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People of Pine Ridge call on council to unite

PINE RIDGE, S.D. - Early this month, residents of the Pine Ridge Reservation had their first meeting with the newly elected Oglala Sioux Tribal Council.

Throughout the recent campaign, the main theme was "time for a change."

Indian Country Today went to the streets to see exactly what changes the people wanted to see from their new council. In what direction did they want the council to head and how did they feel they should get there?

Many of the people out in the districts were willing to comment though some requested to leave their last names out.

Henry from Eagle Nest said, "I would like to see the council not fight so much. For the past four years, all we heard about was one council member accusing another of wrongdoing, but there never seemed to be an end to it."

"They talk about change, but I don't think they really know what changes we need, said Linda from Wounded Knee. "Are they talking about work or better health issues? I suppose that before you can ask for changes, maybe they should know what the issues are first."

Elsie Meeks, executive director of The Lakota Fund says it outright: "Try to get out of operating in a crisis mode and start thinking strategy."

"I think I would like them to start running our nation in a professional manner," says Karlene Hunter, president and director of Lakota Express, a telemarketer.

Many people said acting like professionals was high on the list of change they'd like to see and the word "trust" came up many times.

"If we had a council we could trust, then I think the changes would come, said a retiring council member who wished to remain anonymous. "We need jobs, we need better health services and our children need better education. We need people we can trust to deal with these things."

A 15-year-old student at Red Cloud School observed, "We now have a new council. We have people that were put there because they were voted in by us. What changes we need are to have these people remember that they are there for the interest of all the people on this reservation. They need to stop fighting among themselves and act like grown ups."

Ramon Bear Runner from the Porcupine District had this to say: "This council needs to follow the laws and the rules set down by our constitution. For so long now, they haven't followed anything.

"Another thing they need to do is let the president do his job. The job he was voted into office to do is to be the administrator. The council is supposed to work with the administrator and do their jobs. If everyone did their jobs, things would fall into place as they should."

Several people said they were concerned this new council would not be able to put things behind them and get on with governing the tribe.

"I personally don't think that what we went through these past couple years are over. If they concentrate on those issues, can they really make a change?" a construction worker remarked.

"Change? Well how about they put us ahead of themselves? That would be something new. And positive."

Overall, it appeared most people simply wanted the council members to work together in a positive manner.

"We are a great people. Our ancestors gave us all this," Oliver Red Cloud told the new council Dec.5. "We need to keep going and be the great people we can be. Working together would be a giant step in that direction.

"What we do here today is what we will leave our children. The choice is ours today."