Monthly Archives: December 2016

Solstice Prayers are Important


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.




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.





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



For Immediate Release
Tue., Dec. 13, 2016

Chairman Robert Flying Hawk | |
Jennifer Baker | | 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


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!


Remain Vigilant, Keep Praying


Arvol Looking Horse and Shiye Bidziil check out video captured by drones near the Oceti Sakowin Camp. Photo courtesy of Jennifer Veilleux Photography.

By Vi Waln

The drama and sensationalism drummed up by major news sources continues to cloud the real issue of why there is a huge gathering of human beings in North Dakota. The Sacred Stone, Oceti Sakowin and Rosebud Camps were formed to show support for the Missouri River and all her tributaries. The human need for clean water to live should not be turned into a political issue.

There’s really nothing political about our need for clean water. You either want clean water or you want an oil pipeline, that will eventually leak, buried under the Missouri River. Please don’t get sidetracked by all the irresponsible news reports skewing the real issue behind the stand against the Dakota Access pipeline (DAPL).

For example, take those ridiculous press conferences hosted by the DAPL protectors working in the Morton County Sheriff’s Department. Water Protectors cringe when they see those press conferences go live on social media from the news outlets in Bismarck, North Dakota. That is, the video footage shared by Indigenous media sources working from within the Water Protector camps has debunked a lot of the public statements made in those press conferences.

The Morton County Sheriff’s Department recently had to take down their Facebook page. Since a lawsuit based on their use of “excessive force” was recently filed against the department, they had to scrub information posted on Facebook that wasn’t completely accurate. So, they had to rush to remove pictures and posts about their encounters with Water Protectors. It’s called covering your ass.

Still, the social media manager for their Facebook page must have forgot that the internet remembers everything. Thus, a skilled hacker could easily find and repost all the “deleted” information removed during the Morton County Sheriff’s Department Facebook hiatus. In any case, screen shots of the “deleted” material taken by devout NoDAPL Facebook users might soon appear as part of the Court record in favor of the Plaintiffs.

This week’s visit by thousands of veterans in support of the Water Protectors has also drawn fire from media outlets. In the rush to provided “balanced” coverage, many newspapers ran stories about veterans who were not in support of their comrades showing up at the Water Protector camps. Veterans were quoted as not wanting to get involved in politics.

Yet, when one joins the military, they must take an oath which includes the following statement: “I do solemnly swear that I will support and defend the Constitution of the United States against all enemies, foreign and domestic…” There’s really nothing political about defending your people against enemies. You either fight the enemy or you don’t.

The First Amendment of the Constitution of the United States guarantees all of us the right to peaceably assemble anywhere in this country. The Constitution does not give law enforcement the right to abuse people who are peaceably assembled. Maybe if Morton County’s army wasn’t so violent, the veterans would not have had to travel to North Dakota.

The video footage taken by Indigenous journalists, who are providing continuous coverage of what is going on near the Water Protector camps, are the main reason why our veterans felt the need to travel to North Dakota. The violent actions by the militarized police force at the Backwater Bridge were all caught on video. Their actions are those of an enemy. Soldiers swear to defend “against all enemies, foreign and domestic.” Tribal and non-tribal veterans grew tired of seeing their unarmed relatives violently attacked by the police, National Guard and DAPL mercenaries.

There have also been attempts to quash the video coverage released by Indigenous journalists. In fact, one drone was hacked and stolen by the police. In addition, video footage shows members of the militarized police force in North Dakota shooting at drones operated by Indigenous journalists. They obviously don’t want to see anymore drone footage showing the world their propensity to engage in violent acts against unarmed citizens.

Indigenous journalists are growing in numbers. Yet, there will always be someone out there wanting to silence the real voices we represent. We have to stand strong. We are here to offer the perspective our ancestors didn’t get to voice during the bloody wars fought on our homelands in the 18th and 19th centuries.

We are tired of reading the one-sided stories written and filmed about us by those living outside of our world. I encourage my fellow Indigenous journalists to continue documenting our living history reports from Standing Rock. The world needs to read our stories. The world needs to watch our video.

We have to get the truth out there for everyone to see. It’s no fun covering controversy, but if we don’t do it, the non-native journalists will. We are weary of seeing their sensationalized news coverage.

Wopila to all Indigenous journalists for providing a service that is often thankless and always dangerous. Don’t let the fools who want to kill the messenger stop you from reporting the truth of what is really happening in Indian Country.

I also want to say Wopila to all the Water Protectors who sacrificed much in the NoDAPL fight. The announcement from Tribal Leaders on December 4, 2016 regarding the Army Corp of Engineers’ (ACE) intent to deny the easement for DAPL was welcomed by many humans across the globe. Apparently, an environmental impact study will be done and other routes considered.

Still, considering a different route doesn’t mean the pipeline is dead. The ACE announcement can only be viewed as a small victory in the ongoing war against big corporations who think nothing of raping Mother Earth. Remain vigilant relatives. Keep praying.