Skip to main content

Fire Thunder fires back

  • Author:
  • Updated:

RAPID CITY, S.D. - The president of the Oglala Sioux Tribe was suspended
for 20 days based on a complaint requesting the impeachment and removal of
Cecilia Fire Thunder. The complaint alleged that Fire Thunder perjured
herself repeatedly, trespassed, committed fraud, was disloyal and committed
assault and battery.

"I will be exonerated," Fire Thunder said.

"The only people who should get rid of the president are the people that
put me there.

"The complaint would never have come this far if we had a better system."

According to a 1941 OST ordinance, one person can file a complaint against
an elected official. The next step is to suspend that official for 20 days.
A hearing also must take place. Fire Thunder said she didn't know when that
would occur.

A new ordinance that deals with the complaint mechanism and recall will be
in the works, Fire Thunder said.

"I don't want any sitting president to go through this. We will have a
secretarial election and move to staggered four-year terms [for the council] and create a business council," she said.

The complaint was filed Aug. 11 by William Birdnecklace Tate, a former
director of utilities for the tribe. Fire Thunder said at a press
conference that she doesn't believe Tate acted alone, and went so far as to
suggest some people paid him to file the complaint.

"Some people say I may be getting too close, that documents may mean filing
charges against some people," she said. "I make decisions they may not

She said records had been turned over to the inspector general of the
Department of Interior.

Since Fire Thunder's inauguration less than one year ago, she has ordered
the audit of past financial records and put them in order. The Oglala Sioux
Tribe received many calls from vendors asking for payment of bills. She
said she discovered the tribe was in debt by some $50 million.

"I hired five people to put records in order and we are doing an internal

"I want to put together a way of doing business to get off the high-risk
rating list," Fire Thunder said.

The complaint cited the $38 million the tribe borrowed to get out of debt.
Opponents who criticized the loan from the Shakopee Sioux Tribe assert that
the land was leveraged to secure the loan.

Fire Thunder said the land was not used as collateral and the loan will be
paid for from lease and royalty payments received on the 705,000 acres
owned by the tribe. No private land is involved.

Fire Thunder said she inherited the debt, which goes back many years, but
in 1997 the financial bleeding began. "Accountability is something that
fell apart."

She provided copies of her enrollment information, her marriage and divorce
decree, and her high school diploma.

Steven Sandvin, Fire Thunder's attorney, in a letter to the tribal council
and executive committee stated the allegations had no degree of specificity
or particularity as to times, dates, events or persons against whom an act
of misconduct may have occurred.

Tribal council member Juanita Sherrick also filed a complaint alleging that
Fire Thunder threatened her with physical violence. Sherrick, council
member from the Medicine Root District, was suspended by the district and
recall proceedings are to take place, according to district officials. The
district members cited Sherrick's complaint against the president as the
reason for the action.

The Pine Ridge Chamber of Commerce came out publicly in Fire Thunder's

Jesse Clausen, president of the chamber, said the chamber supports Fire
Thunder because of her work to improve the economic climate on the

"The actions we take will affect our people today and for years to come.
It's hard to build a business, to create activity to improve lives: it
requires everyone working together," Clausen said. "It is hard to fight 100
years of poverty; we must work together, tribal, state and federal

He lauded Fire Thunder for reducing the tribal deficit and saving the Head
Start program. "We are working with the president and we see slow and
steady progress."

Fire Thunder, he said, challenged the 2000 Census and successfully managed
to have 10,000 people added to the Pine Ridge population. The additional
numbers will help with funding for education and other infrastructure

"Her administration has worked to improve the economic climate by increased
government accountability to pass a commercial code and zoning ordinance,"
Clausen said.

The chamber supports a new ordinance that changes the rules of the recall

"When we take the oath of office, we take an oath of honesty. If I violated
the oath, I would step down on my own," Fire Thunder said.