Oglala Lakota County in South Dakota is home to the Pine Ridge Reservation. Photo: Jimmy Emerson, DVM

Elizabeth Cook-Lynn: Indian Affairs: Backward and forward

Native Sun News Today Columnist

In the midst of the worst heath outbreak in the world since before I was born, and in the midst of the national confusion about it (the COVID-19 pandemic), we who try to keep up on Indian news get an “immediate release” memo from the U. S. Senate Committee on Indian Affairs in Washington, D. C.

Heads up! Rear Admiral Michael Weahkee of New Mexico takes office as the new director of IHS at the Department of Health and Services.

So, what do we do in the meantime?

We witness the reality of the Pine Ridge Reservation Tribal Council in South Dakota putting its Sioux Nation on lockdown. The Navajo Nation people face endemic illness, tribal lands all across the country are desecrated as we try to survive.

We cover our faces with protective masks and wash our hands and read in the local white- community-run newspaper that this worrisome action by the tribal nation is criticized because the tribal government at Pine Ridge also ordered a non-tribal teacher at a tribal school tested positive for the Cov19 virus off the reservation and told to leave immediately.

Posted by Oglala Sioux Tribe - OST on Wednesday, July 29, 2020

She was officially banished because she tested positive for the virus after an unauthorized off-reservation trip during lock-down.

We make our appointments at the Sioux San and hope for the best, hearing nothing from the powers that be who told us they were ready to take down 19 buildings from the centuries old campus of IHS.

“The banishment of the Pine Ridge teacher is just another reason why business will not invest in the reservation,” says an off-reservation opinion maker in the local newspaper. Television crews give sympathetic interviews to the ousted church-school worker, and other business leaders worry that the city will lose money if the shut out continues. Gun and liquor store owners pressure the mayor to call their businesses “essential,”so that they won’t be harmed by the shut-downs which by now has become pervasive.

They are ESSENTIAL, don’t you know! There is a brewery (small business) on every corner hoping for a bail-out from the feds. This is a movement in this red state backed by Trumpers which is, they say, a large voting bloc. Kind of like the White Clay booze sellers,I guess.

Elizabeth Cook-Lynn. Courtesy photo

While the racial slaps toward Indians re-instating the very old law of banishment are nothing new, and there is no accounting for the ignorance, the public must examine such opinions and know that they are supportive of the white supremacy political agenda promoting fear of the wrong enemy.

The truth is, to protect the Oyate, the reluctant Tribal Council has not claimed violence, animosity, nationality nor religion, only humanity. It has acted in defense of its people against the white man’s need to take care of his own economics, i.e., production and profits, as well as far too many “bleeding hearts” church people who claim to be well meaning.

In light of former deadly colonial behavior ( a hundred years of genocide and oppression, not to mention small pox and war), tribes usually try not to measure themselves against the universe nor what white folks in neighboring towns think, but rather they try to measure themselves against their own human experiences and the racist actions of their colonists. They remember the diseases brought to these shores by historical invasion when thousands died amidst theft and hatred.

To keep themselves selves blocked off from others is not a vindictive act. But this kind of ugly response to it is another racist opinion based in the ignorance of a white population that has long denied the reality of the struggle facing Indian nations in America to protect themselves and their property as well as their children.

For some who know the Lakota-Dakota (Sioux) myths about how to protect the people, it is recognized that scourges are known to come and go and that for that reason, the people live wisely in a dangerous world. Councils of Elders often make hard but defensive decisions. Banishment is not unheard of in the Indian world. It is a long-practiced official act to protect the tribe. Admittedly, it flies in the face of America’s mottos and fantasies about “bring me your poor”.


Support Native media!

Read the rest of the story on Native Sun News Today: Indian Affairs: Backward and forward

Professor Elizabeth Cook-Lynn writes a column for The Native Sun News Today, in  Rapid City, South Dakota, She is a retired professor of Native Studies and has taught at Eastern Washington University, University of California-Davis and Arizona State University. She is a member of the Crow Creek Sioux Tribe in Fort Thompson, South Dakota.

Copyright permission Native Sun News Today

Join the Conversation