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Native Sun News: Oglala Sioux Tribe inaugurates new leadership

The following story was written and reported by Ernestine Chasing Hawk, Native Sun News Staff Writer. All content © Native Sun News.

Former Oglala Sioux Tribal President Bryan Brewer passes the sacred Canunpa, as a ceremonial gesture of his relinquishment of the office of President, to his t‘anhanshi (cousin) John Yellow Bird Steele.

Yellow Bird Steele sworn in
New Council members vow to ‘Give a voice back to the people’
By Ernestine Chasing Hawk
Native Sun News Staff Writer

MANDERSON –– “Cante tiza, blihiciya, na wocunze” were some of the Lakota words of wisdom shared with the newly elected officials of the Oglala Sioux Tribe at their inaugural ceremony in Manderson, Friday, Dec. 12 at the Wounded Knee School gym.

In line with the new administrations motto “Ta Oyate Ptayelo Wowasi Icunkunpi Kte Lo” (Working together for the people), the first item on the agenda was a “Meet and Greet” in which all the newly elected officials introduced themselves and their families to the Oyate (people).

Among those making their debut into the political arena were two former OST Chiefs of Police. Ron Duke, who spent more than 30 years in law enforcement, will serve as a Pass Creek District Councilmen. “We are here for you the people and for the youth,” he said.

Also making the transition is 25 year OST law enforcement veteran Richard “Sica” Greenwald, who was elected to serve a council representative in the Pine Ridge Village District. Greenwald said he is ready to, “Give a voice back to the people.”

Joining the new OST Administration is Ellen Fills the Pipe who will serve as an Oglala District councilwoman. Fills the Pipe said she was late for the festivities because as the new Chairwoman for the OST Law and Order committee she was busy answering media questions about the recent news that the Justice Department has given approval for legalization of marijuana on tribal lands.

“We have several other issues, and we're just now hearing other issues that were on the table, other things coming up day by day and legalization of marijuana is not one of them,” Fills the Pipe said.

Following the Meet and Greet, Unci (grandmother) Marie Randall presented a flag, honoring the late Chief Oliver Red Cloud, who served for many years as treaty consultant for the tribe, to the new OST President, John Yellow Bird Steele. The flag, made by the children of Crazy Horse school, is to be flown she instructed, “In the building that is dedicated to Makpiya Luta,” the Red Cloud Tribal Office.

A group of elderly Lakota winyan (women) stepped forward and in their native Lakota language admonished the new tribal council to uphold their obligation to practice Lakota values and sacred ceremonies and reminded them not to forget the Unsica (pitiful) people.

Carol Iron Rope Herrera then honored the new administration with a Lakota song as four young women Sage, Laurie, Jessie and Nellie dressed in traditional attire served sacred water and wasna to all of the Oyate in attendance.

Lunch was served followed by the Inaugural Grand Entry and Inaugural Ceremony. The Crazy Horse and Chimney Butte drum groups sang the honor songs and traditional Spiritual Wicasa Sid Has No Horse Wocekiya (blessed) the new administration. Introducing tribal dignitaries and members of the new OST administration was Eyapaha Chris Eagle Hawk.

“Intelligence is not innate,” said Alice Phelps, Wounded Knee School District Principle, who gave the Welcome Address. “If you go with your heart you can’t go wrong.”

“Let us put respect back in council. Let us have a good heart for one another; otherwise it is going to be hard. Blihiciya (be strong), let’s be Lakota’s,” said spiritual Wicasa Wilber Mesteth.

“We need some four year terms, some staggered terms. We have to start over every two years, we need some continuity,” said guest speaker Paul Iron Cloud, Chief Executive Officer of Oglala Lakota Housing.

Although all Great Plains Tribal Chairmen were invited to the OST inaugural ceremonies, Harold Frazier, newly re-elected Chairman of the Cheyenne River Sioux Tribe, was the only one in attendance. Also not in attendance was the newly re-elected Vice Chairman Tom Poor Bear.

“I have a lot of respect for him. You know he is a force in Washington D.C. for the Oglala people, for all the people in the Great Plains region. He is a strong man. He spoke the truth out there,” Frazier said as he gifted Steele with a satin star quilt from the Cheyenne River Sioux Tribe.

As a graduate of OLC Frazier said he is looking forward to partnering with the Oglala Sioux Tribe on issues of health care and a continued partnership with Oglala Lakota College.

“When I got into office I met with John and we talked about what he was working on, his top priorities. This was good for me,” former OST President Bryan Brewer said. “His priorities became my priorities.”

Brewer encouraged the new council to work closely with the president who he said was his t‘anhanshi (cousin). “Our grandmothers are sisters and when I ran against him some of my relatives said, ‘You be good to each other’ and I have.”

Then it was time for the ceremonial changing of the guard, the passing of the sacred canunpa (pipe).

“I am very honored today to return the tribal pipe to President Steele and I want to tell the people that it has been a great honor to have served the people the last two years,” Brewer said just before ceremonially handing the pipe over to Steele who wore a fully beaded vest and wapaha (war bonnet).

“Mitakuyepi, we got together for three days in what we called an orientation. I want to tell you that I was enthused, I was excited,” Steele said and that he has plans to include spiritual leaders in the making of important decisions for the tribe.

Steele who will be serving his seventh two-year term as OST president spoke about partnering with the Cheyenne River and Rosebud Sioux Tribes over Indian Health Service health care issues and that the answer may be a 638 contract with Sanford Health out of Sioux Falls.

“I.H.S. has killed some of our people. This major move is going to get them out of the way completely. Turn our health care over to Sanford. I know of their health care mission statement and it is quality health care to rural areas,” Steele said and spoke of the importance of keeping tribal politics out of health care.

Representing Senator John Thune (R-SD) was his Rapid City staffer Sandy Marletti who read a letter from Thune congratulating Steele and Poor Bear for their re-election.

Also welcoming the new OST administration were BIA Superintendent Cleve Her Many Horses and Youth Ambassador to the White House, Janay Jumping Horse.

Fred Cedar Face, OST Associate Judge then conducted a symbolic swearing in ceremony of the new OST administration for the Oyate as the actual ceremony took place two weeks earlier. A special presentation titled “Circle of Hope” was then performed by the youth from the Bear Project led by Tiny Pourier.

The inaugural ceremony ended with an honor song by the Chimney Buttes Drum and the retiring of colors by the Oglala Lakota Tribal veterans. A wacipi and feed followed that evening.

(You may contact Ernestine Chasing Hawk at or

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