Ryan Wilson: Indian Country can't afford Kristi Noem anymore

Ryan Wilson and current House Speaker John Boehner (R). Photo Courtesy Ryan Wilson

My good friend Tim Giago recently offered a rebuttal to “Romneysia hits Lakota Country.” In this piece he doubles down on both his indictment of the Democratic party and his support for Tea Party favorite Kristi Noem as the appropriate choice for the Lakota people in South Dakota’s increasingly tight Congressional race. My friend asserts that I have been blinded by my loyalty to Democrats to the point of my mind being “boggled.”

This of course came as a great surprise to me because I haven’t so much as mentioned Noem’s opponent, nor do I serve as a surrogate for her opponent’s campaign. I have but one loyalty and that’s to the tribe that my friend and I belong to – the Oglala Lakota Nation. My friend, on his own, decided to place a metaphorical war bonnet on Noem and I decided to take it off for she does not deserve this honor.

My friend also accuses me of despising Noem and attacking her for being Republican in my “tirade.” As I wrote in Romneysia I have worked with many Republicans who are strong on Indian issues for many years, I would even like to invite my friend to my home to see the “binders” of Republicans who I have worked with and supported. He offers a very strong opinion but as he has said many times “facts are stubborn things” and as I have said Noem can run but she cannot hide from her record, which I will provide a highlight of. This election is not about my friend or me or our political affiliations it’s about the future of the Lakota/Dakota Nation and every election should be about our future.

Giago is using Noem as a vehicle to express his genuine frustration with her Democrat opponent and the party he belongs to. His critique is fair to a point, he would be surprised to know I agree with much of what he feels about “all of our eggs in the Democrat basket.”

All this being said we are talking about apples and oranges here, not donkeys and elephants.

One can maintain independence from party affiliation and justly critique the programs of Democrats without blindly throwing support to the perceived lesser evil. My friend however co-mingles issues by declaring that because he had a good conversation with Noem and a philosophical split with her opponent that she qualifies for Lakota support – nothing could be further from the truth. So let’s get to the truth that my friend knows but willingly refuses to acknowledge.

Treaty-based federal appropriations have been paid for through contractual agreements in which the Lakota ceded millions of acres of the richest land in the world in exchange for peace, continued self-rule, housing, health, and education. These are neither Democrat nor Republican based programs these are Treaty rights they are not government largess nor are they discretionary, they are treaty rights.

The Indian Health Service, Bureau of Indian Affairs, Bureau of Indian Education, and other federal programs that deal with Indian housing, health, education, transportation, energy, economic development and so forth face over a billion dollars in Noem supported cuts. IHS alone will face $637 million in cuts. These cuts are from the Paul Ryan budget plan that that Congresswoman Noem fully supports, voted for and is campaigning on as a badge of courage. In my view there is nothing courageous about trying to balance the federal budget of the United States on the backs of Lakota children, Lakota elders and Indian country in general.

By attacking treaty-based appropriations and Indian programs Noem is advocating an abrogation of treaty rights, and radically redefining the federal government’s trust obligation/responsibility to Indian nations, especially treaty tribes. Giago seems to be confused about who is attacking who here.

One of my friend’s justifications for endorsing Kristi Noem was that she attended and spoke at the Sinte Gleska Tribal College graduation and affirmed her commitment to Indian education. I attended the same ceremony and deeply appreciated Noem’s words and participation. I too had high hopes for her but then an interesting thing happened. No sooner did she leave the stage of Sinte Gleska than she participated as a leader in the House of Representatives in advancing and voting for the Ryan budget plan, the most radical and irresponsible budget passed by the US House ever.

Besides the unconscionable cuts to Indian education including Tribal colleges and Universities in the BIE budget, Noem and Tea Party extremists cut an additional $115 billion from the Department of Education budget. These cuts will hit K-12 Indian education budgets hard and tribal colleges will not escape undamaged.

Adding insult to injury Noem is supporting two education bills -- HR 2445,and HR1891 -- that grant states (not tribes) maximum flexibility in use of federal funding, a very bad idea to proponents of Indian control of Indian education). HR 1891 eliminates funding for Alaska Native and Native Hawaiians education programs.

The late Bill Demmert (Oglala/Tlingit) who authored the Indian Education Act of 1972 with Senator Ted Kennedy would be rolling in his grave if he knew his Lakota people allowed their Representative to advance such an offensive and hateful measure. Robert Kennedy who was the inspiration behind the Indian Education Act would exhort the Lakota to fight any roll back attempts on their educational rights if he were here today. So important was Indian education to Kennedy, he interrupted his 1968 presidential campaign to chair a field hearing in Pine Ridge on the condition of Lakota children and their education.

Noem’s advocacy and votes on the Ryan budget plan represent her priorities, her values, and her votes offer us a window into her soul.

It gets worse, the fever pitched battle that Indian country waged for over 15 years to reauthorize the Indian Health Care Improvement Act is under attack. Noem and Tea Party extremists are desperately trying to repeal Obama Care (Affordable Health Care Act). This landmark legislation contains the Indian Health Care Improvement Act, the most comprehensive piece of Indian health legislation ever enacted into law.

Not only do Tea Party extremists seek to repeal Obama Care, they wish to dismantle the Indian Health Care Improvement Act. Authorizations in this act serve as the statutory vehicle to fund Indian Health Service Hospitals, Clinics and other IHS programs. As my friend is aware IHS is already badly underfunded and IHS appropriations determine how we in Pine Ridge, Rosebud, Standing Rock, and Cheyenne River ration health care and pick winners and losers often deciding the fate of tribal members based on available funds.

Respected journalist Mark Trahant, a subject matter expert on IHS, has correctly identified the Ryan budget plan as a real problem in so far as negatively impacting the IHS through Ryan’s plans on reshaping Medicaid. Noem supports this restructuring of Medicaid wholeheartedly, so she supports repealing the Indian Health Care Improvement and in the absence of repealing defunding the IHS.

Once again showing her exceptional lack of legislative experience Noem tells the Lakota that after she repeals the Affordable Care Act she will secure passage of a stand-alone Indian Health Care Improvement Act. What she doesn’t share is that it was her Republican colleagues that blocked this crucial bill for over a decade, and that was before Noem and her parade of extreme Tea Party folks entered Congress.

I was contacted by Noem’s office through her communication director who emailed Noem’s Indian Affairs legislative record. She did not dispute her votes on repealing the Affordable Care Act and her votes on passing the radical Ryan Budget plan. She did share that the Congresswoman has introduced legislation to address labor relations law, Workforce training, USDA Office of Tribal Relations, and most notable her support for the House version of the Violence Against Woman Act and the amendments she introduced which would allow the victim and tribe representing the victim to petition for federal protective orders in the case of non-Indian perpetrators who commit abusive crimes on Indian lands.

Sounds like a nice piece of legislation that one would tout to her Lakota/Dakota constituents, well not so fast. Lakota women aren’t dumb, they happen to have been the national leaders in heightening awareness on the need to protect Indian women and advance strong Indian provisions on jurisdiction into the Violence Against Women Act.

As Noem declared victory on the House passage of the bill and her amendment, Indian Country and Lakota women boiled in frustration because Noem and her right wing colleagues fought off provisions that were contained in the Senate version of the bill that would recognize tribal courts as the jurisdiction of authority for crimes committed against Indian women on Indian land, regardless of the offender’s race.

This provision, the one championed by Lakota women and Indian Country does the following: Restores concurrent tribal criminal jurisdiction over non-Indians who commit crimes of domestic violence, dating violence, and violations of protective orders in Indian country. While the US Constitution and hundreds of ratified treaties, federal laws, and judicial decrees acknowledge Indian Nations as sovereign governments, Indian Nations are the only governments in America without jurisdiction to combat certain types of domestic violence in their communities.

Noem could not support the Senate version of the bill or support legal concepts that every tribe has full civil jurisdiction to issue and enforce protection orders against all persons regarding matters on tribal lands. Apparently Noem believes that non-Indians primarily European Americans are entitled to special rights in escaping local tribal jurisdiction. Perhaps she believes tribal courts lack the education and sophistication to properly issue and enforce protection orders.

This is an important issue: 34 percent of American Indian women will be raped in their lifetime, 39 percent will be victims of domestic violence – three-fourths of these offenses are committed by non-Indians. These rates are far greater than any other population of women in America.

According to the 2010 Government Accountability Office study, US Attorneys decline to prosecute 67 percent of sexual abuse and related matters that occur in Indian country. When given the chance to fix this unacceptable situation Noem chose to promote federal instead of local tribal jurisdiction at the expense of safety for Lakota women.

I grew up reading Tim Giago’s columns and always admired his unabashed ability to write with righteous indignation in calling out lawmakers who would harm Indian country. He spared no-one especially our South Dakota delegation. My friend is showing a double standard by continuing to handle Noem with Kit gloves.

My critique of Noem is based on a significantly higher standard than my friend used when he challenged the “Indian fighter” Senator Slade Gorton and Senator Tom Daschle for voting to cut $200 million from the Bureau of Indian Affairs Interior Appropriations bill in 1995. My friend shared at that time that “Tom Daschle will always pander to his white constituents at the expense of Indian country,” for the other Senator he had this to say “Slade Gorton the worst Senatorial enemy of Indian people of America, he learned his Indian history at the shrine of George Armstrong Custer.”

It seems to me that Noem is borrowing cliff notes from Slade Gorton and a page out of his playbook. My friend should explain to his candidate that plagiarism just might lead to the end of her political career.

Unlike Custer the Lakota are still here and judging from the hundreds of responses from Lakota voters who reached out after the Romneysia column, finding votes on the nine South Dakota reservations will be like searching for a needle in a haystack for Kristi Noem.

This is as it should be, regardless of the election outcome. We have to make politicians pay a price or they will continue to vote as if the Lakota don’t vote.

Ryan Wilson, an Oglala Lakota from Pine Ridge, South Dakota is President of the National Alliance to Save Native Languages. Wilson is a past President of the National Indian Education Association, and served several terms on the NIEA Board (2000-2010). He is widely credited with securing passage of the Esther Martinez Native American Language Act of 2006. Wilson is a recognized national leader and advocate of Indian Education, Native Language Revitalization, and American Indian Youth Development. Ryan can be reached at: oglalawilson@gmail.com

Related Stories:
Tim Giago: Stuck like a fly in the honey of the Democratic Party (10/29)
Ryan Wilson: Good friend comes down with case of Romneysia (10/24)

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