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Shrill attacks on Cecelia unfair to her intent

ìIn 1876, the Oglala Sioux were responsible for massacring Gen. George Custer and his men at Little Bighorn, mutilating and scalping them as they went. What a difference 130 years make. Today the Oglala Sioux plan to massacre their own children, mutilating and scalping them as they go.î

ñ Jill Spanek

It was clear from the start of the controversy that Cecelia Fire Thunderís courageous decision on behalf of womenís reproductive health and rights would have explosive opposition.

At Pine Ridge Reservation and in South Dakota generally, those who go nuclear at the first mention of abortion have gunned for President Fire Thunder with a passion fueled by this most volatile and most manipulated of issues.

Our senior editor and two senior contributors recently sat with the first woman president of the Oglala Lakota Nation for a wide-ranging discussion on the actual, practical, day-to-day questions that frame the issue for her and her circle of women and men advisors.

Agree or disagree with the Oglala leader, love or hate her message, it is obvious within minutes of conversation that she is a sincere and dedicated advocate of a womanís right to determine her own reproductive reality. Most of all, she is a staunch advocate for freedom from violent rape and incest among the families, which she argues might include the decision whether to terminate a pregnancy or not, relative to the needs of a womanís conscience, her family and her own relationship with the Great Spirit.

Cecelia speaks her mind and comments on the issues from a deep conviction of what constitutes a healthy Indian family. She comes from such a fam-ily, she asserts, where the men had decent values, were self-disciplined and women-respecting. Her values in this sense are conservative and traditional, and she is quick to bemoan how serious is the crisis of family dysfunction in Indian country ñ rooted almost entirely in the abuse of women and children and indulgence in that violence-inducing drug, alcohol. The brutal abuse of women, nearly always resulting in rape, is the elephant in the living room ñ the hidden issue, she asserts; her men-heroes are those capable of addressing this issue.

In relation to the South Dakota ban on abortion, it becomes apparent that what motivates Cecelia is the intrusion by the state upon the intimate decisions of families and particularly of women enduring an imposed pregnancy, too often the result of battering, abuse and, most tragically, of incest. She returns to this issue again and again, of the complexity and uniqueness of each womanís life, where the shrill polemics must give way to the understanding of specific circumstances. The sovereignty of which Cecelia speaks, it can be discerned, encompasses the personal space and the cultural circle of elder women, midwives and medicine people. It includes lifting the blame off of abused women and putting the focus directly on the destructive scourge of deviantly abusive men. This is the real problem that must be confronted and controlled, Cecelia asserts, reinforcing the notion with her body language ñ stiffened back, arms folded before her ñ that she will not be dissuaded from her proposition.

For her courageous, if controversial, stance, Cecelia has endured the rapierís edge of attacks. One shrill and vicious voice, Jill Stanek, accuses Cecelia of ìplanning tribal genocideî and of planning to ìscalp her ownî (www.worldnetdaily.com, April 12, 2006). Because Cecelia served as a health worker counseling women in an abortion clinic at one time in her career, Spanek accuses her of ìkilling at least half her patients.î Writes Spanek, ìNow it all makes sense. I am reminded of the proverb: ëAs a dog returns to its vomit, so a fool repeats his folly.íî And so on.

Not a small amount of virulence has also come from some of Ceceliaís Indian critics. And, of course, she is facing actual impeachment from her tribal council, which chose to reinforce a tribal ordinance that stated: ìA child conceived, but not born, is to be deemed an existing person so far as may be necessary for its interests and welfare to be protected in the event of its subsequent birth.î

The issue of abortion, like the issue of ìgay marriage,î overshadows more important understandings. In this case, it obscures the most crucial issue of rebuilding strong families among devastating community conditions. It is natural to want to protect and nurture life. We support that idea implicitly. We remain wary, however, that the volatile abortion issue can be manipulated to set up conditions that further oppress women, family and tribal authority from more sovereign decision-making.

Whatever happens to her political position as tribal president, we hope and expect that Cecelia Fire Thunder will press on with the deeper issues she is addressing. We encourage all who see and can interpret that deeper reality to engage the important movement of identifying and eliminating violence against women and children, and of stimulating healthy and productive families among our human communities.

ìIn 1876, the Oglala Sioux were responsible for massacring Gen. George Custer and his men at Little Bighorn, mutilating and scalping them as they went. What a difference 130 years make. Today the Oglala Sioux plan to massacre their own children, mutilating and scalping them as they go.îñ Jill Spanek
It was clear from the start of the controversy that Cecelia Fire Thunderís courageous decision on behalf of womenís reproductive health and rights would have explosive opposition.At Pine Ridge Reservation and in South Dakota generally, those who go nuclear at the first mention of abortion have gunned for President Fire Thunder with a passion fueled by this most volatile and most manipulated of issues.Our senior editor and two senior contributors recently sat with the first woman president of the Oglala Lakota Nation for a wide-ranging discussion on the actual, practical, day-to-day questions that frame the issue for her and her circle of women and men advisors. Agree or disagree with the Oglala leader, love or hate her message, it is obvious within minutes of conversation that she is a sincere and dedicated advocate of a womanís right to determine her own reproductive reality. Most of all, she is a staunch advocate for freedom from violent rape and incest among the families, which she argues might include the decision whether to terminate a pregnancy or not, relative to the needs of a womanís conscience, her family and her own relationship with the Great Spirit.
Cecelia speaks her mind and comments on the issues from a deep conviction of what constitutes a healthy Indian family. She comes from such a fam-ily, she asserts, where the men had decent values, were self-disciplined and women-respecting. Her values in this sense are conservative and traditional, and she is quick to bemoan how serious is the crisis of family dysfunction in Indian country ñ rooted almost entirely in the abuse of women and children and indulgence in that violence-inducing drug, alcohol. The brutal abuse of women, nearly always resulting in rape, is the elephant in the living room ñ the hidden issue, she asserts; her men-heroes are those capable of addressing this issue.In relation to the South Dakota ban on abortion, it becomes apparent that what motivates Cecelia is the intrusion by the state upon the intimate decisions of families and particularly of women enduring an imposed pregnancy, too often the result of battering, abuse and, most tragically, of incest. She returns to this issue again and again, of the complexity and uniqueness of each womanís life, where the shrill polemics must give way to the understanding of specific circumstances. The sovereignty of which Cecelia speaks, it can be discerned, encompasses the personal space and the cultural circle of elder women, midwives and medicine people. It includes lifting the blame off of abused women and putting the focus directly on the destructive scourge of deviantly abusive men. This is the real problem that must be confronted and controlled, Cecelia asserts, reinforcing the notion with her body language ñ stiffened back, arms folded before her ñ that she will not be dissuaded from her proposition. For her courageous, if controversial, stance, Cecelia has endured the rapierís edge of attacks. One shrill and vicious voice, Jill Stanek, accuses Cecelia of ìplanning tribal genocideî and of planning to ìscalp her ownî (www.worldnetdaily.com, April 12, 2006). Because Cecelia served as a health worker counseling women in an abortion clinic at one time in her career, Spanek accuses her of ìkilling at least half her patients.î Writes Spanek, ìNow it all makes sense. I am reminded of the proverb: ëAs a dog returns to its vomit, so a fool repeats his folly.íî And so on.Not a small amount of virulence has also come from some of Ceceliaís Indian critics. And, of course, she is facing actual impeachment from her tribal council, which chose to reinforce a tribal ordinance that stated: ìA child conceived, but not born, is to be deemed an existing person so far as may be necessary for its interests and welfare to be protected in the event of its subsequent birth.î The issue of abortion, like the issue of ìgay marriage,î overshadows more important understandings. In this case, it obscures the most crucial issue of rebuilding strong families among devastating community conditions. It is natural to want to protect and nurture life. We support that idea implicitly. We remain wary, however, that the volatile abortion issue can be manipulated to set up conditions that further oppress women, family and tribal authority from more sovereign decision-making.Whatever happens to her political position as tribal president, we hope and expect that Cecelia Fire Thunder will press on with the deeper issues she is addressing. We encourage all who see and can interpret that deeper reality to engage the important movement of identifying and eliminating violence against women and children, and of stimulating healthy and productive families among our human communities.