December 23rd, 2007


Lakota Sioux have not withdrawn from the US

All over my LJ friends page in the past couple of days, and on reddit and other places on the net, was this AFP article:
    Descendants of Sitting Bull, Crazy Horse break away from US

    The Lakota Indians, who gave the world legendary warriors Sitting Bull and Crazy Horse, have withdrawn from treaties with the United States, leaders said Wednesday.

    "We are no longer citizens of the United States of America and all those who live in the five-state area that encompasses our country are free to join us," long-time Indian rights activist Russell Means told a handful of reporters and a delegation from the Bolivian embassy, gathered in a church in a run-down neighborhood of Washington for a news conference.

    A delegation of Lakota leaders delivered a message to the State Department on Monday, announcing they were unilaterally withdrawing from treaties they signed with the federal government of the United States, some of them more than 150 years old.
Since then, this story has been picked up in about this form by:
  • Some foreign press
  • Questionable domestic media like UPI, Capitol Hill Blue, and Fox News
  • Not by the likes of CNN or the New York Times
In this case, the "respectable" media got it right: it's an interesting but minor story, and AFP's presentation is glaringly wrong. "The Lakota Sioux" have done no such thing.

These stories cite Russell Means as the source of the declaration, but follow AFP's lead in calling him a tribal "leader" and implying he represents the Lakota Sioux, without giving the actual context. To be sure, Russell Means is an activist "leader" with a great claim to fame & notoriety: he led the American Indian Movement's occupation of Wounded Knee in 1973.

However, the Sioux tribes have elected leaders too, not just notoriously famous activists. Wounded Knee, on the Pine Ridge Reservation, is part of the Oglala Sioux tribe, and Russell Means has in fact repeatedly run for president of the Oglala - but has never actually been elected. Although I'm not sure what mechanism there is for the entire Lakota Sioux to make a decision like this, or who gets to represent them and speak on their behalf, I'm quite sure that a press release by someone who keeps losing elections for the presidency of his own tribe (one of several that make up the Lakota Sioux) isn't it.

Stories in the local & native press reported this story with Collapse )

P.S. In early 2006, Oglala President Cecelia Fire Thunder got some blog publicity and national news when South Dakota passed a law banning all abortions and she suggested the Oglala would open an abortion clinic on tribal land. Since then, Fire Thunder has been impeached over money issues, and South Dakota repealed its abortion ban in a vote later that year.

Back in March 2006, when this story first came up, I did some research and posted about it on Daily Kos. I exchanged emails with Tim Giago, who broke the story on after Fire Thunder made the remark privately to him and then told him he could publish it. Giago founded the first American Indian newspaper in the country, The Lakota Times, in 1981, and earlier this year became the first American Indian added to the SD Newspaper Hall of Fame. In 2004, he briefly ran for US Senate against Tom Daschle, then withdrew.

It just so happens that President Fire Thunder's opponent in the 2004 election was Russell Means; and that Tim Giago, a friend of Fire Thunder, is a strong opponent of Means (and AIM) in tribal politics. So, several of the comments I got on that dailykos post about Sioux tribal politics talked about Russell Means. If you're interested, I recommend reading through them.

P.P.S. I emailed Tim Giago to ask his take on this new incident, and will update this post if he writes back.