Charles Trimble: Standing on moral high ground in #NoDAPL fight

Charles "Chuck" Trimble. Courtesy photo

A Perspective On Our Moral Struggle For Inah Makoce
By Charles "Chuck" Trimble

Several months ago I posted a piece on Facebook that talked about the moral high ground that Native people as a whole have occupied as part of our ongoing struggle to preserve our homelands and our cultures.

One writer, Mahto Oyuspa asked, "Native moral high ground? You sure you want to stand on that?” Then he followed up with this: “Here on the rez' we have rampant meth abuse, prescription drug abuse, elderly abuse, tribal corruption that threatens what sovereignty we have left, abuse/misuse of Govt. program funds, the age-old problem of alcohol, physical/sexual abuse of Native children, a court system that is out of date, and elected politicians that have long forgotten their role in our society. So, I have cause to question where this ‘Native moral high ground’ actually exists.”

I responded that Mahto Oyuspa is right in many ways. When a person stands in the midst of dire poverty and suffering and, worst of all, blatant corruption on the part of trusted leaders, it does seem naïve or high fallutin’ for a fellow tribesman – especially one who doesn’t see every day those horrors of social pathology – to talk about our responsibility as aboriginal owners of the American continents to preserve Mother Earth and her environment.

But many of our people with deep sincerity do claim for us that responsibility. I am not one to stand on that moral high ground and preach. That is for others who are more worthy, and who accept the honor of upholding that sacred trust. I am a journalist of sorts, a commentator who observes and writes about such things. Even so, I will try to answer the question asked by my friend, Mahto, to wit: Where does this Native moral high ground exist?

I would say first of all that it is not a physical place, but a place in the heart and spirit. It exists among those who hold the Black Hills so sacred that they refuse to accept over a billion dollars to quit-claim their heritage deep in those hills.

It exists among those who fight to prevent development and activities that defile the sacred Bear Butte where generations of our forebears have sought vision and who prayed for the people and the generations to come.

It exists in the hearts and spirits of those who work to secure and preserve the pristine Peh Sla in the Black Hills as a place where our people can go to find serenity and seek their vision. It existed in the camp of those who went out to stop the XL Pipeline from crossing and threatening the lands guaranteed in perpetuity in the sacred treaties.

It exists in the community of descendants of survivors of the Wounded Knee massacre, who oppose any development that would disrespect the spirits of those who died on that sacred ground.

These are things, among many others, that constitute our moral high ground. But Native moral high ground, finally, is the spirit and the spirituality of our people.

There are several things that challenge our moral superiority from within, and these are inherent in the kinds of industry we have found ourselves chained to. These are things that are generally repugnant to people everywhere, such as payday lending at grossly usurious interest rates; playing on the desperation of people or on their ignorance. And there is arrogance of wealth, such as in the practice of buying politicians through massive campaign contributions; the same kind of arrogance that characterizes the Koch brothers and other greedy power mongers.

These are things that not only compromise our moral high ground but endanger our ability to exercise our sovereignty, and that threaten our sovereign immunity that we rent out to scumbags in the lending industry to enable them to skirt anti-usury laws, or allow practices like fracking to exploit our energy resources.

My co-adoptive brother Sam Deloria once wrote to me in exasperation, “When we have given up our position of moral superiority and our "Indian exceptionalism,” we are really no better than anybody else, and will bring a lot down on ourselves with our arrogance.”

It is easy, I suppose, to claim that moral high ground when we are not among those receiving significant wealth from their decisions. Many of them see instant relief from generations of poverty and suffering, and that tends to level the moral high ground if it means having to forego the promise of relief. And their tribal leaders who make the decisions or influence the decisions among their people are duty-sworn to improve the lives of their people. So it is a difficult choice.

Nevertheless, those people in our tribes who take it upon themselves to be guardians of that precious moral perspective should be heeded in their admonishment to respect and protect Mother Earth and her environment; and to respect and protect our sovereignty.

We profess that moral virtue; and we must walk the walk. More importantly, it’s in the interest of our own survival as distinct Native peoples and in the interest of our survival as nations.

The warriors at Sacred Stone camp, standing the moral high ground in the fight to stop the Dakota Access Pipeline, are setting the stage for the larger struggle to save our environment; and they are inspiring and empowering that effort throughout the continent and the world.

Charles Trimble, Oglala Lakota, was born and raised on the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation in South Dakota, and was principal founder of the American Indian Press Association in 1969 and served as its Executive Director to 1972 when he was elected Executive Director of the National Congress of American Indians. His website is and he can be reached at

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More from Charles "Chuck" Trimble:
Charles Trimble: Celebrating a new name for sacred Black Hills site (08/19)
Charles Trimble: Tribal nations must join together for Hillary Clinton (08/02)
Charles Trimble: Thanking Lakota veterans for sharing their stories (06/06)
Charles Trimble: The facts about the high stakes at Wounded Knee (04/15)
Charles Trimble: Disgusted with the 2016 presidential campaigns (03/14)
Charles Trimble: A great leadership opportunity for Native youth (02/15)
Charles Trimble: Taking responsibility for upkeep of our cemeteries (02/05)
Charles Trimble: Thoughts and questions on the sale of Wounded Knee (1/6)