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The Oglala Sioux Tribe begins a new era

First woman takes charge on Pine Ridge

KYLE, S.D. - In one of the largest and most spectacular inaugurations in
the history of the Oglala Sioux Tribe, Cecelia Fire Thunder, the first
woman ever to lead the nation as president began a new era.

Fire Thunder was supported by friends, relatives and colleagues from as far
away as Alaska. Hundreds of well-wishers and family jammed Little Wound
High School here with former tribal presidents, current elected leaders
from surrounding tribes and government officials.

"It's a great day because you are here to celebrate," Fire Thunder said.

"The tribal council and I are going to be one. On this reservation we have
no problems on challenges and challenges have solutions," she said.

"We have a great job ahead of us; we can make a difference in two years."

The Oglala Sioux tribal president, vice president and council members are
elected for two-year terms.

Cecelia and Vice President Alex White Plume are fluent in the Lakota
language and she said they plan to speak the language while in the offices,
because, as she added, there may be solutions in the language.

The inauguration was a special event for Oglala women and for women from
other tribes. A special ceremony by the women's society distributed sacred
food, or "food of the Gods," said Rick Two Dogs, uncle to Cecelia and
Oglala spiritual leader.

The food contains the spirit, mind and heart of the tribal leaders, he
said.

Wilma Mankiller, the first woman to lead the Cherokee Nation as principal
chief, is a special friend to Fire Thunder; the two call themselves
sisters.

"It takes a strong person to stand up in Indian country," Mankiller said.

"She [Fire Thunder] is a healer of people. She carries herself with dignity
and was not elected because she is a woman. She was elected because she
gets up every morning, says prayers in her language and goes out and fights
for her people."

Mankiller said Fire Thunder doesn't accept things the way they are, which
makes her optimistic about the future.

"We have survived relocations, massacres and wars and we are still
standing; how can I not be optimistic," Mankiller said.

"Destiny determined before she was born the role she will lead. There were
obstacles to become prepared for today. She walked into that role, walk
with her every day," she said.

The ceremonial day began with the Big Foot riders who rode into Kyle and to
the school where prayers and a ceremony with Fire Thunder and her family
and supporters took place.

Alex White Plume, vice president of the Oglala Sioux Tribe organized the
ride as he had many years ago to initiate the Big Foot Memorial Ride from
the Cheyenne River Sioux Reservation to Wounded Knee.

White Plume spoke to the crowd entirely in Lakota, and those who did not
understand the language were not left out because he spoke with a passion
that communicated his dedication to the people. White Plume is the head of
his tiospaye, which is practicing sovereignty with economic projects that
help to support the entire family.

His attempt to return to the traditional tiospaye or family system of the
Lakota has earned him a highly-respected reputation among traditional
people and others on Pine Ridge.

"It is an honor to run with Alex [White Plume]. I honor him and respect
him," Fire Thunder said.

Arvol Looking Horse said he spoke with White Plume during the ride. He said
they talked about the sacredness of the horse. "He [White Plume] will make
a good leader."

Paul Iron Cloud, former tribal president said he was very supportive of the
Fire Thunder and White Plume administration.

"I supported her because when I talked to her she had people in her heart,
that makes a difference.

"She said I will do things to the best of my ability. She will lead our
tribe in a good direction," Iron Cloud said.

He reminded the tribal council that Fire Thunder was elected by the entire
Oglala Sioux Tribe and that they should listen to her agenda because
together as a team they would be successful.

"A lot of tribal chairmen with a lot of knowledge showed up today to show
support. If we can help her [Fire Thunder] bring the government back to the
people we've done something. Think of things to make a better world for our
children," Iron Cloud said.

The inauguration was definitely a day of the woman, a celebration of
history in the making and women were the majority in attendance to support
their sister, Cecelia. And the men who spoke were mindful of the strength
women brought to the event and will bring to the new administration.

Tex Hall, president of the National Congress of American Indians and
chairman of the Three Affiliated Tribes, said it was a new year of
self-determination for Indian country.

"I have the highest hopes for the newly-elected people. Cecelia always
offers hope at the end of the day - we knew we did something good for our
people," Hall said.

Fire Thunder has been involved in different ways with NCAI.

When an elder speaks and offers advice it is more important than any
accolades others may offer.

When Fire Thunder's godmother, Cecelia Montgomery, age 94, spoke in a
strong voice Fire Thunder listened.

"I said before that this is a woman who will be in D.C. someday. We need a
woman chairperson.

"There are two races here, yet we are all God's people and we must stick
together," she said making reference to the full bloods and mixed bloods.

Montgomery instructed Fire Thunder to have some elders come together and
sit down in her office and let her know what is going on.

"If God is willing I will be there - I volunteer my time."

Montgomery presented Fire Thunder with a shawl as she said, "I show you my
affection for you - I love you."

"I want to thank the creator for making me a woman and putting me on the
Pine Ridge Reservation," Fire Thunder said.

"As I look around the world I see oppression, and after 9/11 the loss of
freedom.

"Thank you for giving me freedom, to be in a culture where women are
important, are equal to our men. We are in this together.

"As Lakota women we have freedom to come and go as we please, to go to
school or not, to make choices. And I can pray like my ancestors.

"Don't let those freedoms slip away from you. You can choose to be free, to
associate with people you want. I didn't do this alone, you did it," she
told her audience.

And for those who didn't vote for Fire Thunder, she said it was still her
job to look after them.

"Each of us have to step up to the plate, together we can make a
difference."