Tim Giago: Venezuela steps up for Indian nations
Native American journalist Jodi Rave Lee of Lee Enterprise Newspapers was recently lambasted in a letter to the editor to our local daily for having the temerity to laud the donation of funds for heating fuel for the very poor Indian nations of the Northern Plains.

The criticism was initiated by the fact that the donor was the Citgo Petroleum Corporation based in Houston, Texas and headed by the President of Venezuela, Hugo Chavez, the man reviled by many Americans for referring to President George W. Bush on the floor of the United Nations as the “Devil.”

How did it happen that the President of Venezuela reached out to help the poor and the indigenous people of the United States? After two major hurricanes devastated the Southern U. S., a group of U. S. Senators sent out a plea to the major oil companies to help low-income families with energy assistance. Most major oil companies were coming off of scandalous profits because of the sharp rise in fuel costs. Only one company heeded the plea of the senators and that was Citgo Petroleum Corporation headed by Chavez.

Federal and state funding for low-income energy assistance programs has dropped dramatically in the past few years. A late winter blast in the Northern Plains hit at a time when most of the federal dollars for low-income energy assistance had run out. The late winter freeze left many indigenous people in dire straits. When it comes to a matter of surviving, Indians and other impoverished people reach out to any assistance available. Olympic Gold Medallist Billy Mills, an Oglala Lakota, used his non-profit Running Strong Foundation to raise energy funds for some low-income households, but even his generosity could not fill the need.

Many tribes in Montana and North and South Dakota were advised to attend a meeting in Polson, Montana on December 13, 2006 to listen and discuss how they could avail themselves of the money for heating assistance. Rafael Gomez, Vice President of Citgo, and Brian O’Connor of the Citizens Energy Corporation of Boston attended the meeting. O’Connor’s non-profit organization administered the program last year and would be charged with administering the program for the Indian tribes.

Although major oil corporations like Exxon had reaped more profit last year than at any time in their history, they declined the invitation to lend a helping hand to the poor people of America. Hugo Chavez stepped in to fill the gap. What motives would prompt him to do this? Certainly it would not help him politically, at least not in America where one of this Nation’s top religious figures, Pat Robertson, called for his assassination.

Some of the very poor Indian tribes like the Chippewa Cree of the Rocky Boy Reservation in Montana, the Cheyenne River and the Oglala Sioux Tribes in South Dakota needed the funds in order to keep their people from freezing to death and accepted the donation from Mr. Chavez willingly. Where was the rich casino owning tribes? Busy counting their money I would guess.

There is an old saying out here that goes, “You will know me better when you walk a mile in my moccasins.” Hugo Chavez is a member of an indigenous tribe in Venezuela. He has been called “Indio” and worse while growing up as the child of very poor parents. He has walked in the moccasins of the indigenous people.

In America it is very easy to hate someone who verbally attacks the president of the United States. Chavez has never held his tongue even amongst his own people or in criticizing other nations in South America. I am told that he was appalled when the major oil companies in America did not step forward to help their own poor and low-income people when called upon to do so. He saw this as the kind of colonialism he has grown to despise.

Chavez is not alone in his mistrust of America. In fact, America’s status is at an all-time low in many Central and South American countries. Chavez did not create this situation and he is not above using it as a tool to annoy Bush and his administration.

Hugo Chavez is a controversial figure to America, especially amongst its politicians. But he has done much to improve the living conditions, the health care and the educational opportunities for his own people in Venezuela, especially for the very poor and the indigenous. As a matter of record Republican presidential candidate Rudy Giuliani’s law firm lobbies for Citgo Petroleum Corporation. Does he keep his fingers crossed behind his back when he attacks Chavez?

However, if the profit mongering oil companies of this Nation had stepped forward when called upon, there would have been no reason for Chavez and Citgo to step up.

There is a lot of respect for President Chavez among the Indian nations of this country. He didn’t make promises that he couldn’t or wouldn’t keep, but instead put his money where his mouth is. American Indians appreciate that form of directness.

Go to some of the blogs so prevalent in America and you will find all sorts of names for President Bush and most of them are considerably worse than “Devil.” Chimp and Chimpy are two that come to mind. But, I suppose most Americans feel it is their inherent right to speak out against their president, but they would damn to hell any outsider that does likewise.

Jodi Rave Lee didn’t think of the politics of the low-income energy assistance offered by Chavez. Instead, she thought of the people that would have suffered unnecessarily if Citgo had not been willing to do what the American petroleum companies and the United States government refused to do. She didn’t have to read about the plight of the indigenous people of America to understand it because like Hugo Chavez and me, she has lived it.

McClatchy News Service in Washington, DC distributes Tim Giago’s weekly column. He can be reached at najournalists@rushmore.com. Giago was also the founder and former editor and publisher of the Lakota Times and Indian Country Today newspapers and the founder and first president of the Native American Journalists Association. He was a Nieman Fellow at Harvard in the class of 1990 – 1991. Clear Light Books of Santa Fe, NM (harmon@clearlightbooks.com) published his latest book, “Children Left Behind."

More Tim Giago:
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Tim Giago: Oglala Lakota Tribe still struggling (3/5)
Tim Giago: A view from South Dakota, the 'red' state (2/26)
Tim Giago: 'Chief Illiniwek' does his last dance (2/19)
Tim Giago: Greed is the new God in Indian Country (2/12)
Giago discusses 'dark legacy' of boarding schools (2/5)
Tim Giago: Writing helped heal wounds of abuse (1/29)
Tim Giago: How many others will die over Iraq? (1/22)
Tim Giago: Apache journalist opens doors in media (1/15)
Tim Giago: Newspaper fills gap in South Dakota (1/8)
Tim Giago: Recognize an Indian hero in the new year (1/2)
Tim Giago: Christmas and Lakota traditions (12/25)
Tim Giago: Sen. Johnson never wanted the spotlight (12/18)
Tim Giago: The 1890 massacre at Wounded Knee (12/11)
Tim Giago: R-word just as insulting as the N-word (12/4)
Tim Giago: Mainstream media lacking in accuracy (11/27)
Tim Giago: Thanksgiving - A holiday of the imagination (11/22)
Tim Giago: State stifling growth on reservations (11/20)
Tim Giago: Taking stock of Election Day 2006 (11/13)
Tim Giago: Few roles for Indians in Hollywood (11/6)
Tim Giago: Freedom of the press has a chance (10/31)
Tim Giago: Important election day for South Dakota (10/24)
Tim Giago: White media ignores Indian contributions (10/17)
Tim Giago: Termination a dirty word in Indian Country (10/10)
Giago: Domestic violence from a male perspective (10/3)
Tim Giago: Culturecide started with innocent children (09/19)
Tim Giago: Indian people mark 500 years of terrorism (9/11)
Tim Giago: Lawsuit challenges church on abuse (9/6)
Tim Giago: Day of reckoning for Oglala Sioux Tribe (8/29)
Tim Giago: Tribes giving up their sovereignty (08/08)
Giago retires as editor and publisher of magazine (8/4)
Tim Giago: States looking for ways to take from tribes (8/1)
Tim Giago: Religion invaded Native America (7/25)
Tim Giago: Daily screw ups in tribal governance (7/18)
Tim Giago: Happy Birthday to Van Cliburn and me (7/11)
Tim Giago: South Dakota tilting further to the right (7/3)
Tim Giago: Americans still the invaders in Iraq (6/27)
Tim Giago: Tribal colleges in Bill Gates' backyard (6/21)
Tim Giago: Gaming brings new wealth, new problems (6/13)
Tim Giago: 'Oz' author called for genocide of the Lakota (6/6)
Tim Giago: Too much uncertainty in gaming (5/30)
Tim Giago: Deny gaming to newly recognized tribes (5/23)
Tim Giago: Congratulations to the class of '06 (5/16)
Tim Giago: Rich tribes should help poorer tribes (5/9)
Tim Giago: Fighting substance abuse at Pine Ridge (5/2)
Tim Giago: Censorship in the mainstream media (4/25)
Tim Giago: Brainwashing on Pine Ridge Reservation (4/18)
Tim Giago: The growing pains of tribal sovereignty (4/11)
Tim Giago: Indians most affected by immigration (4/4)
Tim Giago: Little attention for Native American Day (3/28)
Giago: Oglala Sioux president on state abortion law (3/21)
Tim Giago: The road to true tribal sovereignty (3/14)
Tim Giago: The basketball miracle of 1936 (3/7)
Giago: Real problem in South Dakota is race relations (2/21)
Tim Giago: Yes, Virginia, Indians do pay taxes (2/14)
Tim Giago: Gas-guzzlers, Indian cars and the Big Three (2/7)
Tim Giago: Lions, Tiger, Bears and Indian mascots (1/31)
Tim Giago: Christians and Muslims still at war (1/24)
Tim Giago: Bush started Iraqi war over 'dark lie' (1/17)
Tim Giago: Fire Thunder out of limbo after 66 days (1/10)
Tim Giago: The Olympics of Indian basketball (12/20)
Tim Giago: BIA schools turned abused into abusers (12/13)
Tim Giago: Fire Thunder shakes up establishment (12/6)
Tim Giago: Della Warrior steps down from IAIA (11/29)
Tim Giago: Deloria gave Indian people a voice (11/22)
Tim Giago: Indians never forced religion on others (11/15)
Tim Giago: Exposing false medicine men (11/8)
Tim Giago: Government ignores Indian health problems (11/1)
Tim Giago: Indian newspapers revise history (10/25)
Tim Giago: Two friends make journey to spirit world (10/18)
Tim Giago: Politicians need to know Indian law (10/11)
Tim Giago: Doors opening to Indians in South Dakota (10/4)
Tim Giago: 'Indian' myths and misconceptions (9/27)
Tim Giago: Lessons learned from Hurricane Katrina (9/20)
Tim Giago: NCAA loses its spine on mascot policy (9/13)
Tim Giago: The Indian 'scandal sheet' phenomenon (08/30)
Tim Giago: Indians became refugees in own land (8/23)
Tim Giago: Censor tribes for supporting mascots (8/17)
Tim Giago: New addiction takes over in Indian Country (08/02)
Tim Giago: Tribes trade sovereignty for dollars (7/26)
Giago: Seminole Tribe wrong on Indian mascots (7/19)
Giago: Underground Railroad to escape boarding school (7/12)
Giago: Skeletons hidden in Rapid City's closet (07/07)
Tim Giago: Air Force base not a blessing to Lakotas (6/30)
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Tim Giago: First revolutionary was a Native man (5/31)
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Tim Giago: South Dakota press censors Indian writers (05/10)
Tim Giago: White lawyers growing fat off tribes (04/26)
Tim Giago: Gay marriage debate killed Democrats (4/19)
Tim Giago: It's time for wealthy tribes to think Indian (04/05)
Tim Giago: Wealthy tribes don't need federal funds (03/31)
Tim Giago: Gaming leads to addiction, crime (03/22)
Tim Giago: Discrimination in the media and advertising (03/08)
Tim Giago: Black Hills land theft a dishonest deal (03/01)
Tim Giago: Committing slow suicide with foods (02/15)
Tim Giago: Bush probably still against Indian gaming (01/25)
Tim Giago: Calvary re-enactors should know better (01/18)
Tim Giago: Racism continues in South Dakota (11/30)
Tim Giago: Should we listen to Osama bin Laden? (11/23)
Tim Giago: GOP moral values will hurt Indian Country (11/09)
Tim Giago: Indian reformists stamped out tribes (11/02)
Tim Giago: I'm not a racist and I haven't seen NMAI yet (09/29)
Tim Giago: Eastern tribes are African-American (09/15)
Tim Giago: Indians have cause to fear Republicans (07/21)
Tim Giago: Casinos create culture of 'us' and 'them' (06/30)
Tim Giago: Boarding schools cause of many ills (06/14)
Tim Giago: 'Real' Indians don't fight over money (04/05)
Tim Giago now plans to run for Senate as independent (03/31)
Tim Giago: Indians pay no taxes, and other myths (01/26)
Giago: Indian gaming erodes tribal sovereignty (01/07)
Giago: Gays were highly respected by Sioux Nation (09/22)
Tim Giago: I'm a fully recovered Catholic (09/11)
Giago: State should refund tax money first (08/06)
Giago: Oprah show changed minds on Indian mascots (07/31)
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