I have a friend who suffers from that age-old illness known as Demo-nesia. He has been immersed in the pit of the demagoguery of the Democratic Party for so long that his mind has been literally boggled.
I fully expected to get some very negative responses on the column I wrote in which I supported the candidacy of Republican Congresswoman Kristi Noem. I explained the reasons I supported her and my friend failed to address any of these reasons but instead went on a tirade against Noem and I.
He wrote, "Behind the beautiful smile, the public appearances at tribal events, and the polished public speaker is a dangerous person to Indian country and in particular the Lakota."
Did my friend ever speak to Noem and ask how she felt about certain things in Indian country or was he mesmerized by the slanted ads of her Democratic opponent, Matt Varilek?
Varilek has some very clever ads running on television in South Dakota, but I learned a long time ago not to allow my opinions to be formed by television advertisements. Look what happened to former Senator Tom Daschle (D-SD) when ads pushed by outside interest groups flooded the state and eventually caused him to lose his seat in the senate.
The point I wanted to make about Noem was that she is not a part of the status quo that has held the Lakota people back for too many years. There have been Democrats in powerful political positions in South Dakota for more than 40 years and yet four of the poorest counties in America are located in this state. What have the Democrats done to bring jobs and economic development to the nine Indian nations within the borders of South Dakota? Don't just talk and talk and talk about it, friend; show me!
Under President Bill Clinton, an Empowerment Zone fund was established to bring economic development to the Pine Ridge Reservation, but it was put into place with absolutely no oversight. I wrote an editorial pointing out how the several million dollars allocated to the fund was spent on useless projects and handed out in grants and in repayable loans that were never repaid.
When millions of dollars are allocated to solve a specific problem someone must oversee how that money is spent. That did not happen in the case of the Empowerment Zone funds and that fund is now depleted with no visible results.
Varilek believes that the way to create economic development in Indian country is to pour millions of dollars into non-profit organizations operated by individuals who have never been in business in their lives and wouldn't know a capital gains tax from an income tax. He is a part of the old school of Democrats who have stood by or come up with worthless projects that have kept the Lakota people in poverty for much too long. Didn't he learn anything from the failure of the Empowerment Zone?
My friend is mesmerized by the Democratic Party. He is terrified that an elected representative from another political party will actually do something to lift the Lakota people out of poverty, a poverty that has existed under the noses of elected Democrats for much, much too long.
He doesn't change a thing by attacking me or Kristi Noem. He despises Noem for one reason and that is because she is a Republican. He forgets that the man who probably did more for Native Americans in the history of this country was a Republican president named Richard Nixon. Under Nixon Public Law 938, Indian Education and Self-Determination Act opened the doors for Indian country that had been closed for more than 100 years.
The main source of problems on many Indian reservations is the lack of jobs and of economic opportunities. Not every tribe has a cash-cow casino that pumps money into the reservation economy. He only has to take one look at the Oglala Sioux Tribe's Prairie Wind Casino to know that. As a matter of record, when the Indian tribes of South Dakota were fighting the state government to open casinos on their reservations, the Democrats in office were strangely silent.
The lack of jobs and the lack of funds to improve the economic conditions on the reservations in South Dakota have placed four of the tribes at the bottom of the ladder nationally. This is nothing new. The 1980 Census made Shannon County, the heart of the Pine Ridge Reservation, the poorest county in America. That was 32 years ago and nothing has changed. Our senators and congressmen and women from the Democratic Party, over all of these years, voted to send billions -- that's right billions -- of dollars in foreign aid to assist other countries in their economic development. Why haven't they directed some of it to the Indian reservations?
I am supporting Kristi Noem, not because "she has a beautiful smile," as my friend so shallowly and chauvinistically pointed out, but because it is time for a change. A sure sign of insanity is to do the same thing over and over and expect a different outcome. I think that among the Lakota there has been a form of political insanity to support a political party that has proven to be a failure when it comes to jobs, businesses, housing, and education for the Lakota people.
As an Oglala Lakota newspaper publisher for the past 32 years, I have observed with dismay the failure of the Democrats to improve the lives of the Lakota and I am fed up with their failures. I became an Independent for those reasons and I will never walk lock-step with any political party including the Republicans. I will vote for the person I think will stop the economic depression on the land of the Lakota and bring some new ideas to the political failures of the past.
As an Independent, and judging by my firsthand experience and disappointment in the archaic ideas of Matt Varilek, I have made my choice and as my friend would imagine, I thought this through and I will not be changing my mind while standing in the voting booth.
Tim Giago, an Oglala Lakota, is President of Unity South Dakota. He was a Nieman Fellow at Harvard with the Class of 1991. His weekly column won the H. L. Mencken Award in 1985. Giago was the founder and first president of the Native American Journalists Association and the founder of Indian Country Today. He can be reached at UnitySoDak1@knology.net.