You Give Me Hope

By Vi Waln

Life is hard for many Lakota people. It may be especially difficult when you are living on the land where your ancestors grew up. There are times in life when you might lose something that’s important to you. There are also times in your life when people who mean a lot to you are taken away.

Yet, finishing school is an accomplishment that will never be taken away from you. Education is definitely an achievement that you will never lose. Nobody can take away your high school diploma or college degree. An education is yours to keep. Forever.

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A 2017 graduate of Pine Ridge High School wore a mortarboard decorated with porcupine quills. Photo from Facebook

This month, we’ve seen many of our young people graduate from high school. In an area designated as one of the poorest in the country, finishing high school is a great achievement. Some of our young people grow up in extreme poverty. The fact that our young Lakota students were able to persevere to complete high school is an achievement their Tiospaye can be very proud of.

It’s even more difficult for our people to leave home for college. We are all aware of how tight-knit our Lakota Tiospaye can be. Young people who have enrolled in a program of study at a college or university far away from home often have a hard time. They experience extreme loneliness. They might even fall into the wrong crowd.

Yet, many have dealt with the issues that come with being away from home and family. Those of us who use social media were privileged to see the photos of college graduates recently shared by family and friends. All of the Lakota college graduates from across the country have made us all very proud. Lakota people are smart!

But even though we are smart, we often engage in lateral oppression. It’s not smart to make fun of people who’ve earned a college degree. People who make fun of their relatives should examine their own behavior. You look foolish when you make fun of others.

Before the advent of the internet and social media, we made fun of others either in person or behind their backs. Our ancestors probably had more self-control than we will ever have. Our ancestors worked hard to ensure the entire tribe was provided for. They didn’t have time to engage in lateral oppression by making fun of each other. They were too busy being self-sufficient.

Consequently, there are smart Lakota people who have decided not to attend college because they don’t want to be a target of lateral oppression. Lakota people who’ve earned a degree are often accused of thinking they are better than everyone else. There are also Lakota people accused of somehow morphing into a wasicu after they graduate from a university. Again, you look really foolish when you engage in lateral oppression.

College graduates are also overlooked when it comes to being hired for a tribal job. I once witnessed my tribal council chose a person with a high school diploma for a director job. He was hired over a qualified applicant with a college degree. This may be another reason why our young people are discouraged from attending college. Today, many Lakota people voice their concern that a college degree doesn’t matter when you try to work for your tribe.

In any case, Lakota people would do well to encourage one another to get educated. There isn’t anything wasicu about graduating from a university. You better yourself and your tribe by earning a college degree.

If you are a Lakota person who regularly puts down your fellow tribal citizens by making disparaging remarks about their college education, I encourage you to look in the mirror to figure out why you do it. We are proud of our college educated tribal citizens. You should be proud of them too.

Congratulations to everyone who overcame all obstacles to finish high school and college. You give me hope.

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It’s Destroying Us

By Vi Waln

It’s destroying us.

Those words say a lot. It is what a health care provider at Rosebud Hospital told me. We were talking about the growing methamphetamine epidemic on the Rosebud Reservation.

Meth is taking over our people. There have been numerous homes burglarized on the Rosebud in the last several weeks. Meth users will do anything to get their drug, including breaking into homes and stealing what others have worked hard to provide for their family.

Every time you use meth, you are destroying your body. Our young people who are addicted to meth show up at the hospital with symptoms they shouldn’t have until they are elders. More and more of our young Lakota people are walking around without any teeth. Using meth robs you of your mind, body and spirit.

There are elders and children suffering greatly because of the meth addicts in their family. Elders are abused and left destitute because their adult children and grandchildren steal what little income they have. Small children are left alone in houses for days without supervision or food because the parents are on a meth binge.

Currently, there are many vacant houses on our reservation. The unofficial number of houses on Rosebud contaminated by meth users is at 400 or more. It’s not safe for people, especially our fragile children and elders, to live in a house filled with meth residual. The Rosebud Sioux Tribal Council does have a standing resolution for our local housing authority to evict residents when a house has a meth residual level of 2.0 or higher.

Kudos to the Rosebud Police Department. They have been working hard to get meth users and dealers off our streets. Many people have recently been charged in our Tribal Court with possession of narcotics. Some of those charges are for prescription pills, but the majority of the drug charges arraigned in Tribal Court are likely for meth.

The RPD usually informs tribal citizens through social media about arrests involving meth and other drugs. They don’t release names but SicanguScribe.com does publish the RST Criminal Court arraignments online so you can see who is arrested for drugs. It used to be that public shaming did a lot to deter crime on our homelands. Today, people are not at all ashamed when they go to jail for a crime involving meth.

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We are a spiritual people. Yet, our people addicted to drugs or alcohol don’t have a clear grasp of reality. Their brains are irreversibly damaged by heavy drinking or drug use. Their sense of what is real is clouded by the effects of the drug. By the way, alcohol is a drug.

Addicts, including those who drink, are likely to attract entities that can attach themselves to the user. Local people can attest to this as many have had experiences in their homes when someone was using meth heavily. Some may have brushed these strange occurrences off as something they’ve imagined, while others know the experiences are very real.

Highly intoxicated people often don’t remember doing things while they were drunk. It’s quite possible that an entity took over their body and helped them to commit heinous crimes. Yet, it’s impossible to blame an entity you cannot see. You alone are responsible for your choices.

Lakota people who are heavy meth users, prescription pill addicts, drug dealers, bootleggers and alcoholics are not good ancestors. Unfortunately, there isn’t much we can do for an individual who doesn’t want to get sober or stop selling poison. Still, dealers, bootleggers, addicts and alcoholics are our relatives.

They may be our relatives, but they are also the people abusing our children and elders. Meth users are ruining public housing units and causing entire families to be evicted. They are breaking into private homes to rob families of personal possessions they’ve worked hard for. We live in sad state. Our ancestors would be ashamed.

It’s destroying us.

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April is Sexual Assault Awareness Month

sexual assault

By Vi Waln

April is Sexual Assault Awareness Month. RAINN (Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network) reports someone is sexually assaulted every 98 seconds. Activities are planned to increase awareness to widespread sex crimes across this country. Many victims are children. Being sexually assaulted as a child affects one for life.

There are also many people who misunderstand the dynamics of sexual assault. They mistakenly believe it is the victim’s fault when rape occurs. Nothing could be further from the truth.

For instance, a local health professional spoke about sexual assault at a meeting held in Mission. She encouraged young women to be careful of how they dressed. She also went on to talk about how women put themselves in situations where they are asking to be sexually assaulted. It is hard to believe that we have health professionals who promote these misconceptions. Sexual assault is never the victim’s fault.

According to a recent story from KELOLAND TV, South Dakota is currently ranked second in the nation for the most sexual assaults or rapes. Residents quickly point to Indian Reservations as the source of this report. For sure, statistics from RAINN regarding the frequency of sexual crimes show that American Indian women are more than twice as likely to suffer rape, or other forms of sexual assault, in our lifetime.

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The status of federal criminal cases, including sex crimes, are provided online by the US Attorney for the District of South Dakota. Charges, convictions and sentences of rapists/sex offenders comprise a majority of cases in the federal system. For instance, there have been 26 sex crime cases since January 1. As of last week, criminal suspects were charged with several types of sex crimes which fall under federal jurisdiction.

Charges listed on the US Attorney’s site include: Abusive Sexual Contact with a Person Incapable of Consent, Sexual Contact with a Minor, Receipt of Child Pornography, Abusive Sexual Contact, Prostitution Transportation, Sexual Abuse of a Minor, Failure to Register as a Sex Offender, Aggravated Sexual Abuse, Sexual Abuse, Transfer of Obscene Matter and Attempted Trafficking in Involuntary Servitude and Forced Labor (Sex Trafficking).

Also, Aggravated Sexual Abuse of a Child, Sexual Contact, Sexual Contact with a Minor,
Possession of Child Pornography, Sexual Exploitation of Minors, Attempted Commercial Sex Trafficking, Attempted Illicit Sexual Conduct with a Minor, Aggravated Sexual Abuse by Force,
Aggravated Sexual Abuse of a Child, Abusive Sexual Contact of a Child, Sexual Abuse of a Child and Abusive Sexual Contact of a Minor.

There are 15 drug cases also listed on the site. Meth use continues to grow in this country and is often a factor in sexual assault. In addition, many young victims often suffer sexual abuse in their own home. We all must be vigilant of our children to protect them from sexual assault.

There is also the probability of a man camp being established near our homelands. The recent approval of a presidential permit will allow TransCanada to begin constructing the Keystone XL pipeline soon. The project will likely see man camps established along the proposed route.

In an interview conducted by Damon Buckley, Police Chief Grace Her Many Horses talked about her experience with man camps. Crime rates do increase in proximity to a man camp, sexual assaults are especially common. Again, we have the responsibility to be vigilant with our relatives, both male and female. (See Lakota Country Times, 05-22-2014)

Our bodies and spirits are sacred. We all have to do our part to reduce the prevalence of sexual assault on our homelands.

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Accreditation Authority Should Be Granted to Tribal Educators

By Vi Waln

The Commission for Oceti Sakowin Accreditation (COSA) is an organization of dedicated educators who have worked for several years to affect change in the school systems. The curriculum currently mandated by accreditation authorities for South Dakota has been failing us for decades. The educators behind COSA grew weary of watching tribal students fail in academic programs at the K-12, community college and university level.

So, instead of complaining about a system that obviously doesn’t work for us, this group of educators went to work on the issue. Indian educators are everyday people. Many were born and raised on the reservation. They are acutely aware of how difficult school can be for tribal students. Their intent is to put accreditation authority in the hands of our own people. The concept of having our own accreditation authority for tribal education, is also known as sovereignty.

Many Indian educators are also aware of the struggle our high school graduates face in attempting to pass freshman level college courses. For example, when I first enrolled in a university, the vocabulary level of my classmates was well over my head. I carried around a Merriman-Webster Dictionary during my first year of school. Without that dictionary, along with hours of remedial research, I certainly would have failed freshman English.

If you ask me what the worst thing about that first year at the university was, I’d have to admit it would be a toss-up between (1) the realization that you are academically unprepared for freshman English or (2) lugging around a heavy dictionary with the other required textbooks.

Consequently, tribal students attending reservation high schools are still not academically prepared to succeed in college. In fact, the majority of our tribal students enter higher education institutions only to spend time completing remedial courses that offer a curriculum similar to what they should have learned in high school.

So, COSA was formed with the intent to improve the tribal student experience and work for the authority to implement accreditation standards which would allow college freshmen to succeed. On March 6, 2017, South Dakota SB 125, which was written to “revise the list of organizations which may approve and accredit a nonpublic school,” was presented to the South Dakota House lawmakers to vote up or down. Unfortunately, SB 125 failed to pass by a vote of 31 ayes and 35 nays.

An opinion on SB 125 written by Elizabeth May of District 27, was confusing. She wrote:

Oceti Sakowin or COSA is seeking approval to be added to the accreditation list. Concerns surrounding Gear-Up and the $16.5 million in grant money that went through Mid Central in the last decade have some committee members concerned.

Oceti Sakowin Education Consortium was in charge of the program for six years and handled nearly $6 million in grant money. The American Institute for Indian Innovation took over five years ago with $10.7 million in grant money. It turns out both nonprofit foundations were started by Scott Westerhuis (Mid-Central) who accepted millions in GEAR UP money. The concerns surrounding grant money distributed by Mid Central going to OSEC or Oceti Sakowin Educational Consortium overlapped during the same time money was going to American Indian Institute for Innovation or AIII.

Absent the Auditor General’s long audit process to determine where the $62 million went under the shell corporations formed by Scott Westerhuis I doubt this legislation [South Dakota Senate Bill 125] will move forward.

As you can read, Ms. May provided some background about the Oceti Sakowin Educational Consortium (OSEC) and their ties to the 2015 SD GEAR-UP controversy. If I was a reader who didn’t know that COSA was a completely separate organization from OSEC, I would’ve believed it was OSEC working to obtain authorization to accredit nonpublic (tribal) schools. OSEC has no legal relation to COSA.

So, lawmakers who may have believed that OSEC had metamorphosed into COSA, were likely just as confused as Ms. May. Unfortunately, confusion seemed to be a determining factor in the defeat of SB 125. Now, COSA has to wait until the 2018 legislation session for a similar bill to be presented to determine who has accreditation authority over private, i.e. tribal, schools.

South Dakota legislators are elected to work at improving conditions for all people living in this state. It’s reasonable for citizens to believe legislators have some responsibility to do adequate research on the organizations affected by the proposed laws, voted up or down every year in Pierre. That is, doing the homework about organizations in our own state might result in less confusion when bills are put to a vote.

Thank you to our local legislators for their vote of confidence on SB 125. It’s unfortunate that other legislators, who know little about tribal education, voted the bill down.

Rosebud Hospital’s Improvement Plan

By Vi Waln

The Rosebud Comprehensive Health Care Facility has been operating under an improvement plan for quite some time. This plan was put into place after the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) found several questionable incidents or practices had happened at the hospital, some of which jeopardized the lives of patients. CMS conducts regular on-site visits to assess where the facility is in terms of their improvement plan.

The actions (or inaction) of medical and administrative staff at the Rosebud Hospital resulted in a 7 month diversion of our Emergency Department (ER). Our tribal citizens suffered because of the diversion of the ER to urgent care services from December 2015 through July 2016. In fact, during the diversion some of our relatives died while being transported to a facility where they could receive emergency treatment. Many people believe these deaths may have been prevented if the ER at Rosebud had remained open.

Our tribal council and tribal health officials worked very hard to get our ER reopened. The Indian Health Service (IHS) appointed several Commission Corp officials to key administrative positions on a temporary basis to deal with the CMS compliance issues. Consequently, there were positive and negative results from having temporary Commission Corp staff work on improving patient care at our hospital.

One positive result, of course, was the reopening of the ER last summer. Many tribal citizens have since visited the hospital to receive emergency care. Some patients received care at Rosebud’s ER while others were flown by airplane to larger facilities.

However, the re-opening of the ER has not been without a downside. For instance, there was visible tension between permanent hospital staff and the outside company that was contracted to run the Rosebud ER. Some permanent staff members displayed resentment toward the new employees appointed by the outside company to oversee Rosebud’s ER.

In addition, many of us have listened to talk about how much money this new company is spending to staff the ER. Yet, ER physicians, nurses and support staff must be paid what they are worth. When it comes to the health of our people, especially those needing immediate emergency care, there should be no concern about how much it costs.

More money often means more toys. That is, some of you who use the Rosebud Hospital may have noticed improvements in the form of new furniture or equipment. Remodeling of certain areas in the hospital was also done. For example, some of us wonder how much money was spent and if the quality of care we receive at the Rosebud Hospital was actually improved by remodeling the public restrooms. In any case, at least the water faucet in the ladies restroom no longer runs constantly.

Additional funding must be justified to the higher ups. The Commission Corp staff, no longer in charge at Rosebud, can justify the money they spent while there. That is, even though health care may not have improved for some patients, at least we got a new public restroom. The faucet that no longer runs constantly is justification for the money spent on “facility improvements.”

Consequently, some patients do receive excellent care during clinic or ER visits. For instance, I recently recovered from a serious illness. The medical provider I visited at the Rosebud Hospital ordered several tests to determine why I was sick. I was prescribed the proper medication to cure my illness. I do appreciate the hard working medical providers in our clinic.

Also, when our ER was diverted to urgent care, several of Rosebud’s tribal council members questioned the effectiveness of the key administrative staff initially responsible for ensuring our facility was in compliance with CMS regulations. Consequently, some of those staff members, who obviously didn’t work hard enough to ensure CMS compliance, have since been assigned to work in other facilities. This is why the Commission Corp personnel were brought in to oversee improvement efforts at the Rosebud Hospital.

Our tribal representatives are now working to contract the key administrative positions at the Rosebud Hospital. This will soon give our tribe a voice regarding the staff hired to correct on-going issues cited by CMS at our facility. In the meantime, the government is bringing back some of the same IHS employees to fill key administrative positions. If the tribal council representatives and tribal health officials are paying attention, they will see that some of the same players that didn’t contribute to any improvements are now back in the game at Rosebud.

We can’t afford to have our ER diverted again. The temporary duty assignment of employees, who were there before, may put the facility in jeopardy again. After all, those same employees were part of the reason for the Rosebud Hospital not being in compliance with CMS in the first place.

For the sake of all our tribal citizens and others seeking care at the Rosebud Hospital, let’s hope those same key administrative IHS employees don’t drop the ball again.

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Lateral Violence Doesn’t Help Unci Maka

By Vi Waln

One of the most amazing things about the anti-pipeline movement is witnessing human beings unite in prayer. The spiritual energy created by the people who came together in this movement was experienced by many visitors to the Oceti Sakowin, Rosebud or Sacred Stone camps. No matter what happens, that spiritual fire will always burn in our hearts.

 

In the first few days of the resistance against the Dakota Access Pipeline (DAPL), only a handful of people occupied Sacred Stone Camp. A couple of months later, the Water Protector camps were home to 10,000 people. Wopila to all the human beings who’ve established a residence near the Cannon Ball river over the past year.

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Many people across Unci Maka sacrificed to stand up for the Water of Life. President Obama lent a false sense of hope when he denied a permit for the Keystone XL pipeline. The temporary halt of DAPL construction in December 2016, was another action bringing a false sense of hope that the black snake wouldn’t be built. Yet, believing that the federal government would truly support a permanent halt to more pipeline construction was just too much to hope for.

 

For many people, it was no surprise to see newly-elected Trump take quick action to revive the big oil pipeline projects after he was sworn in as president. Unfortunately, many of us knew the politicians holding oil investments would push these projects forward. It’s all about the profit margin for these capitalists.

 

In addition, much of the action Trump has taken or is promising to take, is not environmentally friendly at all. The fight against those who’ve made it their life purpose to destroy Mother Earth has just started. In the continuing battle to project Mother Earth, we have to remember that our own people are not to blame.

 

For example, there are derogatory remarks posted on social media about elected officials at Standing Rock. Granted, there aren’t many fans of the Indian Reorganization Act (IRA) systems governing our reservations, but it’s the only form of government we have. And nothing about tribal government is going to change until we unite as tribal citizens and fix it ourselves. In any case, it’s extremely disheartening to read the negativity of people’s minds on public social media platforms.

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There are also social media musings written by people questioning the validity of all the prayer that’s been made for the Water of Life. People who question the power of prayer show their lack of faith. Without faith, you will always question your prayer.

 

These are examples of lateral violence. When an individual uses their energy to lash out at others, it shows how much of their focus is on others, instead of their own self-improvement. Focusing on the perceived shortcomings of others won’t heal us. Each individual has to do their own work to heal their inner spirit.

 

Wikipedia defines Lateral Violence as something which “occurs within marginalized groups where members strike out at each other as a result of being oppressed. The oppressed become the oppressors of themselves and each other. Common behaviors that prevent positive change from occurring include gossiping, bullying, finger-pointing, backstabbing and shunning.”

 

Lateral violence is the residual of intergenerational trauma that many of us carry because of our history with the government; it continues to cripple our efforts at healing. Some healing is work we must do on ourselves. We have to help one another understand how violence inflicted upon on ancestors still affects us today. The more steps we take on our path to healing, the less painful that same journey will be for our descendants.

 

Again, the fight for Mother Earth has only just begun. Our energy would be better used fighting the real enemy, who are moving now to kill our planet. If you can’t travel to a protest site, you can always pray. Despite what some may believe, it’s the daily prayers of the faithful that have transformed the anti-pipeline movement into what it is today.

 

Posting crap about your own people on Facebook doesn’t do Mother Earth any good. It just shows the rest of us how much healing you need to go through in order to get over your tendency to engage in lateral violence. Time grows short. Look within and heal yourself. Our children are depending on healthy adults to protect the Mni Wiconi and save Unci Maka.

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I am a Lakota Woman and I know My Place

Vi Waln

The Lakota people have always been a matriarchal society. The Lakota men who understand what a matriarchal society involves, were raised to show respect for women. In Lakota culture, women are the givers of life and are considered sacred beings.

As women, we have always had an important voice in Lakota society. Our women were consulted in every aspect of life, including the negotiation of the treaties we negotiated with the federal government in the 19th century. Our voices are crucial in the decision making process.

Our women own the home. We take care of the family. Many of us are now the sole breadwinners for our families.

As women, we have always brought necessary balance to our society. We are the backbone. Ladies, please remember that without us there would not be a Lakota society. In fact, without women, there would be no society at all.

America has always been a male dominated society. Since 1492, males have exerted unsolicited and unwelcome influence over our people. They’ve planted many seeds of doubt within the minds of our people. Those seeds have germinated over the past 525 years.

Many of our Lakota men have succumbed to the notion of male dominance. Some of them laugh when we remind them of the sacredness of women. Others disrespect women to the point of assaulting them physically, sexually, mentally, emotionally or spiritually. In fact, there are Lakota men who made the choice to spend their lives in prison when they murdered their female companion.

However, there are still a great number of Lakota men who show respect for themselves and the women in their lives. These are the men who treat women as equal partners in relationships or marriages. They don’t view themselves as being above the woman.

Consequently, America has elected a very disrespectful man to its highest office. I didn’t watch the inauguration last week. However, I did see several pictures and videos on social media since he was sworn in. I didn’t like what I saw.

This man treated his wife very disrespectfully. The men and women who embrace the notion of a male-dominated society probably saw nothing wrong with his behavior. The pictures and video you may have viewed on the internet, actually portrayed the former President and First Lady as showing more respect for the incoming First Lady than her own husband did.

Consequently, many people look to America’s President as a role model for the rest of society. The behavior many people witnessed on his inauguration day didn’t demonstrate actions of a positive role model. The behavior some of us witnessed is typical of men who believe women should be subservient to them.

Actions like this are what influence our men to behave as wasicu. Just because you see a wasicu man behave badly toward women, it doesn’t give you license to treat Lakota women in the same manner. Remember, it’s the wasicu thought process that places men above women. If you are a Lakota man, you must treat women with respect. This means you do things as equal partners in a relationship. Lakota women have never given up their roles. We are not subservient like many of the wasicu women are.

You all know that the majority of Lakota women are the ones supporting most of the Lakota Oyate. I don’t write this to make anyone feel bad, I write it because it’s the truth. Lakota women must be treated as the sacred beings they are. We are the doorway for the coming generations.

If you believe Lakota women were put on earth to be your servants or your punching bags, you might need to find a treatment program to cleanse your thought process. Or maybe some good hot sweats will help your mind. Just because the wasicu act a certain way doesn’t mean you can act the same way.

Many Lakota women have a very hard time in this life. They work full-time jobs, often at minimum wage to feed a houseful of people. Many raise a family all alone. A lot of them put up with relatives who are alcoholics or drug addicts. The women who are raising rebellious teenagers all alone are often stressed out or worried sick about them.

This new administration is going to be a test for all Indigenous people. Please don’t make it any harder by treating us the same way those wasicu treat their women. Respect yourself by respecting us.

As a Lakota woman, I know my place and it is to speak up for my Sisters, along with all the other Lakota people who have no voice. Wopila for your readership, it is greatly appreciated.

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