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Tim Giago: Disenfranchising the Oglala Lakota people
Monday, March 10, 2008
Filed Under: Opinion

There are many Oglala Lakota people that are not living on the Pine Ridge Reservation of South Dakota that are under the false impression that they are still citizens. Wrong!

One of the most important Secretarial Elections in the history of the Oglala Lakota will be held on April 22, 2008, and in order to vote in that election a supposed tribal member must live on the reservation and must have lived there for at least one year.

Election Board Member George Patton said, “We need to make it very clear that if you want to vote in the upcoming Secretarial Election you have to be registered and in addition to returning your registration form you need to have lived on the reservation for at least one year to vote.”

A Secretarial Election is one that is sponsored by and must be approved by the Secretary of the Interior. This election will bring nine very important changes to the Constitution of the Oglala Sioux Tribe. Keep in mind that the Secretarial Elections in 1985 and 1997 allowed ALL tribal members to vote. But now, because of a lack of funds, nearly 50 percent of the Oglala Sioux Tribe’s citizens will be disenfranchised.

Nine changes to the OST Constitution will be on the ballot. All nine will affect the lives of the Oglala Lakota people whether they live on the reservation or not. Keep in mind that many Oglala Lakota left the reservation to find jobs because of the nearly 50 percent unemployment rates on the reservation. And now, because they left home in order to provide for their families or to go to college, they are to be denied the right to vote on their own future.

There are nine changes to the OST Constitutions on the ballot. 1.) Four year staggered terms for tribal council representatives and four year concurrent terms for the president and vice president. 2.) Instead of quarterly council meetings the council would be mandated to meet at least one day each month, the last Tuesday of each month. 3.) Restructure the judicial power of the OST by creating a true separation of powers between the council, the courts, and the executive by having a court system created by the Constitution not by the council, by establishing a process to appoint and remove judges and by revising the jurisdiction of the OST. 4.) Revise the process of becoming an enrolled member of the OST by removing the residency requirement from the membership enrollment criteria. 5.) To insulate the OST Treasurer from the political process and remove the Treasurer from the OST executive board, select for a six year term with a requirement of CPA background with five years of tribal government experience. 6.) Mandates the council to adopt a code of ethics within one year of passing which may be revised only by referendum vote. 7.) Establish a bill of rights for members and non-members. 8.) Strengthen and clarify the removal and recall process for elected officials of the OST. 9.) Provide an opportunity to vote on a new name for the tribe: Oglala Lakota Nation, Oglala Lakota Oyate or keep the same name, Pine Ridge Reservation.

Why all of these Constitutional amendments? “We are hoping to streamline the election process. We want to provide an opportunity for as many people as possible to vote on these proposed constitutional changes,” Bob Ecoffey, an election board member and Pine Ridge Agency Superintendent said.

There is little doubt, and all tribal members know this whether they live on or off of the reservation, that these changes to the OST Constitution are badly needed. We have seen council members and even tribal presidents recalled or removed from office without due process. The removal of President Cecilia Fire Thunder is one glaring example. The newly established Secretarial Election Board includes Bob Ecoffey, BIA Superintendent, George Patton, OST attorney, and Craig Dillon, tribal council representative from the LaCreek District.

If the rumors are true that nearly 50 percent of the Oglala Lakota people are to be disenfranchised because of the lack of funds to include them in the election process, then something is seriously wrong. A Nation does not deny its own people the right to vote.

Every Oglala Lakota is included in the head count when it comes to establishing the population of the tribe. And now, if they move off the reservation to go to college or to find a job to provide for their families, they are denied the right to vote in an election that will also have a profound impact upon their lives. It is wrong!

If you are an Oglala Lakota and also find this wrong, call Warren LeBeau at 605-867-5125 and get the information you need to protest this miscarriage of justice. Or call members of the Secretarial Election Board or even the office of the Secretary of Interior himself.

Tim Giago, an Oglala Lakota, was born, raised and educated on the Pine Ridge Reservation in South Dakota. He was a Nieman Fellow at Harvard in the Class of 1991. He can be reached at

More Tim Giago:
Tim Giago: Paying tribute to Harold Iron Shield (2/27)
Tim Giago: No celebrating at Pine Ridge Reservation (2/25)
Tim Giago: Apology of no use for Native Americans (2/18)
Tim Giago: The education of Jerry Reynolds (2/11)
Tim Giago: In honor of Carole Anne Heart (2/4)
Tim Giago: Claiming Indian status to get ahead (1/28)
Tim Giago: Wounded Knee book a must read (1/21)
Tim Giago: Sen. Barack Obama and the 'R-Word' (1/14)
Tim Giago: The medicine of Michael Haney (1/7)

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