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Tim Giago: Recognize an Indian hero in the new year

I come from a world that is, for the most part, out of sight and out of mind for the average American. We (the Indian people living on the nine Indian reservations in South Dakota) are usually featured in the mainstream media during times of controversy (Wounded Knee takeover in 1973) or when an aspiring journalist covers the consequences of extreme poverty (NBC News and Washington Post series in early 1980s on poverty on the Pine Ridge Reservation in South Dakota).

The Pine Ridge Reservation was prominent in the news in the early 1980s because it is located in a county, Shannon, which was proclaimed “The Poorest County in America” by the 1980 U. S. Census Bureau.

I was born, raised, and educated on an Indian reservation where the people oftentimes see the world through the wrong end of the telescope. It is a place where the people do not necessarily see George Washington, Abraham Lincoln, Thomas Jefferson or Teddy Roosevelt (the four faces on Mount Rushmore) as heroes. On the 50th Anniversary of the carving of Mount Rushmore, I was featured in People Magazine because I called Mount Rushmore “The Shrine of Hypocrisy.”

In the article I outlined some of the atrocities against the Indian people perpetrated by the four presidents carved on the mountain. In fact, the month of December not only was the month of the Massacre at Wounded Knee in 1890, it was also the month when 38 Sioux warriors were hanged in Minnesota in the largest mass hanging in this Nation’s history, by order of President Abraham Lincoln.

In the first Gulf War, when the massed coalition forces looked out at the dark desert lands just prior to their assault on Iraq, they called that vast unknown land “Indian country.” When someone commits a social or political blunder they are “off the reservation.” Or when one wants to tell a lie but not be accused of being a liar, he puts a hand behind his back, with fingers crossed, and says, “Honest Injun.”

And worse yet, African Americans who cringe at the public use of the “N” word are just as guilty and as adamant as whites in using the “R” word (Redskin) although that word is as offensive to Native Americans as the “N” word is to African Americans. I suppose it all depends upon whose ox is gored.

I have my own heroes. They are Indian people that will, in all probability, never be honored in mainstream America. They are people I have admired and emulated in deed and cause. And as we move into the New Year of 2007, I want to mention their names if for no other reason than it may be the only time they are nationally acclaimed.

Rupert Costo (Cahuilla) was my mentor. He was the publisher of the Indian Historian Press in San Francisco until his death in 1987. Peter MacDonald served four terms as president of the Navajo Nation. Although he was charged and convicted of taking bribes in his later years as president, he still holds a special place in my heart for taking on the large corporations that were raping the lands of the Navajo for uranium and coal. He told his people, “We are not an Indian reservation; we are the Navajo Nation.”

Lionel Bordeaux (Sicangu) for his role in bringing higher education to the Rosebud Reservation (Sinte Gleska University), Tom Short Bull for doing the same for the Oglala Lakota, (Oglala Lakota College), Dr. Dean Chavers (Lumbee) for his many years of fighting for the educational freedom of Indian students, Wilma Mankiller (Cherokee) and Cecilia Fire Thunder (Oglala Lakota), two women that rose to the highest posts on their reservations, Principle Chief and President, and who fought tooth and nail to advance the rights of Indian women, Charlene Teters (Spokane) for taking on the task of removing the Indian people as mascots for America’s fun and games, Oren Lyons (Onondaga) for bringing a national spiritualism to Indian country, Vine Deloria, Jr., (Hunkpapa) for the books “Custer Died for Your Sins” and “God is Red,” Tom Bee (Dakota) for the spirited protest songs his group “Exit” brought to America, Gwen Shunatona (Otoe), for her role in Indian education, Pa Haska (Oglala Lakota) for greeting tourists at Mount Rushmore until his death as an unofficial ambassador of the Lakota Nation, Charles Trimble (Oglala Lakota) for serving as a role model for Indian journalists for many years, Mary Kim Titla (Apache) for starting the online magazine “Indian Youth Magazine” and throwing away her role as a much honored television journalist to accomplish this feat, and to Enos Poor Bear (Oglala Lakota) for creating the flag that serves the Oglala Lakota Nation (Pine Ridge) and for giving me my Lakota name, Nanwica Kciji (Stands up for Them), in a religious ceremony many years ago.

There are so many more high achievers in Indian country that I did not mention here but they are people I will write about in the years to come.

In this modern day of online news, people, and events, perhaps you will take the time to “Google” the people I have mentioned in this New Year’s column and become their friends. We lost that great author and professor Vine Deloria, Jr., last year, but his works can be found at

I wish all of my readers the very best of the New Year.

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 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 ( published his latest book, “Children Left Behind.

More Tim Giago:
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)
Tim Giago: Tribes to claim downsized military bases (06/07)
Tim Giago: First revolutionary was a Native man (5/31)
Tim Giago: Many 'wannabe' tribes seek recognition (05/17)
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)