stipulated regulations? The corporate state not only covet our lands for mineral extraction but as dumps to house their toxic waste. In the oppression of sell or starve, corporations unable to meet stringent state laws come to the reservation to make a killing by manipulating desperation. Tribal politicians with a mandate to ease poverty are presented with commercial opportunities that amount to cultural devastation, the corporations exploiting the scenario knowing that tribal governments have few viable financial options available. Recompense is barely commensurate to the loss, and between the shortfall and controversy, the motive for corruption can appear. Next year, half of the nuclear reactors in the United States will run out of waste storage space - by the year 2010 the other half will have followed suite. Where are they looking to find alternative nuclear waste sites? Indian reservations. From the vice of colonialism, Gandhi once stated that the worst thing a government could do was commit its people to a policy of economic genocide.
This is our reality, our day to day existence. Do you really 'wannabe' Lakota? Would you 'wannabe' Lakota in the criminal justice system facing the potential double jeopardy between tribal and federal court? If you held out through the flagrant abuses and contraventions of the Speedy Trials Act and managed to stave off a plea bargain, you would then face the vagaries of jury selection in federal court. Would you be confident of a fair trial before a jury comprised of non-Indians, without any representation from a tribal member or an individual from your reservation who might relate to the environment from, and within which, the alleged offense was committed?
We ask for your support, consideration and respect - not your pity. The Lakota people have always stood and fought to defend what the Creator chose us to protect. Our ancestors honored that responsibility with their lives and we honor them and the responsibility to our future generations by committing the same. We offer ourselves, our blood, sweat, tears and pain, to the Creator through our spirituality - we defend that right and vow to protect it from those who impinge, defame, violate and seek to profit from the desecration of that which we hold sacred. You do not have to 'be us' to support us! If you truly want to support us then please listen to us, talk to us - and then choose whether or not to stand with us. Our human rights issues; our land issues; our environmental issues - one or more of them could be replicated and become yours tomorrow. Our children are suffering today, but tomorrow yours could join them. Destruction, disease and the contamination of the earth impacts upon every human being - imitating us serves no purpose in the struggle, it simply exacerbates the many crises. The choice is to be part of the problem, or part of the solution - and that choice is yours.