Tim Giago: A view from South Dakota, the 'red' state

Many Americans view South Dakota as a backward red state. It is not a red state because of the nine Indian reservations within its borders because the voters residing on those reservations are historically blue. Check an election-day map by coloring all of the red and blue counties and you will find that every Indian reservation in the state will be colored blue.

It is a red state because its legislative body is fast becoming the most determined “morality police” in the nation. The state became a laughing stock last year when it tried to push through an anti-abortion law that would have put doctors in jail. The voters put the proposed law on the ballot and soundly defeated it. Was that the end of it? Not on your life. Here it is 2007 and the “morality police” in state government have made amendments to the defeated proposal and are trying to get it passed again. Last week a legislative committee suffering from abortion fatigue rejected this year’s version of the abortion ban.

The bill was amended to include exceptions for rape, incest and the health of the mother in an effort to put the objections of the majority of state citizens to rest. But the bill is not dead yet. State Senator Dennis Schmidt of Rapid City, a Republican of course, said, “It’s too important. It’s a life-or-death issue.”

I am reminded of a comment I saw on a blog on huffingtonpost.com. It said those lawmakers pushing to overturn Roe v. Wade “are a bunch of old white men trying to tell women how it is to be a woman.” It is ironic that Sen. John McCain (R-AZ) has joined this religious parade. Last year we had a bunch of tribal council members on the Pine Ridge Reservation trying to do the same thing. They broke with a long history of culture and tradition in order to express their new Christian ethics. They impeached their first ever woman president, Cecelia Fire Thunder, because she was an advocate of Roe v. Wade.

In the turbulent 1960s and 1970s South Dakota was known amongst American Indians as the Mississippi of the North. Racial prejudice and discrimination was not only widespread but also inherent to a white culture still steaming over the demise of Custer and his 7th Cavalry at the Little Big Horn. Troopers sporting Seventh Cavalry banners still march in present-day parades.

White South Dakotans are still enamored of an editorial written in 1891 by L. Frank Baum in the Aberdeen Saturday (SD) newspaper calling for genocide against the remaining Sioux population after the massacre at Wounded Knee when he wrote, “perhaps we should wrong them one more time and wipe these untamed and untamable creatures from the face of the earth.” He must have been thinking about that comment when we wrote the flying monkey scene is his book The Wizard of Oz 10 years later.

When I was a student at Holy Rosary Indian Mission on the Pine Ridge Reservation in South Dakota, a school run by the Jesuits of the Catholic Church, there was a strict code fashioned by the Church that governed the morals of movies produced in that era. On the one night of the week when we were allowed to see a movie we had no idea that the movie we watched had to be approved by the Church.

Things haven’t changed much in communities like Rapid City. The local movie theater owner decides which movie is going to be shown in this city. It reminds me of the good old days when the Catholic Church did the same thing. When the Michael Moore movie Fahrenheit 9/11 came out a couple of years ago many of us had to make strong vocal protests to the theater owner before he would screen the movie. The Last King of Scotland and Queen have not been shown in Rapid City yet although the lead actors in both movies have been nominated for Oscars.

That’s the kind of mind control and moral policing I am talking about that is a regular occurrence in this fair state.

Indian columnists like myself are barred from writing for the state’s two largest dailies, one owned by Lee Enterprises and the other by Gannett. I am sure that neither Lee Enterprises nor Gannett would approve of this censorship if they knew about it. It is strictly a local decision. The old adage that “Freedom of the press belongs to those who own the press” is never truer than in South Dakota.

When a white columnist for the local daily can compare the Pine Ridge Reservation to Iraq and get away with it that should tell everyone about the state of mind in this state.

Former Democratic Senator Tom Daschle just endorsed Barak Obama for president and since Daschle is from South Dakota his endorsement will hardly matter because this red, red state will never go blue for a black man.

Perhaps South Dakota would shed its identity as a “redneck” state if its legislative body and its governor spent more time trying to solve its horrendous racial problems between Indians and whites and worried less about policing the morals of its mainly white citizens.

The efforts of racial reconciliation in South Dakota died with former Republican Governor George Mickelson and there hasn’t been a politician or governor of courage and true morals since. It seems they are too worried about telling women what it is to be a woman.

McClatchy News Service in Washington, DC distributes Tim Giago's weekly column. He can be reached at P.O. Box 9244, Rapid City, SD 57709 or 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."

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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)
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Tim Giago: Freedom of the press has a chance (10/31)
Tim Giago: Important election day for South Dakota (10/24)
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Tim Giago: Culturecide started with innocent children (09/19)
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Tim Giago: Tribes giving up their sovereignty (08/08)
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Tim Giago: States looking for ways to take from tribes (8/1)
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Tim Giago: South Dakota tilting further to the right (7/3)
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Tim Giago: Gaming brings new wealth, new problems (6/13)
Tim Giago: 'Oz' author called for genocide of the Lakota (6/6)
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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)
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Tim Giago: White lawyers growing fat off tribes (04/26)
Tim Giago: Gay marriage debate killed Democrats (4/19)
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