Ivan Star Comes Out: Teach youth about forms of government

The following opinion was written by Ivan F. Star Comes Out. All content © Native Sun News.

The flag of the Oglala Sioux Tribe.

Why aren’t the schools teaching about the IRA form of government?
Why aren’t they teaching about the traditional tiospaye form of government?
By Ivan F. Star Comes Out

The disenchantment and what appears to be apathy or even seditiousness toward the Indian Reorganization Act system of government have become “normal” among many voters in my home district. This voter consensus seems to come from the fact that they are continually reminded, via tribal council actions, of their powerlessness to correct government.

It is annoying to know that this problem afflicting us here on the Pine Ridge, voters and leaders alike, rises out of the fact that not one individual living today received formal schooling on this system of government under the Indian Reorganization Act (IRA). It is also irritating to “see” the continuing unconcern among federal and tribal educators regarding this serious educational shortage.

Oh yes, all of us studied United States government and American History in 7th and 8th grade Social Studies classes. We learned about the basics of town, city, county, state, and federal government. Today, many believe this is what we have here on the home land. I have to say that this is a major delusion and every single one of us today is negatively affected by it.

Realistically, we have something between a democracy and a dictatorship. Under a dictatorship, all power is held by one person or a small group while the governed have no control over their lives. Individuals are valued only in terms of what they can do for government. If one will open his or her eyes, one will see that people are being punished for disagreeing with this new IRA system.

I know of at least two tribal members who endured dictatorial punishment for exercising democratic ideals or constitutional rights. One was legislatively fired and indefinitely prohibited from working for the tribe and the other was threatened with the same. I imagine there are more that have chosen to remain anonymous. Essentially, Oglala people have to “walk on egg shells,” as one would say.

I am also aware, as many are, of elected tribal officials engaging in criminal activity, like drug trafficking and abuse of government power and authority, and getting away with it. Since these acts go unchecked, they border on a genuine usurpation of power, which is an exercise of authority that such offender does not actually have.

Anyway, under a democracy, the people are the ultimate source of power. In other words, those who govern the masses should be able to do so only with the permission of the people. Tribal government should be operated with the people’s consent and authority, not with personal agendas sprinkled with nepotism, cronyism, and other acts of “dishonesty.” We have not gotten very far this way.

The right to vote is only one of many democratic ideals. The fact that we cast a vote to elect our leaders does not necessarily mean we have a true democracy. If we did, constituents would have been treated with respect and be free to question and even protest government decisions without fear of government reprisal. This new government has passed legislation criminalizing such protests.

People do have the option of not reelecting officials of whom they do not approve. However, IRA elections have been rendered corrupt with candidates garnering votes with free alcohol and even small monetary donations to individual voters. I wouldn’t be surprised if this government uses covert activity to make sure people are not going to shake up this repressive control.

Many will oppose my opinion that this legislative council under the new tribal constitutional government does have and openly exercises absolute power and authority. Somebody tell me this IRA bill does not have absolute rule written in between the lines. As voters, are we capable of standing up to our moral and civic duty to bring these fine lines to the forefront? Can we ensure that democracy endures?

Sadly, the majority of us (if not all of us), voters and leaders alike, do not know enough about this system of government to even try to make a difference. The corrupt politicians are too powerful in their stance to protect whatever it is they have garnered.

There are some key elements that comprise a democracy. One is Respect for Individual Worth. This is the belief that every individual has worth and is perhaps the most basic of all democratic ideals. Another is Equality which means that every individual is also considered to be of equal worth. Under a true democracy, individuals should have value simply for being a human.

This is not to mean equal in ability and talent, rather people should be given equal opportunity to show what they can do with their skills. They should not be prevented from doing so because of being a “full-blood” or “iyeska” or because a person regularly attends the inipi ceremony or church services. Also, officials should have the same rights as anyone else in a court of law, regardless of their position.

A third basic principle is Majority Rule. Basically, if a disagreement arises between different groups in a community, committee, or council, the group with the majority vote gets its way. Of course this must be offset by respecting the rights of the outnumbered side. If not, the majority could impose harsh policies and even illegal practices on the minority.

Fourthly, democracy cannot exist or survive without the ideal of Freedom, which is the right of a person to do as he or she wishes as long as it does not dishonor or deny the rights of others. In other words, we are not free to do anything we please. A democratic government would also place limits on what constituents are free to do.

So, we are left to ponder what we can do about our situation. First of all, I don’t see an immediate solution. The population here is comprised of several generations who are largely unschooled on this IRA and the old traditional systems of government. A long-term solution is to develop and incorporate a tribal History and Civics curriculum that includes the old and new government systems.

This would also include the long list of congressional acts that affect “Indian Country” and all treaty particulars. These are necessary to explain how this government and our reservation came to be. All this information was kept from the masses for the purpose of obliterating the old ways and that act should be out in the open, not hidden. The government also failed to educate people on its new system.

After nearly 80 years, out of discontentment with the enervative nature of the new IRA governing system, many simply want to go back to the old system. The problem with this is that we, as a people, no longer possess our ancestors’ principled standards which made the tiospaye resourceful and sovereign.

I believe the only workable option available now is to teach our youth as much as possible about the new IRA and old tiospaye systems of governing people. As my old squad leader would say, a well-informed trooper is a formidable trooper. Once the youth are truthfully and adequately “educated,” then they will have an enriched opportunity to improve life for themselves.

Ivan F. Star Comes Out can be reached at POB 147, Oglala, SD 57764; (605) 867-2448; mato_nasula2@yahoo.com

Copyright permission Native Sun News

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