By Alfred Walking Bull, The Sicangu Eyapaha
The Rosebud Sioux Tribal Council went through one of its most difficult legislative challenges in recent memory, concerning the future of Police Chief Grace Her Many Horses on May 30 and June 7. It decided that any tribal employee – regardless of enrollment – can be fired without due process.
As the managing editor of The Sicangu Eyapaha, I do not ordinarily render an opinion on tribal politics of the day because issues such as these typically come and go with fanfare, in the guise of populism, standing up for the people and raging against the machine. Resolutions are made, meetings are held and the work of telling the story of my people goes on. But this incident has illustrated to me – both as a journalist and as a tribal member – that the concept of fairness and equality under tribal law and personnel policy is endangered.
Two protests staged on May 22 and 30 in front of the tribal administration building in Rosebud by family members of a dismissed police officer, called for the dismissal of the police chief. At issue at the time was if she can be summarily fired by a motion from the tribal council without a hearing.
The council faced the unenviable choice of allowing current grievance processes to yield results at a later time – a decision characterized by protesters at the time as a lack of swift leadership – or to directly intercede and risk damaging the credibility of that process and set a dangerous precedent of the council exercising discretionary and arbitrary authority.
A motion excerpt from that council meeting reads, in part, “Motion to terminate the Chief of Police for a lack of leadership and that the police department have a review done and that the Police Commission/Judiciary Committee start the process of restructuring.” Since this motion, confusion, anger and a floodgate of charges opened without a filter for context and impartial due process.
In a special meeting, called by RST President Rodney Bordeaux on June 7, the tribal council assembled to discuss the advisability of its motion on May 30. The meeting, to the credit of the administration and council, was broadcast on RST 19, streamed on The Sicangu Eyapaha’s Web site and on KOYA Radio for public record. Unfortunately, prejudice against non-members and discriminatory interpretations of policy were used to justify the actions of the elected body.
Regardless of how one personally feels about Her Many Horses, what happened was nothing less than untempered rage and fear-based demagoguery. Sicangu exceptionalism was bandied about with pride that tribal enrollment primacy counted above the rule of law and the due process of the personnel policy. We – as the same tribal members – must also expect more from our government. We must expect this government to weigh all sides of an argument, whether in executive session or in a public forum, impartially and without prejudice. We expect these things because we believe in the rule of law and under the law, all are equal and all are afforded the benefits of justice.
The matters that sparked the protests and brought out every complaint from the woodwork are regrettable for everyone involved. But the results of the protests are more regrettable for future generations of Sicangu. With the single act of passing broad legislation, the council set the precedent that it will target anyone – regardless of enrollment – who is complained about. The council has effectively lessened itself from a legislative body to a 20-member personnel committee that will exercise any action it wants.
The motion passed on May 30 did not name Grace Her Many Horses; it named the Chief of Police for, “a lack of leadership.” Ergo, any future chief of police’s critics can cite this motion as precedent for termination. And one could argue that any tribal employee – even this writer – can be fired for any reason without due process.
It falls now to the council to rescind its original motion or let it stand. If it rescinds the motion, the future of any tribal employee is secure under the personnel policies of the tribe; if the motion stands, we simply wait for the next group of protesters to come knocking and the council is obliged to follow its own precedent. What happens after that is dangerous territory.
In 2011, the federal government withheld housing funds from the Cherokee Nation of Oklahoma for exercising undue authority when it came to denying equality under the law for its Freedmen members (Freedmen are descendants of the slaves of the Cherokee Nation prior to the Emancipation Proclamation). And so, with this motion by our council, our tribe risked an oversight by the federal government, by denying Her Many Horses her right as an employee (regardless of enrollment) to make her side of the case before being terminated. Should she choose to sue this tribe for the original violation of her due process as an employee, she’ll win and our tribe will lose and we will all bear the consequences.
Despite what’s written here, there will always be radicals and revolutionaries within our tribe who cannot accept the legislative, judicial and personnel review process of our tribe. They will see any disagreement with their demagoguery as standing against the people, the people being those who agree with them. As a member of this tribe, it’s also this writer’s duty to point out that when our government denies anyone, regardless of enrollment, their due process, all people lose.
There is some small victory for the rule of law in all of this, Her Many Horses will seek a grievance hearing and her case will be heard. Even if all the charges against the police chief are substantiated and her termination is upheld, or if we learn new facts that support her position, it’s a win for our tribe because it has afforded the opportunity for all sides to be heard.
We must hold our government to a higher stand because we have entrusted it with our traditions of always being fair, hearing all sides of an issue and protecting the least of us, even if the least of us is unpopular at the moment; and looking forward and considering all consequences of its actions. Because due process and justice aren’t popularity contests, they are much more than that; they are at the core of what we are as Sicangu and as Lakota.
Alfred Walking Bull is an enrolled member of the Rosebud Sioux Tribe and graduate of the American Indian Journalism Institute. The views expressed in this editorial do not necessarily reflect the views of the tribal administration, employees or any tribal entity.