How do you describe the loss of a modern day warrior, a chief, and a friend? That’s where I am at today after hearing about the loss of Chairman Stanley Crooks of the Shakopee Mdewakanton Sioux Community.
Although Chairman Crooks is well known for his generosity and kindness in helping Tribes, not many are aware of his commitment to protecting the voting rights of the Great Plains tribal members. Because of his vast knowledge on Treaties and Sovereignty, he had the foresight to build up a tribal voting block to protect our rights. Four Directions is honored in helping protect and implementing his commitment to Indian country.
In 2004, my wife Barbara and I were invited to speak at the Shakopee Mdewakanton Sioux Community on the importance of Tribal involvement in State and Federal Elections. When it was time for me to talk, I looked around the room and saw great leaders from all of Indian Country sitting in the audience and I said to myself, Thank you Chairman Crooks for making this possible. Normally an Indian boy (doesn't sound right saying old Indian) like me with no title and not a tribal leader—just someone from the reservations—would not be able to address so many individuals leading our Nations at once on what we believed was such an important topic. Chairman Crooks made it possible.
When everything was over, my wife and I went to eat at the Little Tipi restaurant where we met Chairman Crooks. Because he was eating with his family, we decided not to bother him. Imagine our surprise when he stopped eating and came over to greet us. Chairman Crooks thanked us for coming and then started teasing us on our meal of choice—frybread and wojapi.
I don’t know what anyone else would have thought, but we thought, We are at home. Chairman Crooks then talked about our treaties and sovereignty and the importance of tribes becoming involved. He then excused himself and went back to his family. Thinking about our meeting with Chairman Crooks seems like it happened just yesterday. The warmth, friendliness, and family kindness by the man who built a Nation, helped other Nations, and believed in our cause will never be forgotten. Changes he made are footprints future generations will follow.
His dedication to equal rights of our people was evident in his funding of Four Directions to ensure our people would not only get equal access in voting but also voter protection. I speak often on how a thought, an idea in 2004, on creating equal access for Tribal members to vote in State and Tribal Elections, would become a reality eight years later all because Four Directions had a great Tribal Leader who believed in what we were doing.
Chairman Crooks along with President Bordeaux of the Rosebud Sioux Tribe, Presidents John Yellow Bird Steele, and President Two Bulls of the Oglala Sioux Nation, were instrumental in opening up early voting stations on the Reservations. Chairman Crooks was aware of the importance of having Tribes participate in Federal and State elections to ensure fair treatment and to protect our treaties and sovereignty. He was also aware that Tribal members were not treated equally when it came to voting and provided the funding to help Four Directions make it equal.
In 2004, the South Dakota Tribes had one day of voting. The rest of the state had six weeks to vote. Chairman Crooks understood that Tribes could never compete in elections with a 1 day to 42 day ratio. He funded Four Directions to open the door to equality. Because of Chairman Crooks, we have permanent early voting on the Rosebud Sioux Indian Reservation, and full early voting on the Oglala Sioux Nation in 2012. We are now working with the Cheyenne River Sioux Tribe and the Dewey County Commissioners to have six weeks of early voting and have the tribal secretary’s office as the deputy auditor to help conduct the state and federal elections.
If not for Chairman Crooks leadership, foresight, and generosity, none of this would have happened. It’s a sad day for me and my wife and Indian Country, and our prayers go out to the family and friends of Chairman Crooks and to the tribal members of the Shakopee Mdewakanton Sioux Community.
Pila maya pelo.
Oliver J. Semans is an enrolled member of the Rosebud Sioux Tribe.