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News Release

Lakota People's Law Project

Julian Bear Runner, president of South Dakota’s Oglala Sioux Tribe, sent a letter today to Carmen Yulín Cruz, mayor of San Juan, Puerto Rico, expressing his tribal nation’s solidarity with Puerto Rico. Both leaders recently made news with their calls for federal support in the wake of devastating storms that have left their constituencies without basic needs for an extended period of time.

The U.S. Congress recently went on recess without having decided on the structure of a refief package. While communities throughout the Midwest, California, and Puerto Rico are all still reeling from the fallout of climate-related catastrophes, the legislature remains gridlocked thanks largely to a partisan split. President Donald Trump has clashed with both Cruz and Democrats who are asking for a substantial aid package for Puerto Rico.

In a recent television appearance, Cruz referenced similarities between her island’s situation and that of the Pine Ridge Reservation, home of the Oglala Sioux Tribe. Bear Runner said he is appreciative of that.

“A few weeks back, I watched as Carmen Yulín Cruz, mayor of Puerto Rico’s capital, San Juan, described the ongoing struggles for her island. I was heartened that, even given her own dire situation, she took time to mention the emergency here at Pine Ridge,” he said. “Our mutual situation makes you wonder: Why does President Trump refuse to send needed aid to poor communities of color in the aftermath of natural disasters?”

Bear Runner’s formal letter to Mayor Cruz expresses his tribe’s solidarity with Puerto Rico. “It’s possible we can work together to increase awareness of our twin emergencies, bolster the chances of federal relief, and provide for our citizens,” he said. “It is my sincere hope that both Puerto Rico and Pine Ridge will receive all funding needed to rebuild.”

Below is the text of the full letter, and a signed version of this letter can be downloaded here:

Dear Mayor Carmen Yulín Cruz,

Our hearts here at the Pine Ridge Reservation in South Dakota go out to the people of Puerto Rico. Like you, I am fed up with President Trump’s mistreatment of Indigenous people and other communities of color — his tendency to refuse us adequate aid in the aftermath of disasters caused partly by climate change, even while he forces oil pipelines across our sacred, unceded treaty lands. Like our Lakota people, the ancestors of Puerto Ricans occupied this continent before Trump’s relatives did. The shocking insolence and disrespect his administration shows toward the original people of this region is not lost on sensitive, good hearted citizens the world over. Small minded acts of intolerance may play well on Fox News, but they are recognizable for what they are by those who conform to ethical norms.

We thank you for recognizing our plight in the aftermath of Bomb Cyclone Ulmer, a struggle which is so similar to your own in the aftermath of Hurricane Maria. Now, especially, is a time for us Indigenous people to bond together. We must recognize one another’s stories — we must see ourselves in the migrants from Mexico seeking asylum in the United States, and in the Amazon peoples attempting to preserve the rainforest against incursions by a new Trump-like president in Brazil.

As our climate threatens to cook us into extinction, all because the dominant culture fails to respect the ecosystems that created us, Indigenous wisdom is needed now more than ever. Standing Rock helped remind us that, though we may be some of this continent’s poorest citizens, we still have the spiritual power to see through the din of dysfunction coming from Washington; we still have the ability to inspire the world into action on behalf of social and environmental justice.

The values of any government are reflected in its budget. This administration wants to slough off its obligations to communities of color in the aftermath of “natural” disasters, while lying brazenly – not dissimilarly to how certain other governments in history have (“in the big lie there is always a certain force of credibility”). Trump says that he has spent $90 billion dollars to restore Puerto Rico, when in fact he has spent $11 billion. All the while, Trump has had the audacity to perpetuate the term “fake news,” usually in reference to those in the media attempting to tell the real story. We must call him out for “fake governing.” A government that will not tell the truth has no validity. It represents no one but itself.

We stand in solidarity with you as you struggle to recover from Hurricane Maria. Last year, a storm carrying baseball-sized hailstones and 60-80 mile-per-hour winds swept through our community and did $5-10 million in damage. Our windows were broken, our roofs were shattered. But, we were turned down for recovery funding by Trump’s Federal Emergency Management Agency because our devastation (much of which remains now) was deemed “cosmetic.” As you know, we are now facing tens of millions of dollars of new damage caused by the worst flooding any of us have ever experienced. We are in talks with FEMA, and we will do our part to satisfy their criteria. But we do not know what will come of those talks.

Let us strengthen one another. Though we are a tiny community compared to yours, like you, we have a powerful voice. And we lend it now to support you and all other Indigenous communities throughout our world who need allies because of abuses of power by men who do not deserve the authority vested in them.

Julian Bear Runner
Oglala Sioux Tribal President

The Lakota People’s Law Project is part of the 501(c)(3) Romero Institute, a law and policy center. It is working with the office of Oglala Sioux Tribe President Julian Bear Runner on flood relief measures after a series of storms wrought millions of dollars in damage upon the Pine Ridge Reservation.

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