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This AFP article  has been all over the blogs in the past few days:

Descendants of Sitting Bull, Crazy Horse break away from US

The Lakota Indians, who gave the world legendary warriors Sitting Bull and Crazy Horse, have withdrawn from treaties with the United States, leaders said Wednesday.

"We are no longer citizens of the United States of America and all those who live in the five-state area that encompasses our country are free to join us," long-time Indian rights activist Russell Means told a handful of reporters and a delegation from the Bolivian embassy, gathered in a church in a run-down neighborhood of Washington for a news conference.

A delegation of Lakota leaders delivered a message to the State Department on Monday, announcing they were unilaterally withdrawing from treaties they signed with the federal government of the United States, some of them more than 150 years old.

The story has also been picked up by foreign press, and the likes of UPI, Capitol Hill Blue, and Fox news.  But AFP's presentation is glaringly wrong.  "The Lakota Sioux" have done no such thing.

These stories cite Russell Means as the source of the declaration, but follow AFP's lead in calling him a tribal "leader" and implying he represents the Lakota Sioux, without giving the actual context.  To be sure, Russell Means is an activist "leader" with a great claim to fame & notoriety: he led the American Indian Movement's occupation of Wounded Knee in 1973.

However, the Sioux tribes have elected leaders too, not just notoriously famous activists.  Wounded Knee, on the Pine Ridge Reservation, is part of the Oglala Sioux tribe, and Russell Means has in fact repeatedly run for president of the Oglala - but has never actually been elected.  Although I'm not sure what mechanism there is for the entire Lakota Sioux to make a decision like this, or who gets to represent them and speak on their behalf, I'm quite sure that a press release by someone who keeps losing elections for the presidency of his own tribe (one of several that make up the Lakota Sioux) isn't it.

Stories in the local & native press reported this story with more context and a better perspective on what it means...

Tim Giago's

A group called Lakota Freedom Delegation is withdrawing from the treaties their ancestors signed with the U.S. and is setting up their own independent nation.  Four activists, including Russell Means, were in Washington, D.C., on Wednesday to announce their plans. [...]

The Rapid City Journal (South Dakota):

Political activist Russell Means, a founder of the American Indian Movement, says he and other members of Lakota tribes have renounced treaties and are withdrawing from the United States.
Means' group is based in Porcupine on Pine Ridge Indian Reservation.  It is not an agency or branch of the Oglala Sioux Tribe. Means ran unsuccessfully for president of the tribe in 2006.

The Sioux Falls Argus Leader has the most cogent explanation of what this actually means:

A group of "freedom-loving" Lakota activists announced a plan Wednesday for their people to withdraw from treaties their forefathers signed with the U.S. government.  Headed by leaders of the American Indian Movement, including activist, actor and Porcupine resident Russell Means, the group dropped in on the State Department and the embassies of Bolivia, Venezuela, Chile and South Africa this week seeking recognition for their effort to form a free and independent Lakota nation. The group plans to visit more embassies in the coming months.
"I want to emphasize, we do not represent the collaborators, the Vichy Indians and those tribal governments set up by the United States of America to ensure our poverty, to ensure the theft of our land and resources," Means said, comparing elected tribal governments to Nazi collaborators in France during World War II.

Rodney Bordeaux, chairman of the Rosebud Sioux Tribe, said his community has no desire to join the breakaway nation. Means and his group, which call themselves the Lakota Freedom Delegation, have never officially pitched their views to the Rosebud community, Bordeaux said.  "Our position on that is we need to uphold the treaties, and we're constantly reminding Congress of that message," Bordeaux said. "We're pushing to maintain and to keep the treaties there because they're the basis of our relationship with the federal government."

In other words, a group of prominent activists from a controversial group (AIM) are shopping around for recognition of an independent country they want to declare.  They have issued a press release about it, and met with some embassies, and some of those embassies are saying "this is interesting" or "we'll talk about it".  The people who would be part of this country, the Lakota Sioux, could join it by choosing to renounce US citizenship, but both the people and the land in question currently already have elected tribal governments and as far as we know, none of those governments have anything to do with this press release, nor do we know if anyone besides these four activists wants to join this country-in-declaration-only.  Regardless of Russell Means' explanations for why it is legal for the Lakota to withdraw from treaties and have their own country, nobody has presented any reason why his group of activists has any legal standing to do so, so the talk of withdrawing from treaties is a red herring to distract us from the fact that this is, so far, nothing more than a press release looking for recognition.

P.S. In early 2006, Oglala President Cecelia Fire Thunder got some blog publicity and national news when South Dakota passed a law banning all abortions and she suggested the Oglala would open an abortion clinic on tribal land.  Since then, Fire Thunder has been impeached over money issues, and South Dakota repealed its abortion ban in a vote later that year.

Back in March 2006, when this story first came up, I did some research and posted about it here on Daily Kos.  I exchanged emails with Tim Giago, who broke the story on after Fire Thunder made the remark privately to him and then told him he could publish it.  Giago founded the first American Indian newspaper in the country, The Lakota Times, in 1981, and earlier this year became the first American Indian added to the SD Newspaper Hall of Fame.  In 2004, he briefly ran for US Senate against Tom Daschle, then withdrew.

It just so happens that President Fire Thunder's opponent in the 2004 election was Russell Means; and that Tim Giago, a friend of Fire Thunder, is a strong opponent of Means (and AIM) in tribal politics.  So, several of the comments I got on that post about Sioux tribal politics talked about Russell Means.  If you're interested, I recommend reading through them.

P.P.S. I emailed Tim Giago to ask his take on this new incident, and will update this post if he writes back.

Originally posted to cos on Sun Dec 23, 2007 at 10:36 AM PST.

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Comment Preferences

  •  I personally think Russell Means, (17+ / 0-)

    and his group are doing this merely to bring national and international attention to the plight of Native Americans in the US, and to point out the miserable history of broken treaties, poverty, mis-management of Indian Trust Funds, continued encroachment and theft of Indian lands, high suicide and rape rates, uranium contamination of lands and water ways, etc. etc.

    I do not believe he seriously thinks he's going to get what he wants here.

    He's just drawing attention to these issues, and it's a good thing.

    Rile them up, Russell.

    Hillary/Clark in 08 - unbeatable

    by Gabriele Droz on Sun Dec 23, 2007 at 10:51:57 AM PST

  •  And thanks for updating the issue. (9+ / 0-)

    A lot of people are simply not aware of the complexities of Native American issues, or that using normal legal channels to address these problem have brought very few results to Native People.

    Hillary/Clark in 08 - unbeatable

    by Gabriele Droz on Sun Dec 23, 2007 at 10:54:42 AM PST

  •  Very well done reporting (7+ / 0-)

    You cover the background quite well -- it sounds more like a case of when Al Sharpton or Jesse Jackson claim to speak for the entire African-American community.

    Thanks for clearing up some of the issues and confusion.

    You're only as popular as the last diary/comment you posted. -- Zachpunk

    by Cali Scribe on Sun Dec 23, 2007 at 10:59:39 AM PST

    •  more than that (3+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      SarahLee, betson08, 2ajpuu

      When Jesse Jackson make a big public statement and the press calls him a "black leader", they do so in a different context.  They clearly understand that he's not the legal representative of the black people in the US, and they also know they're writing to an audience who knows that.

      What Russell Means seems to be saying here is that he's declaring an alternative to existing tribal governments that he'd like to see recognized in their place.  Whether that makes sense or not, I don't think he claims to speak for all of the Lakota people so much as that the initial report in AFP that so many others copied without checking makes it appear as though he actually does.

  •  Excellent clarification of the issues (5+ / 0-)


    And not everyone in Indian Country appreciates this action either.

    Here's a piece of an Indian Country Today article, which awarded Means a 2007 Hall of Shame Award

    Russell Means - for his mid-December announcement in D.C. that he is unilaterally withdrawing the Lakota Sioux from treaties with the United States. News flash to Means: treaties are made between nations; you are a person and not a nation; you are not empowered to speak for the Great Sioux Nation; as an individual, you can only withdraw yourself from coverage of your nation's treaties. (Means is the same Oglala Sioux actor who tried to beat domestic violence charges by challenging the sovereign authority of the Navajo Nation to prosecute him - he took it all the way to the Supreme Court and lost.)

    I think he's legitimately trying to highlight the plight of the Lakota people but the tactic may backfire on him, especially given the last sentence of this quote.

  •  Overton Window (5+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    cos, bronte17, betson08, Wbythebay, 2ajpuu

    I think this is a classic Overton Window ploy, whether intentional or not. Get the outrageous claim out there, from the Lakota community all the way to the international level. If this is the case, this was a successful foray. And I would expect another such claim sometime in the near future.

    Means can say it and it gets attention. The tribe authorities can deny it, the tribal councils can discuss it. Some part of the American public will pay attention; not a big percentage at all, but some. And this sets up a memory point for the future.

    The Indian Trust Fund case, in terms of real payoff, is diminishing all the time. The Kragthorpe case has never been resolved. Just an understanding of the billions of dollars involved would help the Lakota position, but, then, that's not real action whatsoever.

    And if a list of grievances were ever released, whether the Lakota, all Sioux tribes or for all Native American tribles, it would be staggering to the public if they ever read it. The 'reading' of it is more important than the list - reaching and holding the public attention has been virtually impossible for Native American tribes.

    That this has drawn fire in the short term is probably a measure of some success; for the long term, it matters not if the attention is negative or positive.

    "Peace is more distant than might be thought." - Subcommandante Marcos.

    by walkshills on Sun Dec 23, 2007 at 03:27:34 PM PST

    •  Great comment, thanks (2+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      walkshills, Wbythebay

      this was really informative.

    •  Probably not successful (2+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      betson08, 2ajpuu

      Great comment!

      However, I don't think this is a good example of overton window movement tactics.  To do that successfully, you have to understand the tradeoff between how far you go off the edge and how many people you lose the further you try to move.  I don't think Means show's a good understanding of the balance, and this kind of story is most likely to get dismissed as "impossible" or "radical fringe element" by people who hear it and aren't already sympathetic to the point of view.  So, for moving the window, I think it'll accomplish little or nothing.

      However, it may get some attention which will help him pursue other goals.  It may also help define his positions & identity for a future run for office.  He runs for office pretty often, and this could be a form of campaigning.  (and of course, winning office is an effective way to work towards one's political goals)

      •  As a first move (0+ / 0-)

        it is precisely the radical point which needs to be made. The first step in the Overton is usually outrageous, poor accepted, beyond the normal social window or sometimes way over the top. It should be said loud or spectacularly because it will not be accepted. You're not trying to please the crowd.

        Because Means mentioned some legal ledge - which doesn't have to be tested at this point - there's just enough credibility to prick the institutions. Not feasible in the scope of how things have been - but that is exactly the point.

        I look at this as long term.

        I have no idea about Means' political or other ambitions. His current role as a celebrity is enough to draw attention.

        If conditions are as bad as they have been for so long at Pine Ridge, and winter is coming on, it seems natural to me to question how much longer the endurance should go on. When do you act? Do you accept hopelessness and give up? What can you do? When the snow is deep and the cold unrelenting, do you bury yourself in the past or question the future and seek a vision your independence.

        Personally, I've thought they should have said this long before.

        "Peace is more distant than might be thought." - Subcommandante Marcos.

        by walkshills on Sun Dec 23, 2007 at 11:55:40 PM PST

        [ Parent ]

  •  Why Tim Giago Disparages AIM (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    cos, Nulwee

    I spoke with Giago at length about AIM several years ago and here is what I remember of his views.

    1. Numerous books, like Mathiessen's "In the Spirt of Crazy Horse", create the impression that AIM was a mainstream movement and represented the majority of indians on Pine Ridge in the seventies. According to Giago, this was never the case and that most Indians on Pine Ridge wanted nothing to do with AIM.
    1. AIM's actions in the seventies continue to negatively affect the res today. According to Giago, businessmen will not invest in Pine Ridge because of the perception that AIM created. The result has been economic devastation.

    It seems to me that the press coverage Means, who does not live on Pine Ridge, is receiving now is likely to continue to damage Pine Ridge's economic prospects.  

    •  It wasn't a mainstream movement ... (4+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      SarahLee, cos, Nulwee, greatwhitebuffalo

      ...but AIM did have widespread support at Pine Ridge and other Lakota, Nakota and Dakota reservations. I was at the siege in '73 for about half the time, and I can attest to the fact that many traditionals, who were generally older, and many young Lakota, did favor some kind of confrontation even if they didn't show up at Wounded Knee. I'm not Lakota, I'm Seminole, so in no way am I speaking for anybody at Pine Ridge, but I can tell you that Tim Giago also has his enemies, just as Russell Means does.

      "Just remember, boys, this is America. Just because you get more votes doesn't mean you win." - Special Agent Fox Mulder

      by Meteor Blades on Sun Dec 23, 2007 at 11:46:24 PM PST

      [ Parent ]

  •  Means, AIM and who speaks (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    SarahLee, cos

    While AIM didn't represent all native people (even within the various nations that had a chapter) I'd have to say that it did accomplish a lot.

    The occupation of Alcatraz may only have been political theater, but it was pretty effective political theater. And the tribal government in the 70s especially was so woefully inadequate that it was no wonder that something like AIM appeared. Unfortunately AIM was associated primarily with the Lakota, because that's where its most dramatic confrontation occurred.

    That said, there are divisions upon divisions within AIM (that's something that would require a whole book) and between Native people over tactics and strategy.

    Means is only one of many activists. Some of the folks from the 70s ended up joining local tribal governments. Some didn't. I mean, look at Johnny Trudell.

    Point is, who speaks for Native people is at best a complicated issue. I happen to like Giago's work, though I admit that my familiarity with it is a bit out of date.

  •  Thank you (0+ / 0-)

    I had a diary draft about this, but I would have basically sworn at every ignorant kossack for bitching any seeming inaccuracy about any issue other than American Indian peoples and sending a certain diary up top of the rec list.  And they would've deserved it but it would do little good.

    Except for Turkana, who seems to always be on the opposite side of anything from me. Thanks Turkana.

    It's not often you find a politician talented enough to smear the opponent as a drug dealer, terrorist AND uppity black boy

    by Nulwee on Mon Dec 24, 2007 at 05:37:58 AM PST

  •  A few corrections (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    SarahLee, cos

    I appreciate your posting of this particular non-story.  But lets clear a few things up.  First Sitting Bull was not a war chief.  He was a Spiritual leader. Second, saying Lakota Sioux is akin to saying British Englishman.  Lastly,for now, Russell Means is an AIM member.  A founding member but no longer a leader in that movement.  That he has and harbors resentment for what has been done to his people is obvious with his continued involvement in native issues.
    There have been many things that came from those early days aside from the occupation of Wounded Knee.  The reclaiming of native lands from a corrupt and lackadaisical BIA.  A growth of Native Pride and a push back by bigoted Europeans.  To go on would just lead to a litany of misdeeds heaped upon Native America by both the U.S. government and the complicit Europeans who now make up the majority of this country.
    The Lakota Times which you referenced has since morphed into Indian Country Today.  If you are curious as to what takes place on the different "Rezs" and how Native America is making their way and how they view themselves and us take a look.
    Footsore  Indian Country Today

    •  clarifying corrections (0+ / 0-)
      1. I almost didn't notice that the AFP article called Sitting Bull a "warrior".  I didn't call him that myself, of course - none of what I wrote mentions him.
      1. Lakota is a linguistic subgroup of Sioux.  As I understand it, the Sioux nation includes Nakota and Dakota speakers as well.  British / English may be a good analogy English is a subgroup of British, but the difference is that most American readers can be expected to be aware of that, whereas I suspect most don't even know offhand whether "Lakota" and "Sioux" are related, let alone how.  It is kind of like saying "English Brit", when speaking to an audience who has heard some things about the English and some about the British and who you don't expect to necessarily be aware of the relation between the two.
      1. Yes, Russell Means is an AIM founding member.  Having led the Wounded Knee occupation is probably his biggest claim to fame, though he's done a lot of other things.  What you say is entirely consistent with that I say, though, so I'm not sure what you want to "correct" in this portion?  He's still a prominent activist leader, whatever his official role in AIM is.

      The Original Lakota Times was sold to the Oneida who later renamed it; later, one of the women who had worked on the Lakota Times started a new Lakota Times, but was asked to cease & desist by the lawyers of the Indian Country Times (even though they no longer used that name) so she renamed it the Lakota Country Times.  I think I consider both of them to be descendants of the original paper :)  I do check both of them when I'm looking for information about what's happening on the reservations.

  •  facts are stubborn things ... (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Progressive Moderate

    ... thanks for helping them stand tall.

    I am further of the opinion that the President must be impeached and removed from office!

    by UntimelyRippd on Mon Dec 24, 2007 at 03:10:40 PM PST

  •  Thanks for this diary and sorry (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Progressive Moderate

    I am so late responding.

    While I am no friend of Tim Giago's he is right on this one.  

    I live on the Rosebud Lakota (Sioux) reservation, next door to Pine Ridge and most folks here are laughing about it if not spitting Russell's name.

    Russell Means is NOT speaking or acting for any of my relatives here or any that were part of a group I had lunch with today, including the tribe's attorney general.  

    Suzan Harjo gave Means a 2007 Mantle of Shame award for this action.

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