Ousted leader talks about change for the Oglala Sioux Tribe

Author:
Updated:
Original:

RAPID CITY, S.D. ñ Former Oglala Sioux Tribal President Cecelia Fire Thunder was impeached earlier this year and removed from office, ran for re-election and ended up third in the tribeís Oct. 3 primary election, and by a fluke of fate ended up on the general ballot only to lose again.

She was removed from office six months short of a full two-year term, as she argues, illegally because the tribal council followed none of the laws of the tribe and violated the U.S. Constitution in the process.

What happened to her should not happen to any other sitting president or an elected official, she said, so changes in the tribal constitution are necessary to protect elected officials; there should also be a definitive separation of powers.

ìThe Oglala Sioux Tribal Council violated my rights under the constitution and I think they are not paying attention to that; hopefully at some point down the road they will realize their error and never do it again to another person.î

Fire Thunder stressed that the tribal council interfered with a tribal court decision to put her back in office after she was impeached; therefore, she claims, the tribal council has assumed too much power.

ìItís one thing to have power, but to use it judiciously, in a respectful manner, to use it to help. In the past 10 years the power of the council has been used to hurt, to destroy and to demolish within the confines of the reservation,î she said.

Why the tribal council did not follow the legal protocol during Fire Thunderís impeachment and removal is not a mystery to her: ìI donít think they knew what they were doing. In the heat of the moment, it was emotional. They didnít know what they were doing, you could tell,î she said.

The fact that she is a woman also played a major factor in her continued criticism while in office, she claims.

Fire Thunder had her feet to the fire after she mentioned that a womenís health clinic would be located on the Pine Ridge Reservation and that the clinic could perform abortions. That statement was in response to the state of South Dakotaís nearly complete ban on abortion having passed the state Legislature and signed into law.

She was removed by the tribal council, as it was stated at the hearing, because she advocated abortion, and for not

consulting with the tribal council.

Fire Thunder will not sit idle; there is much work yet to be done for the Oglala Sioux Tribe. She plans to work with a group on Pine Ridge to change the constitution to develop a legal separation of powers so that the tribal council can not interfere with the tribal court.

The tribal court, according to Fire Thunder, has been the victim of tribal council interference and she, along with a group on Pine Ridge, advocates for a definitive separation of powers.

ìWe need to strengthen the court and ... keep the council out of the day-to-day business of the court.

ìThe role of the court is to interpret the law; itís as simple as that. Now, if it doesnít go your way, well, quit breaking the law,î Fire Thunder said.

The courts need credibility so that investors will have more confidence in their investments, which will be protected within the court system, she said. ìAs long as the courts are in chaos and easy to manipulate, no one wants to invest on the Pine Ridge Reservation,î she said. ìAnd to that end when you look at it, there is absolutely no development, nothing going on.î

While Fire Thunder was president, the tribal council passed a resolution to change the council terms to staggered four-year terms; however, a secretarial election was never scheduled to affirm that resolution. The tribal council also failed to deal with the results of a 1997 secretarial election that mandated a new code of ethics be written, Fire Thunder said.

Fire Thunder emphasizes that under her abbreviated term in office, she managed to remove a short-term $19 million debt that plagued the tribe, borrowed enough low-interest money to begin construction on a new casino and hotel, and oversaw a special investigation into the tribal finances.

The Head Start program was moved from tribal control to the Oglala Lakota College and a Federal Housing Administration loan payment was changed to reflect the market value of the lease land on which it was based so the tribe will have an extra $500,000 per year.

ìFormer tribal presidents on the reservation told me, ëMan, for a person who was under so much fire, you did a lot,íî she said.

ìMy reasons for running for president is because I wanted to help, I didnít want to get rich. Iím already famous, I was famous before I became the president ñ now Iím even more famous,î Fire Thunder said.

<b>Once a leader, always a leader</b>

RAPID CITY, S.D. ñ A tribal president may be removed from office, but the instinct to be a leader will remain.

Cecelia Fire Thunder was impeached as the president of the Oglala Sioux Tribe earlier in the year for what she had said, but she claims that she was standing by her principles. She had advocated a womenís health clinic that could possibly perform abortions on the Pine Ridge Reservation.

ìI stood by what I believed in. People go through their whole lives and have never been tested; I was tested for the whole year and a half I was in there ñ God, they were constantly at me,î Fire Thunder said.

Fire Thunder, a nurse, has worked in womenís health for most of her professional life. She has been instrumental in establishing programs based on traditional American Indian cultural values that are designed for healing.

She has established a network of friends across the country that stood by her when she was impeached, and her connections to national organizations and congressional leaders are still intact. She said that she intends to use that network to accomplish unfinished projects.

ìI was told once you are a tribal leader, you are always a tribal leader. Once you have been elected and chosen by your people you will always be a tribal leader, so you put ëformer presidentí before your name,î she said.

Now the former president is busy with a speaking tour and meeting with other tribal leaders and organizations to help instigate positive changes in Indian country.

In 1994 Fire Thunder and a host of others developed a language for healing that includes the mind, body, heart and spirit for people to own, she said. They will tweak that curriculum, she said.

Health and womenís issues are still high on Fire Thunderís agenda. She travels across the country as a guest speaker on womenís health. She is also determined to establish a telemedicine program on her reservation and nationally. Such a program would help isolated areas to diagnose quicker and earlier and send X-rays to other places for diagnosis.

Oppression and colonization is a plague on Indian country, and for more than 20 years Fire Thunder has studied and worked to discover the effects of and possible cure for a dysfunctional society that is the result of colonization.

ìIf you really believe in Lakota and define what Wolakota is, it is not what we do today. Itís about compassion, itís about love, itís all the things we are not doing,î she said.

She said an elder told her that people were behaving differently and it made her heart hurt. ìIn fact, she said if you are really practicing, you donít say it, you do it.î

Fire Thunder speaks passionately and directly when the subject of colonization is introduced.

ìWe come from a society of anger. There are a lot of people who have never resolved their anger and it comes out. You have to take care of that, you have to pray and ask for guidance and help so you will never use the power to hurt anyone,î she said.

ìColonization is the taking away of identities, itís the breaking away of the rules to live by as a people, and thatís what colonization did.

ìFor those of us who can live and function in this world and speak the language and the songs and go to ceremonies, we are bicultural and we can function and itís up to us to share this information to our relatives,î she said.

ìA lot of the problems on Pine Ridge are about colonized thinking and colonized behavior; the anger, the resentments, the jealousy, the lack of trust.î

But times are changing and decolonization efforts are under way with healing curriculum, but the major responsibility, Fire Thunder reminds people, is to do the homework.

ìBecause if you do your personal work and you walk it, thatís better teaching than talking it,î she said.

Tribal law enforcement is critically underfunded, and Fire Thunder has a plan to raise $300,000 to collect data to present to congressional committees to prove additional funding is necessary.

Fire Thunder has the renewed support of tribal officials across the country to continue her efforts to raise the money for a survey that will collect data on the needs of law enforcement. There are 201 tribes that have tribal or BIA law enforcement that operate with an inadequate budget.

ìI got the tribes to pass a resolution in Washington, D.C., to conduct this survey. The BIA law enforcement budget is stagnant, there is no infusion of new dollars and the needs are growing by leaps and bounds.

ìI have a good working relationship with organizations. Iíve been around the block a lot longer before I became tribal president,î Fire Thunder said.

Today tribal leaders e-mail and call Fire Thunder to give her support and to maintain a working friendship.

ìTribal attorneys at [the National Congress of American Indians] pulled me into a corner and said, ëYou know, you were the first president ever removed for standing by her principles. Everyone else was removed for embezzlement or corruption,íî she said.

ìThe bottom line is, I like politics, and if done in a good way [politics] can accomplish great things,î she said.

RAPID CITY, S.D. ñ Former Oglala Sioux Tribal President Cecelia Fire Thunder was impeached earlier this year and removed from office, ran for re-election and ended up third in the tribeís Oct. 3 primary election, and by a fluke of fate ended up on the general ballot only to lose again.She was removed from office six months short of a full two-year term, as she argues, illegally because the tribal council followed none of the laws of the tribe and violated the U.S. Constitution in the process.What happened to her should not happen to any other sitting president or an elected official, she said, so changes in the tribal constitution are necessary to protect elected officials; there should also be a definitive separation of powers. ìThe Oglala Sioux Tribal Council violated my rights under the constitution and I think they are not paying attention to that; hopefully at some point down the road they will realize their error and never do it again to another person.îFire Thunder stressed that the tribal council interfered with a tribal court decision to put her back in office after she was impeached; therefore, she claims, the tribal council has assumed too much power.ìItís one thing to have power, but to use it judiciously, in a respectful manner, to use it to help. In the past 10 years the power of the council has been used to hurt, to destroy and to demolish within the confines of the reservation,î she said.Why the tribal council did not follow the legal protocol during Fire Thunderís impeachment and removal is not a mystery to her: ìI donít think they knew what they were doing. In the heat of the moment, it was emotional. They didnít know what they were doing, you could tell,î she said. The fact that she is a woman also played a major factor in her continued criticism while in office, she claims. Fire Thunder had her feet to the fire after she mentioned that a womenís health clinic would be located on the Pine Ridge Reservation and that the clinic could perform abortions. That statement was in response to the state of South Dakotaís nearly complete ban on abortion having passed the state Legislature and signed into law.She was removed by the tribal council, as it was stated at the hearing, because she advocated abortion, and for not consulting with the tribal council.Fire Thunder will not sit idle; there is much work yet to be done for the Oglala Sioux Tribe. She plans to work with a group on Pine Ridge to change the constitution to develop a legal separation of powers so that the tribal council can not interfere with the tribal court.The tribal court, according to Fire Thunder, has been the victim of tribal council interference and she, along with a group on Pine Ridge, advocates for a definitive separation of powers.ìWe need to strengthen the court and ... keep the council out of the day-to-day business of the court.ìThe role of the court is to interpret the law; itís as simple as that. Now, if it doesnít go your way, well, quit breaking the law,î Fire Thunder said.The courts need credibility so that investors will have more confidence in their investments, which will be protected within the court system, she said. ìAs long as the courts are in chaos and easy to manipulate, no one wants to invest on the Pine Ridge Reservation,î she said. ìAnd to that end when you look at it, there is absolutely no development, nothing going on.îWhile Fire Thunder was president, the tribal council passed a resolution to change the council terms to staggered four-year terms; however, a secretarial election was never scheduled to affirm that resolution. The tribal council also failed to deal with the results of a 1997 secretarial election that mandated a new code of ethics be written, Fire Thunder said.Fire Thunder emphasizes that under her abbreviated term in office, she managed to remove a short-term $19 million debt that plagued the tribe, borrowed enough low-interest money to begin construction on a new casino and hotel, and oversaw a special investigation into the tribal finances.The Head Start program was moved from tribal control to the Oglala Lakota College and a Federal Housing Administration loan payment was changed to reflect the market value of the lease land on which it was based so the tribe will have an extra $500,000 per year. ìFormer tribal presidents on the reservation told me, ëMan, for a person who was under so much fire, you did a lot,íî she said.ìMy reasons for running for president is because I wanted to help, I didnít want to get rich. Iím already famous, I was famous before I became the president ñ now Iím even more famous,î Fire Thunder said.
<b>Once a leader, always a leader</b>RAPID CITY, S.D. ñ A tribal president may be removed from office, but the instinct to be a leader will remain.Cecelia Fire Thunder was impeached as the president of the Oglala Sioux Tribe earlier in the year for what she had said, but she claims that she was standing by her principles. She had advocated a womenís health clinic that could possibly perform abortions on the Pine Ridge Reservation.ìI stood by what I believed in. People go through their whole lives and have never been tested; I was tested for the whole year and a half I was in there ñ God, they were constantly at me,î Fire Thunder said. Fire Thunder, a nurse, has worked in womenís health for most of her professional life. She has been instrumental in establishing programs based on traditional American Indian cultural values that are designed for healing.She has established a network of friends across the country that stood by her when she was impeached, and her connections to national organizations and congressional leaders are still intact. She said that she intends to use that network to accomplish unfinished projects.ìI was told once you are a tribal leader, you are always a tribal leader. Once you have been elected and chosen by your people you will always be a tribal leader, so you put ëformer presidentí before your name,î she said.Now the former president is busy with a speaking tour and meeting with other tribal leaders and organizations to help instigate positive changes in Indian country.In 1994 Fire Thunder and a host of others developed a language for healing that includes the mind, body, heart and spirit for people to own, she said. They will tweak that curriculum, she said.Health and womenís issues are still high on Fire Thunderís agenda. She travels across the country as a guest speaker on womenís health. She is also determined to establish a telemedicine program on her reservation and nationally. Such a program would help isolated areas to diagnose quicker and earlier and send X-rays to other places for diagnosis. Oppression and colonization is a plague on Indian country, and for more than 20 years Fire Thunder has studied and worked to discover the effects of and possible cure for a dysfunctional society that is the result of colonization.ìIf you really believe in Lakota and define what Wolakota is, it is not what we do today. Itís about compassion, itís about love, itís all the things we are not doing,î she said.She said an elder told her that people were behaving differently and it made her heart hurt. ìIn fact, she said if you are really practicing, you donít say it, you do it.îFire Thunder speaks passionately and directly when the subject of colonization is introduced.ìWe come from a society of anger. There are a lot of people who have never resolved their anger and it comes out. You have to take care of that, you have to pray and ask for guidance and help so you will never use the power to hurt anyone,î she said.ìColonization is the taking away of identities, itís the breaking away of the rules to live by as a people, and thatís what colonization did.ìFor those of us who can live and function in this world and speak the language and the songs and go to ceremonies, we are bicultural and we can function and itís up to us to share this information to our relatives,î she said.ìA lot of the problems on Pine Ridge are about colonized thinking and colonized behavior; the anger, the resentments, the jealousy, the lack of trust.îBut times are changing and decolonization efforts are under way with healing curriculum, but the major responsibility, Fire Thunder reminds people, is to do the homework.ìBecause if you do your personal work and you walk it, thatís better teaching than talking it,î she said.Tribal law enforcement is critically underfunded, and Fire Thunder has a plan to raise $300,000 to collect data to present to congressional committees to prove additional funding is necessary.Fire Thunder has the renewed support of tribal officials across the country to continue her efforts to raise the money for a survey that will collect data on the needs of law enforcement. There are 201 tribes that have tribal or BIA law enforcement that operate with an inadequate budget. ìI got the tribes to pass a resolution in Washington, D.C., to conduct this survey. The BIA law enforcement budget is stagnant, there is no infusion of new dollars and the needs are growing by leaps and bounds.ìI have a good working relationship with organizations. Iíve been around the block a lot longer before I became tribal president,î Fire Thunder said.Today tribal leaders e-mail and call Fire Thunder to give her support and to maintain a working friendship.ìTribal attorneys at [the National Congress of American Indians] pulled me into a corner and said, ëYou know, you were the first president ever removed for standing by her principles. Everyone else was removed for embezzlement or corruption,íî she said.ìThe bottom line is, I like politics, and if done in a good way [politics] can accomplish great things,î she said.