The Rosebud Sioux Tribe is conducting a primary election this week. Many tribal members say we need change. At the risk of sounding cliché, I will say the more things change in tribal government the more they stay the same.
I went to a community meeting last week. I sometimes attend tribal council meetings and was asked by the people at my community meeting if I knew what council was doing. I tried not to be offended as each community has an elected tribal council representative. I am not the one who was elected to represent my community. The tribal council representatives are supposed to attend community meetings to update the voters on issues which affect us. I would bet money that a majority of the twenty (20) communities do not have adequate representation because their tribal council person does not attend community meetings.
Recently, I saw a photo posted to Facebook which showed how much travel money was used by each tribal council representative. The total was $190,253.44 for a year. Travel is rarely explained by elected representatives. We know they travel but we hardly know why. We don’t see public reports from them until it is election time. Look at the newspaper ads from three years ago and you will see they are saying the same thing. Nothing has really changed.
There are candidates whose names will be on the ballot who owe outstanding travel. I will not be voting for any incumbents lest they owe travel. Taking a travel advance and not providing documentation of the trip is theft. When tribal employees owe outstanding travel their paychecks are garnished until the debt is paid. Why doesn’t this happen with tribal council representatives? I would personally like to see a list published showing how much money every past and present elected tribal official owes for outstanding travel. A comprehensive list would include both the council travel line item along with records from other tribal entities which provide trip advances.
Our children are suffering. Many are having an extremely difficult summer because of the heat. I do not see much effort being made to provide any kind of relief from these scorching summer days to our children. I see many children playing in swimming pools in their yards when the mercury hits triple digit temperatures while tribal officials sit in air conditioned buildings supposedly making decisions for the next seven generations.
Our elders are suffering. We have a nursing home which is dire need of many things. I attended a Christmas gathering there last December and one of the residents emailed me a couple of days later to tell me that he had waited for a top tribal official to visit him and look at the conditions of the rooms but the politician never showed up.
Also, there are many elders who do not have air conditioners in their homes. Did you know that Wal-Mart.com has 12,000 BTU window air conditioners for $259 each? $193,253.44 would have paid for about 731 of these air conditioners.
Another friend posted this on his Facebook wall and tagged me with it.
“Nearly all men can stand adversity, but if you want to test a man’s character, give him power – This is one of my all-time [favorite] quotes by Abraham Lincoln. And in the spirit of the upcoming tribal elections, I will interject my opinion about the obvious lack of leadership my tribe has experienced over the past decade or so. Tis’ the season for candidates and incumbents to spew their rhetoric about helping our elders and youth when they are elected, this grandstanding approach is no longer laughable because it is downright appalling. We suffer not from the injustices of the federal government, but to our own tribal government. Our quality of life on the Rosebud is unacceptable: child abuse/neglect, elderly abuse, sexual assaults, alcoholism, drug abuse, etc. are what is keeping us from advancing as a People. Our elected officials have an apathetic outlook: if we wait long enough on an issue maybe it will go away. What new laws are being brought forward to improve our quality of life? Provide economic growth so we don’t have our hands out for basic sustenance to the federal system. My late grandpa would tell me we are our own worst enemies because we are jealous and not supportive of each other. We all know that the current approach of running a tribal government has failed miserably. Each elected official is so unprepared for the three mandatory [tribal council] meetings per month. It is embarrassing to listen to or watch these meetings. Every meeting entails personal issues brought to the floor and argued [over] throughout the meeting, very unproductive!”
My friend is not the only tribal member who feels this way. Life is pretty dismal for a majority of our people. Personally, I have no faith in political candidates. Most of what they tell you will never materialize.
Finally, I want to express my deep appreciation to all the dedicated Sicangu Lakota firefighters who completed rigorous training and are now serving on the front lines here on our own land. They work extremely long shifts risking their very lives for the people, animals and all which grows on the prairie or in the canyons. They walk countless miles in temperatures exceeding 100 degrees while breathing in smoke and carrying a 50 pound or heavier pack. Most are very strong and work tirelessly without breaks, food or complaint for their people.
Still, some of them were chastised by their own elected officials. I want to encourage any firefighter who was personally criticized by an elected Rosebud Sioux Tribal official during the fires which burned thousands of acres on our rez to please contact me so I can address it in a future column. Your identity will remain anonymous.
The firefighting crews did more for our rez this past week than most elected officials did in three years.