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Custer Rides Again

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About 140 years ago, my Lakota Grandfathers and their allies won a great victory in a battle over the U.S. Seventh Cavalry at the Greasy Grass River (Little Bighorn) in Montana. Less than 10 years later, the massacre at Wounded Knee took place. Lakota elders, women and children were slaughtered and the remaining warriors forced to sign another treaty. Our community life changed forever and our culture was about to be taken brutally from us.

From this we have learned that victory is hollow if it does not bring lasting peace and security for our people. We have learned that when defeated, our people are devastated for generations.

Our grandfathers learned a bitter lesson: what the U.S. government gives, it can and most likely will take back, if not by overt means, then through deception. Deception is made manifest in policy and legislation that denies us our lands and denies us the basic dignity of adequate healthcare and social services promised in ignored and devalued treaties. The policies themselves perpetuate a view held by some that Tribes are beggars needing only a misanthropic push out the door to stand on our own two feet.

It is a given that powerful groups consider gambling to be an activity that is immoral and wrong. It would be well to remember the passage in the Christian Bible where Roman soldiers are drawing lots for the clothes of Jesus. New age charlatans use Tribal culture and beliefs as a source of income and mock a Tribe's very way of life in the process. It must also be remembered that, until recently, in popular literature and films Tribes and Indians were often referred to and shown as godless savages.

It is likely that these images survive and are at least some of the reasons it remains easy for politicians and others to break their promises and attack Tribal interests at every opportunity.

Recall the images of savages attacking the poor wagon train, killing all or perhaps taking the women as prisoners, and tie that to the killings at Wounded Knee or the genocide in California of Indian communities and it is not hard to make the leap from godless savages to the images used in the latest attacks on Tribes. Tribes were and are cast as evil and untrustworthy, therefore the enemy.

Now imagine this:

• A screen shows mounted cavalry chasing a group of adult Indians.
• The next screen shows the cavalry riding hard with weapons drawn and the clear intention to destroy their prey.
• The next screen shows the Indians running up over a hill, with defiance in their faces and money falling from their pockets.
• The cavalry is about the cross the top of the hill. As they do, the screen changes.
• It shows a playground filled with Indian children, outside a school surrounded by decent houses and clearly in a peaceful neighborhood.
• Looming behind the children, the playground and the neighborhood is a casino.
• When the cavalry sees all of this, they hardly pause before charging forward.
• The next screen flashes back to the leader of the cavalry charge and it is none other than George Armstrong Custer with his blue eyes and long blonde hair flowing and his trigger about to be pulled.
• The screen goes blank

This is strong symbolism. But there is no doubt that the battle has been brought to our homes. We must rally and defend every vestige of our sovereignty everywhere and every time it is attacked. What is at stake is a peaceful and secure future for our families and children.

The reasons for the alliances that made the victory at the Greasy Grass River possible are calling to us again. It is time to think and act outside of the box, stand together to formulate new tactics and strategies. There is no better way to say it—it is time for our warriors to prepare for battle.

Joe Valandra, Sicangu Lakota, is principal owner and president of VAdvisors, LLC, chairman and CEO of Tehan Woglake, Inc., and former chief of staff of the National Indian Gaming Commission.