THE BLOG
09/21/2014 12:45 pm ET Updated Nov 21, 2014

An Independent Can Awaken 'Party' Zombies

Notes from Indian Country
By Tim Giago (Nanwica Kciji)
Native Sun News

September 22, 2014

When you register as an Independent in South Dakota you are made to feel as if you are from Iowa or Wyoming and you are trying to slip into this state to vote.

On Primary Election day the clerk told me I had to declare myself as a Republican or Democrat in order to get a ballot. As our old friend Rodney Dangerfield used to say, "I get no respect."

Last week the United Tribes Technical College and Native Sun News hosted and sponsored a debate of the candidates running for the senate seat of the retiring Tim Johnson (D-SD). Three of the four candidates showed up for this historic debate because it was the first time in South Dakota that an Indian college and an Indian newspaper ever sponsored a debate for a national political office. C-SPAN and Al Jazeera didn't think it was that important.

Rick Weiland, a Democrat, Gordie Howie, an Independent, and Larry Pressler, a former Republican Senator turned Independent showed up for the debate. Mike Rounds, the former governor of South Dakota, declined our offer. Rounds is leading in the polls and refuses to expose himself to criticism by joining in any of the debates.

I looked up the word "selflessness" and the interpretation of the word appears to mean Chad Taylor, a Topeka Democratic who announced he was quitting the senate race in Kansas and giving his support to Greg Orman, an Independent. In so doing he has given the Independent Orman the opportunity to defeat a sitting Republican Senator named Pat Roberts. In fact, the last poll I saw showed Orman with a lead over the incumbent.

Most Republicans in South Dakota assume that their man, Rounds, will give them one more senate seat. Larry Pressler, the Independent, believes he can win and he said, "I wouldn't be in this contest if I believed otherwise."
Most of South Dakota's tribal leaders endorsed Weiland simply because he is a Democrat. I cautioned them not to do so until they had heard from all of the candidates. Pressler is making some impressive inroads on the Indian reservations. If he is elected he will bring seniority to his senate seat because the 3 terms he served in the senate will be counted. He has told voters that he will run only once because he wants to devote all of his six years in the senate to working for the people of the state and not spend half of those three years trying to raise money for the next election.

In 1980 the U. S. Census proclaimed Shannon County, the heart of the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation, as the poorest county in America. Thirty-four years later Shannon County still ranks among the top 10 poorest counties in America. During much of that time the Democrats have held the senate and house seats in this state. I have written time and again, "What in the world have they done to bring an end to this travesty?" The answer that comes up is always; "little or nothing." And so I have urged my fellow Lakota to take this into consideration and not to blindly follow a Democrat simply because that is what they have always done. During those 34 years the Republicans have often held the power and they also can be categorized as "do-nothings" when it comes to solving the poverty problems of the state's Indian reservations.

The other night at the debate Larry Pressler said, "I am ashamed of myself and I am ashamed of Washington and I am ashamed of South Dakota for allowing this situation to exist." He added, "And I am even more ashamed that I didn't do more about it when I was in the senate." In the Lakota language Pressler is "onsika" or humble. That is why I support him.

When he was in the senate Pressler stood up for tribal sovereignty. He fought against the State of South Dakota assuming jurisdiction over the new Indian colleges and won. He believed that the tribes should have sovereign control over their own colleges.

I think Rick Weiland is a great guy, but I believe that Larry Pressler stands a better chance of winning the senate seat away from the Republican Rounds. I started this column talking about "selflessness" a true description of what Chad Taylor has done in Kansas. I believe that the only way Democrats or Independents can stop the Mike Rounds Express is to throw all of their support behind Larry Pressler.

It would take a selfless act for that to happen and most politicians are not gifted with "selflessness," because it is a virtue and not a political tool. Both Pressler and Weiland believe they can win the senate seat, but if we elect another Democrat the grid-lock goes on. Whatever happened to the independent thinkers serving in Congress who always put people ahead of Party?

(Tim Giago, an Oglala Lakota, was born and educated on the Pine Ridge Reservation in South Dakota. His book Children Left Behind has made him a pariah with the Catholic Church and Red Cloud Indian School, a school he attended and wrote about when it was called Holy Rosary Indian Mission. He can be reached at editor@nsweekly.com)