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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Human Trafficking is Closer than you Think

By Vi Waln

Last month, President Barack Obama issued an Executive Proclamation stating “Whether through violence, deceit, or the promises of a better life, some of the most vulnerable populations among us — including migrants and refugees fleeing conflict or disaster, homeless LGBT youth, Alaska Native and American Indian women and girls, and children in poverty — are preyed upon by human traffickers.

President Obama’s Executive Order designates January 2017 as National Slavery and Human Trafficking Prevention Month. In addition, February 1st will be observed as National Freedom Day. It’s our right to be free from slavery and human trafficking. The crimes of human trafficking may seem far removed from the Rez. Yet, many of our own people fall victim to human trafficking.

We are all at risk for slavery and human trafficking. Today, there are many pictures circulating on social media of American Indian men, women and children who are missing. It’s likely that many of these people are victims of human trafficking and/or slavery.

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We must educate ourselves and our children on what constitutes human trafficking—especially sex trafficking. Our female relatives, as well as our children and teenagers, could be at risk of being exploited by sex predators. Pimp is just another word for predator.

Pimps are sex offenders. They are predators, always watching for people whom they can exploit for profit. We have to work together to protect our men, women and children from these unscrupulous monsters. Some of the most heinous crimes prosecuted in South Dakota have involved human trafficking.

In 2014, then US Attorney Brendan Johnson spoke at a Tribal consultation on the Violence Against Women Act. He talked about women from Rosebud who were exploited for profit by a sex predator. This man took advantage of at risk females by luring them to his apartment where he kept them drunk or stoned. He physically assaulted them. They were forced to have sex with strangers for profit.

He was soon caught and convicted by a federal jury of Conspiracy to Commit Sex Trafficking of a Minor, Sex Trafficking of a Minor by Force, Fraud or Coercion, as well as Sex Trafficking by Force, Fraud or Coercion. Some of his victims were only 14 years old. He is now serving 4 life sentences for his crimes, which were all committed in Sioux Falls—a city where many of our Lakota people migrate to in order to find housing and jobs.

In addition, a famous activity in South Dakota where women and children are at risk of being sexually exploited, is at the annual motorcycle rally in Sturgis. In 2013, nine men who were seeking to have sex with teenagers were prosecuted and convicted of Commercial Sex Trafficking after they were caught by undercover agents.

The details of these crimes are outlined in the 2013 Annual Report published by Johnson. In all, there are fourteen criminal sex trafficking cases highlighted in the 2013 Annual Report. The report also includes other criminal cases from Indian Reservations and can be accessed online.

Our people also travel to oil boom areas, such as the Bakken oil fields in North Dakota, to find work. Young people run the risk of being trapped in a man camp as a sex slave. In 2014, Damon Buckley, a Rosebud tribal citizen, did an in-depth interview with Grace Her Many Horses, Rosebud’s former Chief of Police, about the atrocities suffered by young people and children at the hands of workers living in man camps.

In October 2016, Jonathan Cohen, a Sioux Falls physician, was arrested for Soliciting a Minor, Sexual Exploitation of a Minor and Engaging in Prostitution. Law enforcement has dubbed the case one of human trafficking as the Cohen paid for the girl to travel from Georgia. One news headline about this story reads Sioux Falls Doctor Arrested For Human Trafficking of Native American Women.

It’s up to all of us to educate our relatives about the risks of migrating to an area where they may have no access to resources. Human trafficking and slavery are crimes. Please protect yourself from dangerous predators who wouldn’t think twice of selling you for sex.

 

Our People are Addicted to Commercial Tobacco

By Vi Waln

According to the American Indian Cancer Foundation, lung cancer is the leading cause of cancer deaths among American Indians. You will greatly reduce your chances of getting cancer if you are a non-smoker. Unfortunately, American Indians probably have the highest rates of tobacco use in the world.

Contrary to what you may believe, commercial tobacco is not ceremonial. Ceremonial tobacco is a plant grown organically, without the additives found in the commercial tobacco we all can buy in local stores. The cigarettes, loose tobacco and chewing tobacco you purchase at grocery or convenience stores are all loaded with carcinogens. A carcinogen is a substance which is known to cause cancer.

Today, there are countless social events in Indian Country where a lot of people are smoking too many cigarettes or stuffing their mouths with that nasty chewing tobacco. Pow-wows, meetings, conferences, high school sporting events, tribal program offices and even ceremonies are all marked by our people huddled in a designated smoking area, puffing on those killer cigarettes. Those of you who smoke cigarettes or chew tobacco are role modeling a deadly behavior.

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Commercial tobacco users are showing our young people that it’s okay to use a deadly substance that will inevitably cause serious illness. Tobacco use greatly contributes to failing health and even death. Today, many of people have found the strength to quit using tobacco. They are enjoying a healthier life.

Nicotine is a drug and is highly addictive. Cigarette smoking and chewing tobacco are addictions. Babies and children can die from a nicotine overdose. People who stop using nicotine may report intense withdrawals. The withdrawal experience from cigarette smoking may be just as intense as that of a heroin addict. Still, it is possible to completely stop smoking cigarettes or chewing tobacco.

Non-smokers are adversely affected by the second-hand smoke exhaled from cigarette smokers. Employees who work in many Indian casinos where cigarette smoking is allowed, have eventually developed respiratory or other health problems due to breathing in the toxic cigarette smoke permeating their workplace. It’s not fair to subject non-smokers to the second-hand smoke that fills the Rosebud Casino today. Many people do not patronize Indian Casinos because of the cigarette smoke.

Cigarette smoke also leaves behind a residual known as third hand smoke. This is the brownish or yellowish film that gets on everything in a room where a person smokes cigarettes. If you smoke inside your car, this residual can be wiped off of your inner car windows. Just think, this brownish/yellowish residual also gets on everyone who is riding in the car with you when you are smoking that cigarette. Your children don’t deserve this kind of contamination.

This week marks my ninth year of a smoke free life. Before that, I lived most of my life as a cigarette smoker. Still, I found the strength and courage to quit smoking cigarettes. My youngest Takoja have never seen me with a lit cigarette in my mouth. They are the reason why I chose to stop role modeling the deadly behavior of cigarette smoking.

If I can quit, so can you.

Solstice Prayers are Important

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By Vi Waln

Many of us living on today’s reservations grew up in homes that practiced some form of Christianity. This is largely due to our ancestors being forced to adapt to the Christian way of worship after being confined to the homelands we now live on. The boarding school experience also conditioned many of our grandparents and parents to worship as Catholic or Episcopal.

 

On Rosebud, there are still many faithful attendees of Midnight Mass on Christmas Eve. St. Charles Church in St. Francis always had an elaborate Christmas display. Christmas Mass is a time to greet relatives and other people by shaking hands and wishing one another well.

 

With the ongoing renaissance of Lakota ceremony, many of our people have stopped following Christianity. Regular attendance at our local churches has dropped dramatically. For instance, St. Francis Mission once had an entire community of priests, brothers and nuns who helped spread Catholic teachings to the Lakota people. Many of the priests lived in the outlying communities on the Rosebud. They served the people in the community by providing a regular weekly mass, as well as other religious activities.

 

Today, there are just few Catholic and Episcopal church leaders living on the Rosebud Reservation. Every week they spread themselves thin conducting mass in several of the 20 communities on the Rosebud. They no longer assist our people with certain events as there is just not enough of them to go around anymore.

 

Even though our people have embraced Lakota ceremony and may no longer attend Christian mass, many still observe Christmas by giving gifts and hosting holiday dinners for their families. However, some of our people view others as being colonized because of this practice. We are all entitled to our own belief system. Some Lakota people view the sharing of food and gifts during the Christmas season as simply another way for us to demonstrate our generous nature. Some Lakota do not observe Christmas at all.

 

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Many Lakota people also observe the change of seasons by offering special prayers during both the solstice and equinox times. Today many Lakota people are observing the solstice, which marks the beginning of winter. Some of our people will travel to sacred sites in the He Sapa to offer prayers this week. Some will go pray at Inikaga or Lowanpi. Others will be attending Christmas Mass this weekend to offer their prayers there.

 

Many of us believe it’s okay to keep what practices are good and shed the ones that no longer work for us. Life is forever evolving. Even though some behavior may appear to be colonized, what really matters are the daily prayers we offer. As Lakota, many people in the world look to us to see how to behave. We have to show our children to be accepting of each other. This means we have to avoid judging our fellow tribal citizens on the choices they make regarding family customs during holiday seasons.

 

The experiences our ancestors lived through greatly influenced our contemporary worldview. I often wonder what our lives would be like if all our ceremonies had disappeared. I appreciate my Lakota ancestors who risked their lives when they resisted total colonization by moving our ceremonial ways underground. They are the reason some of us still pray to Tunkasila on a daily basis.

 

We can make Christmas a better time for our children by not judging one another’s holiday practices, as well as living the virtue of generosity. This is a time to heal ourselves from lateral oppression. If you are fortunate to share with other families outside of your own, please do so. Our ancestors included everyone when it was time to celebrate.

 

We are here today because our ancestors always put prayer first. It’s up to every one of us to help our children understand the importance of prayer. Behave in such a way so your family knows it that it doesn’t matter if you pray in a church or in the Inikaga; what matters is that we are carrying on the prayerful ways of our ancestors. It’s called being a good relative.

 

I wish all of you healthy and happy holiday season.

 

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Oceti Sakowin Tribes Hold Meetings, Provide Testimony on Dakota Access Pipeline in D.C.

 

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For Immediate Release
Tue., Dec. 13, 2016

Chairman Robert Flying Hawk | robertflyinghawk@gmail.com |
Jennifer Baker | jbaker@ndnlaw.com | 303-673-9600

 

WASHINGTON, D.C. — The surreal meeting on Friday, December 9, 2016 in Washington, D.C. was a direct result of frontline water protectors, tribal leaders, spiritual leaders and elders, the camps at Standing Rock, and allies all across the world praying and participating in non-violent direct actions for the successful denial of the Dakota Access Pipeline easement and the repeated tribal requests for an Environmental Impact Statement (“EIS”).

At a meeting coordinated by the Great Plains Tribal Chairmen’s Association, tribal representatives from the leadership of the Cheyenne River, Oglala, Standing Rock, and Yankton Sioux Tribes met at the Department of the Interior with the Department of Justice, the U.S. Army Corps, and the Department of Interior to discuss next steps for agency review of the Dakota Access easement request.  Lowry Crook, Deputy Assistant of the Army for Civil Works, explained to the group that a scoping meeting for the EIS would be held with interested tribes shortly and that a notice for the EIS would appear in the Federal Register, mandating its completion.  Crook told the tribal representatives that the Army is working “expeditiously” on the next steps in the process under the National Environmental Policy Act, “which will include opportunities for tribal input.”  The tribes present strongly asserted the need for the EIS to assess the entire pipeline, rather than just a small portion of the route.

Tribal representatives expressed a strong desire to hold the scoping meeting in the Dakotas. Whether that will happen remains to be seen and will continue to be pursued. The Yankton Sioux Tribe requested to be a “cooperating agency” to oversee and participate in the development of the EIS.  Tribes are also requesting consultation on the reissuance of Nationwide Permit 12.

Extended heated discussion dwelled on the need to remove the oppressive law enforcement presence surrounding the Standing Rock camps, which have proven to be a flashpoint for violence. Officials present stated that they will strive to meet that request. Tribal officials continued to press for an investigation into the extreme violence inflicted on water protectors over the past several months.  Federal officials may visit the site in a few days if it is feasible, as time is short for the end of their political appointments.

Following the meeting, a Corps official confirmed that the Corps is not raising the water level at Lake Oahe, stating that “we are dropping reservoir levels by 1.5 feet between now and March 1st to create additional flood storage capacity for spring runoff as part of normal winter reservoir operations.”  This issue was raised in order to address fears voiced at the Standing Rock camps that the water was being raised.

Earlier that day, individuals representing the Yankton, Standing Rock, Cheyenne River, and Oglala Sioux Tribes testified before the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (“IACHR”) at a thematic hearing.  While the hearing was of a general nature, testimony focused primarily on the Dakota Access Pipeline and the human rights violations that have occurred in conjunction with both approval of the pipeline and related law enforcement actions.

The United States was also represented at the IACHR hearing, providing testimony through six federal officials including Director Tracy Toulou, Office of Tribal Justice; Chip Smith, Office of the Assistant Secretary of the Army; and Valerie Hauser, Advisory Council on Historic Preservation.  U.S. testimony acknowledged inadequacies in federal government consultation with tribes regarding infrastructure projects, and focused largely on assertions that the agencies are working on complying with the law and with the requirement of free, prior and informed consent.  Little or no substantive information was provided to show if and how this is actually happening.

The IACHR Commissioners were receptive to the tribes’ pleas and concerns, encouraging tribal leaders to continue their pursuit of justice for the alleged human rights violations.

Following the IACHR hearing, the tribal delegation visited the office of Bernie Sanders.  Senator Sanders met with the group and asked for input and recommendations to address challenges faced by Native communities.  The Senator said they would be working with another Congressional Representative to further study the 1851 Fort Laramie Treaty Territory and rights under that treaty.  Tribal officials invited him to make a visit to the Dakotas on an information gathering visit with the tribes.

 

 

 

 

Tribal Citizens Want Change

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Native Nation Rebuilders of Cohort 7 pause for a photo at Spearfish Canyon Lodge in April 2016. Courtesy Photo

By Vi Waln

The Native Nation Rebuilder Program seeks to inspire, equip and connect citizens from 23 tribal nations who want to strengthen tribal governance. The Native Governance Center and the Native Nations Institute offer a curriculum to assist tribal citizens in improving their leadership skills. This month, 18 more Native Nation Rebuilders reached the halfway point of a 2-year commitment.

Last summer, I tried to get people from my tribe to apply for the Rebuilder program. Unfortunately, many brushed it off because they were under the impression that it was limited to people seeking to run for tribal council or other elected positions. It’s true the Rebuilders Program will help you bring a fresh approach to tribal government.

Yet, an important aspect of the Rebuilders Program is learning how to become a better leader. Leadership is lacking in Indian Country. Our people would do well to participate in a process like the Rebuilders Program. It’s an excellent way to build leadership skills.

Rebuilders also refine their teamwork skills. Tribal nations are composed of a group of people who claim citizenship in their tribe. It only makes sense that we would do better working as a group toward the common goal of improving the life experience for our people.

Today, many of our people are disillusioned with tribal government. The Rebuilders program encouraged me to look forward and think about ways to strengthen tribal governance. Our young people need us to encourage them to get involved in tribal government. Getting involved in your tribal government doesn’t have to be a bad experience.

Our young people will soon be the new blood seeking election as tribal officers or tribal council representatives. As it stands today, we do nothing to prepare them for this phase of tribal life. There are only a few tribal government classes offered to students attending high schools and colleges on our reservations. This has to change if we are serious about improving tribal government.

We have to take steps to see that tribal governance courses are offered as a regular part of the curriculum in our tribal and public school systems operating in Indian Country. Many of our elementary school students will recognize George Washington’s name, but they have no idea who the first tribal president on their own reservation was. Furthermore, many tribal high school and college students don’t know who their sitting tribal president is.

Tribal citizens who have completed the Rebuilders program have the responsibility to share their teachings publicly. It is up to this small army of Rebuilders who reside in the Great Plains area to find innovative ways to share their knowledge with others. Rebuilders who work in local schools and colleges must find ways to educate the students they work with, about their own tribal government.

Today, our tribal governments are being operated in such a state that our young people lack the burning desire to get involved. They don’t want to be a part of the dysfunctional, and often corrupt system, we currently call our tribal government. I don’t blame them at all.

As adults and tribal leaders, we all have to work to empower our young people with skills to affect change in the systems currently in place at our tribal headquarters. We’ve all witnessed what the standard approach has done to our tribal governance systems. The Rebuilder approach is a new way to work on improving how tribal government operates.

Tribal citizens want change. This change will happen when we empower our young people by providing them with the skills to improve their own tribal government. Change is slow. Still, we have to get the wheels of change rolling today if we want our future leaders to lead governing systems that work for all our people.

We have to start somewhere. One way to introduce the importance of tribal governance to our young people is to create an activity or project they would be interested in participating in. The Lakota Nation Invitational is one annual event where a tribal governance track could be introduced. There are enough Rebuilders out there to make this happen.

It’s up to all of us to find a way!