Monthly Archives: May 2013

Response to Mitchell Daily Republic; Letter to Editor


LETTER: Go ahead and negligently rant, Steve Novotny

By: Roquel Gourneau

To the Editor:


This letter is in response to an editorial that your paper had posted about an economic boycott in Chamberlain by the Tribal Chairman of the Crow Creek reservation, titled “Go ahead and boycott us, Brandon Sazue”. While I (as a Native American of South Dakota, myself) can appreciate any publicity given to Tribes in general, I completely disagree with the blatant disregard of true and unbiased facts that have been portrayed in said editorial article.

Don’t get me wrong, I am all for freedom of speech, however I’d like to mention a thing called libel. (Libel is published defamation of character. Libel is by definition false, anything that is provably true cannot be libelous. “Published” in this context simply means that the libelous statement is communicated to someone other than the person being libeled. That…

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By Faith Spotted Eagle, Ihanktonwan Grandmother of Brave Heart Society

An urgent conversation needs to be held about the parallels between sexual violence, conquest, colonization, environmental racism and the rape of Mother Earth.  All are related.

Let’s talk about environmental racism in regard to KXL.  Ben Chavis (civil rights activist in 1994) coined “environmental racism” as “the enactment or enforcement of any policy, practice or regulation that negatively affects the environment of low-income and/or racially homogenous communities at a disparate rate than affluent communities.”  Repeatedly this environmental racism clear-cuts the way for American economic development.  The American economic system is founded on conquest mentality like Manifest Destiny, The Doctrine of Discovery and Papal bulls that dehumanize Indigenous people. Indigenous people on Turtle Island are all too familiar with that sad history, while America remains in denial.   Environmental pollution does not discriminate but it deliberately targets areas where no one cares about who lives there, which is typically where Native American communities, other minority populations or poor people are located.  Native communities are viewed by the colonizers as inherently “dirty, dispensable” communities where waste and toxins can be deposited. These reservations communities are located on or near the fifty six (56) waterways identified as being affected by the pipeline. TransCanada is invading on water bodies that are owned by Native senior water users as established by the Winters Doctrine in a US Court. This is an echo of Manifest Destiny, and will not be tolerated by Treaty defenders.

 February 2013 statistics point out that the most poverty stricken populations in the Nation are on South Dakota reservations.  TransCanada has capitalized on that by traveling and sending letters to each tribal office on the corridor offering funds to a population in need, provided they accept the pipeline. They are now even offering funds to host giant pow wows… forms of colonization. Our friend and ally Winona LaDuke calls it “predator economics.” 

 This mindset is so insidious and ingrained in the minds of government officials in Canada and the United States as they perpetuate another form of violence, that of Nation violence.  It is a colonial legacy of the United States to force policy on communities that are perceived to have less power.  In this case the ranchers and farmers of the Midwest have fallen into this category, by losing their land through eminent domain action.  The conquest is aimed at our Treaty water and lands.

 In March of 2013, I traveled to Ottawa, Ontario in Canada, carrying the International Treaty to Protect the Sacred against Tar Sands, which was recently invoked by the Ihanktonwan Oyate (people); Pawnee Nation and the Southern Ponca Nation in Pickstown, SD during January of 2013.   Subsequently, the Treaty was signed in Ottawa by five other First Nations who oppose Tar Sands Development due to the devastation of their homelands. 

Following the historic Treaty signing at a community center in Ottawa, it was no accident that we were offered a ride back to our hotel by two First Nations grandmothers who were driving across Canada to bring attention to the numerous murdering and missing Native women in Canada.  We climbed into a van that had the pictures on it of missing and murdered Native women.  The two grandmothers driving the van explained that they were on a walk across Canada to bring attention to this outrage; which they urgently believe is related to industrial and mining development on or adjacent to Native lands.  They were adamant about telling us to keep this in mind when stopping the KXL Pipeline, because it would protect the women, children and families of our nations.  As we traveled to the hotel, I could feel the spirits of the murdered and missing women traveling with us in the van. Upon arrival, the grandmothers showed us the picture on the van of their niece who is still missing, along with all the other beautiful young women plastered on the outside of the van.  Eerily, as they urged me not to forget this, I thought of the recent news release in South Dakota of the six hundred (600) man camp that would be located near numerous reservation communities in South Dakota, north of Colome, SD.   The pictures of the young girls on the van still haunt me as I continue the fight against KXL and TransCanada.  I will not forget. 

Why is this important?  This question leads us into a conversation of colonization, conquest and power. The Department of Justice continues to release figures citing that one in three Native women will be raped in their lifetime by non-Native perpetrators.  This is 2.5 times higher than the at large population which states that one in five women will be raped in their lifetime.  The same DOJ figures cite that 86% of perpetrators were reported as non-Native.  The mere existence of these figures behooves Tribal Nation leaders and everyday people, Native Women Advocates and families to mobilize to prevent the coming of these so called “man camps.”  If we look at the sad statistics coming to light on the Ft. Berthold Reservation in the Bakken Range; rape, prostitution and murder are now becoming common occurrences in communities stretched to breaking points.  Are we content to remain in the “culture of silence” as this threat invades our Treaty and aboriginal lands?  We are mindful of the great leader Sitting Bull’s words, as reported by Susan Leflesche who said that while he sat in captivity at Ft. Randall, he worried most about the women and children and what was in store for them if they could not be protected.  History has proven him to be prophetic on that danger. 

The other thought that comes to mind, is the psychological impact of intimidation that presents itself with the location of man camps made possible by presidential permits. This certainly triggers historical trauma responses imbedded in our genetic memory of the coming of garrisons such as Ft. Randall, Ft. Thompson, Ft. Yates, Ft. Peck and the list goes on. We already know what happens when man camps are created, the evidence is clear in the Bakken Range.  Meantime, poverty stricken non Native towns along the corridor hold on to the hope that the KXL will change their lives for the better.  If so, why are they bringing in six hundred men?  KXL will certainly change their lives forever in the form of climate destruction. 

Scholar/activist Andrea Smith speaks to the impact of colonization on sexual violence as related to colonization and conquest.  It is worth the survival of our grandchildren to listen to the conversations she has created around these issues.  She points out that colonization normalizes uneven gender power.  Communities often will side with perpetrators and not the victims, thus violators are not often held accountable for their crimes. In this case, TransCanada is in the role of a perpetrator.  Let’s look at environmental racism again.  Racism is a process where certain people are viewed as being pure and those being colonized are treated as being dirty.  The view of the body of a Native woman is a parallel to the way the United States is treating Mother Earth, Ina Maka.  Our lands are invadable and rapeable.  Not long ago, at Sand Creek, our heroic Cheyenne grandmothers’ private parts were cut off and paraded by the military.  It is not so different now. 

It is important to accept that we live in one of the most violent countries in the world and for all affected groups to unite and mobilize in protecting our home fronts.  Native people, farmers and ranchers, domestic violence advocates, elected officials and politicians and families must step up to the call of leadership.  Our Native prophecies state that there will be a time to stand up for what is important, and that time is now!!  Keystone XL and TransCanada must be stopped through unprecedented unity to save our land, water and our legacy.  

My fight against this recent and ongoing oppression is fueled by the memory of the founding of the White Buffalo Calf Woman’s’ Society in 1977, on the Rosebud Reservation. At the time, I was the first President of the Society and along with others was guided by Sicangu grandmothers who helped us in founding the first Native Women’s Shelter in the Nation.  This Society Shelter still exists and continues to protect our women and shelter from the colonized behavior of domestic violence.  I urge the White Buffalo Calf Woman Society and all other family coalitions in South Dakota to enter the fight with determination to stop this threat against our families and Ina Maka, Mother Earth. 


School Boards are responsible for the mental health of students

May is designated as Children’s Mental Health Awareness Month. Balanced children are mentally, emotionally, physically and spiritually healthy. Schools are places where our children are required to spend a significant amount of time. The overall condition of our young peoples’ mental health is directly affected by their experience at school.


It’s not only their peers who can make or break the self-esteem of our children and teenagers; teachers, paraprofessionals, support staff, administrators and even school board members all have direct influence over the state of the students’ mental health. As parents, grandparents and guardians we are required by law to send our children to school. Thus, I believe it’s crucial for us to also demand that the adults who work in schools be of high moral character as they are directly responsible for what happens to our children while they are at school.


Many of our local schools are very much adult oriented. When the schools’ focus revolves around the adults, our children will fall by the wayside. It has always been the purpose of an employment agency to find people jobs, right? Yet, the local school boards act like they are employment agencies instead of educational institutions as the character of staff hired to work with our students is often questionable.


When adults with questionable reputations are hired to work in schools the students are definitely placed at risk. Unscrupulous adults say things to our children and adolescents affecting their young minds. For example, there are many staff members, teachers and coaches included, who are verbally abusive and intimidating because they regularly use four letter words in the classrooms or during sports practice.


When you are a parent/guardian who cusses all the time your children become numb to it; they will cuss just like you. Still, there are families who won’t allow cussing in their homes. They work hard to be conscious role models to their children. But efforts are not reinforced when the children go to school or practice only to be cussed out by adults. Schools lack consistency.


I have learned that when you cuss, you radiate negative energy. People who cuss make me cringe. It’s kind of like poking someone with a sharp needle every time you utter profanities. People think it’s cool to constantly cuss but I believe it just shows how uneducated and ignorant they are. Unscrupulous teachers/coaches use profanity to intimidate their students/athletes.


The teachers/coaches are supposed to be the educated ones. They are presumably there to help our students be the best they can be. Yet, the fact that some of them cuss out their students on a daily basis shows me they aren’t motivated to encourage their students/athletes in a more appropriate manner. 


There is one teacher at a local middle school whose behavior was recently brought to my attention. He has been teacher for a long time as he was one of my daughter’s teachers when she was in middle school. I have no idea why he has been allowed to stay in the school system this long because he was making derogatory remarks to my daughter when he was her teacher. He has not changed as he is still disrespecting our Lakota students.


One thing he states to the students is they will never amount to anything because they are “rez kids.” He compares them to the people who pick up cans in the ditches for money and tells them that’s how they are going to be when they reach adulthood. Remember folks, we elect the school board members who make the decisions to hire adults like him.


What do you think disparaging remarks like this do for the mental health of our children and adolescents? It’s totally disgusting to me to know we have people like this still working in our schools. It’s depressing to think about how long they’ve worked there. This teacher I am referring to has been teaching our Lakota children for at least 20 years. How much damage has he done to the countless young minds which were entrusted to him?


There is another local teacher who is a high school basketball coach. He recently received a public reprimand from a State Commission for inappropriate behavior toward students. Numerous parents even voiced concerns at a Tribal Council meeting. An attorney wrote a letter to the school board last month encouraging them to do right by the students.


Still, the local school board decided to renew his teaching contract by a vote of 3-2. This shows their lack of concern for the mental health of the students they are elected to serve. Obviously, they would rather retain the teacher and dismiss the mental health of the students – a classic example of an adult oriented institution.


Finally, it gave me hope to learn about the Oglala Sioux Tribe approving legislation to hold administrators responsible for the mental health of their students. I’d like to see my own tribe make a similar stand. Our children deserve to be treated much better by teachers.


Resolution 13-57 was unanimously approved on March 26, 2013 at a Regular Session of the Oglala Sioux Tribal Council. It reads in part: “if a student commits suicide as a result of lack of action by the school administration to prevent bullying and/or stalking, those individuals or that individual shall be held accountable and answer to the Tribal Council.”


Many people do not want to talk about suicide. Yet, suicide ideation, attempts and completions are directly related to the mental health of our children and adolescents. As long as school boards continue to hire and protect the adult bullies who intimidate our young people with cuss words or derogatory remarks then our children will never attain true mental health.


So remember this the next time you go to vote in the school board election. The people you elect to serve on school boards are largely responsible for the lack of mental health in our children and adolescents.