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Don't Just Say It—Do It

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On September 1, I read Tim Giago's Native Sun News article "Oglala Sioux people aren't afraid to say no to easy cash" posted on Indianz.com. I read several news articles each day and maintain a feel for what is happening and what folks are thinking about Indian country issues. For a while now, the major focus has been on energy development and environmental issues. There are varying opinions and it has become a contentious matter. 

My feeling is that Indian country has suffered a long time. Efforts by tribal councils to generate prosperity and a better quality of life become hindered by outside or inside factions who are good with the status quo.

I respect the Idle No More effort to decide what happens on their reservation land because environmental issues can impact Indian Country for a long time, if not in perpetuity. Their mostly non-violent demonstrations and protests demonstrate that the one right given to us and never taken away is freedom of speech provided it is not libelous or slanderous and intended to hurt others without cause. This freedom of speech can be heard every day in the local cafes and diners, or at the water coolers around America. Idle No More has slowed down the process and made many lawmakers think hard about the ramifications of moving forward without a better plan. Already some Keystone XL pipeline permits to cross states and reservations have expired. Slowing down the process makes vetting out issues worthwhile.

All across the United States, environmentalists and activists are making insightful and even legitimate concerns come to the forefront. Some concerns have far reaching effects that could last for eternity and some merely impact current fears. I worry about water contamination. I lived on the Fort Peck Indian Reservation for about 24 years and I experienced the alkali contaminated waters resulting from the 1950's Murphy Oilfield boom. Poplar-area folks had water hauled to their farms to survive and it was funded by the oilfield companies. Now, through joint efforts with the U.S. Congress, the reservation has a water system that pipes in water from the Fort Peck Reservoir some 60 miles away from Poplar. This mitigated the horror of dealing with the alkali water although it took years of suffering and hardships by the water users. So I fully understand what can happen and we do need to address it today and develop a plan that preserves, protects and conserves trust resources.

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But, what really confuses me is that tribal members everywhere can oppose trust resource development, but yet they will stand in line at the post office to pick up their economic and trust resource per capita payments. They completely forget that they are against this type of development, but they continue to collect bonus, royalty and per capita payments that are a benefit from income deriving from the very thing they are against.

When I read about folks who are against what they oppose, the best statement they can make is to refuse these payments. How hypocritical is it to speak against these developments and then stand in line with others to get your per capita payment. Sure, some per capita payments are for past claims, Cobell payments, etc., but they should oppose those payments which are tied to development and should be stamped "return to sender." That would make a greater statement than running around expressing yourself verbally but not by actions. The word congruent means that what you say and what you do is the same. Of course, incongruent means the opposite because you say one thing and do another thing. These same folks are demanding that the tribal elected officials be more transparent about how much money is being received and where it is spent. If you're opposed to development, then focus on that rather than "what are [you] doing with all of this money." I greatly respect the Sioux Nation and their refusal to accept the Black Hills payment. That's what you call being congruent. 

This past week, I purchased gas for $3.05 per gallon and some of my friends were paying upwards to $3.47 per gallon. That's what the boom does. It brings down gas prices and makes us less dependent on foreign supplies. Everyone needs gas and if they don't have a car, they "pitch" in gas money to be driven to appointments and gatherings. Maybe those who oppose development should strike even harder and refuse to buy oil or gas. That will get everyone’s attention.

Jay Daniels has 30 years of experience working in Indian Country, managing trust lands and is a member of the Cherokee Nation of Oklahoma. You can find resources and information at RoundhouseTalk.com.