A South Dakota lawmaker made the bizarre claim on Tuesday that Common Core educational standards was partly to blame for a rash of deaths among Native Americans, Think Progress reported.
“We’ve buried eight kids down on that reservation in the last week,” state Rep. Elizabeth May (R) said. “We need to sit up and pay attention. I’m not naive enough to think the Common Core is what’s causing all of this, but it’s part of the effect. We’ve got teachers down there who have just quit teaching it.”
May did not mention any specific cases or even name which of the state’s nine reservations where these deaths occurred. She said she had spoken to an unidentified “Indian educator” who opposed Common Core but had not been able to discuss the issue with lawmakers.
Indian Country Today Media Network reported last week that five Oglala Sioux teenagers had committed suicide on the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation over the past two months. However, the curriculum was not cited as a possible reason for any of the deaths. Yvonne DeCory, who works with a tribal suicide prevention program, mentioned bullying, poverty and “tenuous family relationships” as factors.
“Being a teenager is hard,” DeCory said. “Being raised by your great-grandma because your parents aren’t around, that’s a hard life. You don’t stay young long on the reservation. You have to grow up pretty fast.”
May made her remarks as legislators debated revisiting a bill that would have repealed Common Core within the state. As MSNBC reported earlier in the day, the state spent $4 million to implement it and is slated to begin testing based on the standards next month. The bill had failed to advance in the House Education Committee a day earlier.
“This is a very emotional topic — especially for me,” May said. Despite her efforts, however, the effort to bring the bill back to the House floor was defeated.
When Billy Mills raced to one of the biggest upsets in Olympic history — winning the 10,000-meter gold medal at the 1964 Tokyo Games — a lot of people wanted to congratulate him.
Mills received a telegram from his best friend, Leroy Chief, and his cousin, Harry Eagle Bull. A note from John Glenn challenged Billy, a fellow Marine, to a race – the competitive Glenn said he’d ride his motorcycle, and if he didn’t win, they’d have to race again with Glenn on his rocket ship.
But perhaps the most unique congratulation originated over 5,700 miles away from the athlete’s village in Tokyo and took a bit longer than a telegram to reach Mills.
Back on the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation where Mills had grown up, just before the race he wasn’t supposed to win, the community filled a sacred pipe with tobacco and prayed to the four directions, to mother earth and to the creator, that Billy would represent himself with dignity, and in so doing represent his people — the people of the Oglala Lakota (Sioux) tribe and the United States — with dignity.
When Mills returned home from Japan, the tribe held a powwow in his honor and bestowed upon him his Lakota name: Tamakoca Tekihila, which translates to “Loves His Country”.
It was a name Mills would live up to not just on Oct. 14, 1964, when he won the only 10,000-meter Olympic gold in U.S history, but every day since that epic race.
The Path To The Medal
The story of Mills’ journey to the Olympics reads like a Dickens novel. Born to Grace and Sidney Mills on June 30, 1938, on the Pine Ridge Reservation in South Dakota, Billy Mills joined a family that would soon number eight children. His parents divorced when he was young, but he was close with both and devastated by the death of his mother when he was 8, and especially by the loss of his father four years later.
One of Mills’ strongest memories of his father is from a fishing trip the two took shortly after his mother’s death.
“My dad looked at me and told me, ‘Son, you have broken wings.’ He said I had to look beyond the hurt, hate, jealousy, self-pity. All of those emotions destroy you. He said, ‘Look deeper son. Way down deep is where the dreams live. Find your dream, son. It’s the pursuit of a dream that’ll
heal a broken soul.'”
Mills’ environment did not lend itself to the fulfillment of dreams. Pine Ridge is consistently one of the poorest communities in the United States, and suffers from a crippling mix of complicating issues: alcohol abuse, unemployment, youth suicide and others.
Besides these immediate barriers, the native community was under legal and psychological attack from the federal government — Mills’ date of birth is closer to the massacre at Wounded Knee than it is to today, and the American Indian Religious Freedom Act wasn’t passed until 1978 — and people struggled to maintain their identity in the face of a government mandate to assimilate. He says he grew up with the knowledge that his people had experienced “our own genocide.”
Mills’ father was Oglala Lakota, but his mother was white, which means that their child is iyeska, a Lakota term which he translates as “mixed blood”. At times Mills felt held at arms length by the most traditional and full-blooded native people. Achievement, measured by accolades like academic and athletic success, sometimes seemed to come at the expense of community.
He did well enough academically to gain admission to the Haskell Indian School (now the Haskell Indian Nations University), but the school was far from his family, in Kansas, and choosing to leave the reservation brought additional scrutiny and wariness from the native people who stayed.
Mills says that those Oglala who chose to go to the school were “rejected twofold. Those traditionalists … couldn’t understand why we were trying to engage in the society that had basically created the genocide of us. And society basically rejected us. The theme of the day was the melting pot. But the melting pot, if you look at it from the Native American perspective, was to take the Indian-ness out of me.”
Running became Mills’ escape from his personal struggles. No matter what was going on in his life, when he ran, he found tranquility. At Haskell, Mills’ running prowess caught the attention of college coaches, and he entered a world even more removed from his native community when he enrolled at the University of Kansas. he seemed to be doing well, but internally he was struggling.
“Racism in America was breaking me,” he says. “Nobody knew, but it was breaking me.”
Mills says he came frighteningly close to committing suicide, “close enough to scare me to this day.” But in his darkest moment, he heard a voice.
“I just heard energy: ‘Don’t. Don’t. Don’t.’ The fourth and last time, soothing, powerful, gentle loving, very direct, ‘Don’t.’ And to me it was my dad’s voice. I got off my chair and I wrote down a dream to heal a broken soul. I wrote ‘Gold medal, 10,000 meter run.'”
Healing A Broken Soul
The journey toward his dream is an epic tale that has already been the subject of a feature film, “Running Brave.”
He found some success in college, becoming a three-time All-American in cross country, but his career really took off when he joined the Marines and married his college sweetheart, Patricia. The Marines offered stability in the form of a special training camp for Olympic hopefuls, medical expertise that identified and helped manage the Type II diabetes that had caused Billy to unexpectedly crash in previous races, and a strong mentor in the form of coach and Olympic gold medalist Tommy Thompson Sr.
Coach Thompson’s belief in Mills’ dream was a key component of his success, but even more important was the confidence and support he drew from Patricia, who put her own goal of a career in art on hold in order to support his training.
In a time when Olympic athletes were still held to the strictest definition of amateurism, Patricia was his one-woman support crew, providing meals and snacks to help manage his diabetes, caring for their newborn daughter, and providing emotional support when almost no one else believed in Mills’ dream.
In Tokyo, Mills had memorized where Patricia would be sitting before the race — 95 yards from the finish, 32 seats up. In visualizing the race, he
designated it as the point where he would start his all-out sprint. Despite going up against athletes such as Australian Ron Clarke — the reigning world record holder who had run nearly a minute faster than Mills’ personal best — Mills’ belief in himself never wavered. His goal was to win.
When the gun fired on race day, Mills hung with the leaders, despite a pace for the 10,000-meter race that was nearly as fast as his best for 5,000 meters. On the final lap, he found himself one of just three men in contention for the win, sitting on Clarke’s shoulder with Mohammed Gammoudi of Tunisia just behind him.
The bell lap played out like an obstacle course as the leaders weaved around nearly a dozen lapped runners, and Billy was pushed off balance twice in the jostling for position. Stumbling into lane 2 in the aggressive fray, Billy seemed to fade out of contention on the backstretch when Gammoudi surged. Mills approached Patricia’s seat about eight yards behind the leaders.
Coming off the curve of the straightaway, just under his wife’s position, a lapped runner began to float wide, and Mills saw daylight: space to sprint for victory. He pumped his arms, lifted his knees, and gave it all he had. Glancing left at a lapped runner, Mills thought he saw an eagle on the competitor’s singlet. He remembered his father’s words: “The pursuit of a dream will heal your broken wings.”
He flew with the wings of an eagle to the finish line, breaking the tape first.
Despite dreaming about the victory for years, Mills could hardly believe his dream had come true. When an official came up to him immediately after the race and asked, “Who are you?” Mills momentarily panicked, fearing he had somehow stopped a lap early. In footage from the race, you can see him holding up one finger, asking a question.
The Japanese official confirms with a single raised finger of his own: first place, Olympic champion. Mills laughs, still seemingly disbelieving, and waves to the crowd.
What does one do then as a newly-crowned Olympic gold medalist? Mills knew generally what he wanted to do after the Olympics.
In the Lakota tradition, someone who has experienced success holds a “giveaway,” a ceremony that recognizes those who have supported them on their journey and gives back. But Mills wasn’t sure how to hold his giveaway. The tribe had been his entire existence, and he was overwhelmed by the number of people he wanted to recognize and share his victory with.
Again, Mills turned to Patricia. Her suggestion? “Take the inspiration that was given to you and pass it on to another generation.”
Since the medal ceremony in Tokyo, the rest of his life has been a choreographed giveaway. The process began in 1983, when Mills worked to create “Running Brave,” which chronicles his Olympic journey. He still meets strangers around the world who tell him they were inspired by his movie.
The giveaway started working in earnest, though, when Mills met Gene Krizek, a World War II veteran with extensive connections in Washington who had just started his Christian Relief Services charity. Concerned about the plight of Native Americans, Gene enlisted Billy’s help as a spokesperson for a new charity dedicated to bringing “resources and a sense of hope” to American Indian communities.
In honor of Mills’ achievements, the two named the charity Running Strong for American Indian Youth (http://indianyouth.org/). The charity serves the community through activities such as organic gardening initiatives, helping to weatherproof homes, funding projects to document and preserve native culture and language, and, of course, fundraising through road races.
Since 1991, Running Strong has donated more than $41 million in programs and services that benefit American Indian youth and native communities across the country. Mills’ official role with Running Strong is to serve as national spokesperson, which he does in addition to his day job as a professional speaker.
Mills is on the road for upwards of 300 days a year, speaking to diverse groups at museums, universities and in the military, his broad perspective
providing inspiration with which just about anyone can identify. Most of his speeches emphasize “global unity through the dignity, character and beauty of global diversity.” Billy speaks with deliberation and passion, his calm, soothing voice belying the urgency of his message.
He has a teacher’s ability to explain the wider historical context of an event or problem, and a belief in people’s ability to work together that is so strong as to be spiritual. The combined effect is to produce a broad understanding of our interconnected problems and a confidence that good people will be able to fix them. It is this spirit that inspires his latest endeavor.
Mills wanted to do something special in October in recognition of the 50th anniversary of his gold medal run. Of all the problems facing the youth of Pine Ridge and other Native American communities, he is most concerned about “the poverty of dreams”: the grind of financial poverty that can rob American Indian youth of the ability to imagine a better future and chase after their goals.
As his father said all those years ago, “it is the pursuit of a dream that will heal a broken soul.” So, the Dreamstarter project (http://indianyouth.org/Dreamstarter), launching this year, encourages young people to imagine a way to improve their community and then provides logistical and economic support for that dream.
For each of the next five years, 10 young dreamers will be selected to have their vision come true. The applicants must find a mentor organization to work with in implementing their ideas, and will participate in a leadership skills-building conference in Washington, D.C., before receiving $10,000 from Running Strong for American Indian Youth to help make their dreams a reality.
The program is notable for the agency that it provides to the grant recipients. Besides general themes for each year (this year’s theme is wellness, next year’s is the arts) and the stipulation that projects must be aimed at communities composed primarily of native people, there are few restrictions on what the dreams can entail. I
Instead of throwing money at a problem, the Dreamstarter program empowers young people to identify a problem in their communities and come up with a solution. Essentially, Mills is creating leadership.
“Loves His Country,” the name given to Mills by his tribe after his race, has a dual meaning, because as a mixed-blood iyeska, Billy has two countries and loves them both.
His love for his Lakota Sioux tribe has led him on his 50-year quest to give back to the community and improve the lives of native people in America. And his love for the United States, evidenced by his service to the federal government as a Marine and his representation of the United States as an Olympian, means he never forgets the power and responsibility that the U.S. government has as it relates to Native Americans.
As Mills says, “our young people … are going to be our warriors in the battles of the 21st century. Our battles will no longer be fought out on the plains of the Dakotas. The battles are going to be fought … with our intellect, and they’re going to be fought in the court systems of America.
“Not against the United States of America, but by educating our congressional people [on Native American treaty rights] … and fighting for the implementation of those treaty rights. [And that will] help empower Native American young people to help make America a more beautiful place.”
Through the Dreamstarter project, Mills is moving forward the process of empowerment.
This past year, while visiting a tribe in North Dakota, Mills was given a second Indian name, one that translates as, “He Whose Footsteps We Can
Hear, But We Cannot See Him.” Like his original Indian name, this one has two meanings.
The first references the race where Mills dreamed of victory — 50 years ago, Billy Mills’ footsteps, so fast you could barely see him, ignited a nation, so fast you could barely see him. The second is that Mills’ footsteps, the impression he leaves behind, will last long after his life is over.
What began as a journey to heal a broken soul by chasing an Olympic dream has become a lasting legacy that enables others to join the pursuit of dreams and goals.
Participants in Voluntary Land Buy-Back Program Have 45 Days to Respond
Source: DOI Media Release
WASHINGTON – Building off of sustained momentum from the U.S. Department of the Interior’s Land Buy-Back Program for Tribal Nations (Buy-Back Program), Deputy Secretary Mike Connor today announced that purchase offers worth more than $63.5 million have been sent to nearly 2,800 landowners with fractional interests on the Lake Traverse Indian Reservation in South Dakota (homeland of the Sisseton Wahpeton Oyate). Interested sellers will have until November 24, 2014, to return accepted offers.
The tribe will host an outreach event on Wednesday, October 15 at the Tribal Elderly Center in Agency Village, S.D. The all-day event will feature speakers from the Buy-Back Program and staff available to help landowners with questions about their offer packages. Landowners can contact the tribe’s staff at: 605-698-8296 or 605-698-8203.
As part of President Obama’s pledge to help strengthen Native American communities, the Buy-Back Program has successfully concluded transactions worth more than $146.4 million and has restored the equivalent of more than 280,000 acres of land to tribal governments.
“The Buy-Back Program is a unique opportunity and I am encouraged by the growing interest we are seeing in the Program across Indian Country as well as the partnerships we are developing with tribal governments as implementation moves to each location,” said Deputy Secretary Connor. “Payments through Program sales are already making a significant difference for individuals, families and their communities. We will continue to work closely with tribal representatives to ensure that individuals are aware of this historic opportunity.”
The Buy-Back Program implements the land consolidation component of the Cobell Settlement, which provided $1.9 billion to purchase fractional interests in trust or restricted land from willing sellers at fair market value within a 10-year period. Individuals who choose to sell their interests receive payments directly into their Individual Indian Money (IIM) accounts. In addition to receiving fair market value for their land based on objective appraisals, sellers also receive a base payment of $75 per offer, regardless of the value of the land.
Consolidated interests are immediately restored to tribal trust ownership for uses benefiting the reservation community and tribal members. For example, the Oglala Sioux Tribe of the Pine Ridge Reservation recently announced that the tribe is embarking on a $9 million housing program, aided by the recent acquisition of land through the Buy-Back Program.
Sales of land interests will also result in up to $60 million in contributions to the Cobell Education Scholarship Fund. This contribution is in addition to the amounts paid to individual sellers, so it will not reduce the amount landowners receive for their interests.
There are almost 245,000 owners of nearly three million fractional interests, spanning 150 Indian reservations, who are eligible to participate in the Buy-Back Program. Many see little or no economic benefit from what are often very small, undivided interests in lands that cannot be utilized due to their highly fractionated state.
Offers are currently pending at a number of additional locations with deadlines approaching soon, including the Northern Cheyenne (Oct. 17), Flathead (Oct. 24), Umatilla (Oct. 31) and Crow (Nov. 21) Indian Reservations.
Landowners can contact the Trust Beneficiary Call Center at 888-678-6836 with questions about their purchase offers. Individuals can also visit their local Office of the Special Trustee for American Indians (OST) or Bureau of Indian Affairs (BIA) office, or find more information at www.doi.gov/buybackprogram/landowners in order to make informed decisions about their land.
Individual participation is voluntary. A decision to sell land for restoration to tribes does not impact a landowner’s eligibility to receive individual settlement payments from the Cobell Settlement, which are being handled by the Garden City Group. Inquiries regarding Settlement payments should be directed to 800-961-6109.
RAPID CITY, S.D. (CN) – Oglala Sioux claim in court that Jackson County, S.D., is obstructing Native Americans’ right to vote by refusing to set up a voter registration and balloting site on the remote Pine Ridge reservation.
Thomas Poor Bear, vice president of the Oglala Sioux Tribe, and three other tribal members sued Jackson County and its Board of Commissioners on Sept. 18, in Federal Court.
Reservation residents have to travel at least 27 miles to the county seat in Kadoka to register and vote, which is twice as far as white residents travel, according to the complaint.
Poor Bear asks that Jackson County set up a satellite voting office in the reservation town of Wanblee.
Lack of transportation compounds the problem.
The Census Bureau reported that nearly one in four Native Americans in Jackson County has no access to a vehicle, but that every white household does.
According to the Oglala Lakota Nation website: “Many people walk to reach their destinations,” but distance between communities and harsh South Dakota weather often make this difficult or impossible.
“What we filed on Thursday really isn’t anything new – it’s just happening in a different way,” plaintiffs’ attorney Matthew Rappold said in an interview.
“The record speaks for itself in how the state government has tried to make the right to vote inaccessible to Native American people.”
In 2004, U.S. District Judge Karen Schreier detailed South Dakota’s long history of voting discrimination in a 144-page opinion in Bone Shirt vs. Hazeltine , which claimed that South Dakota redistricting diluted the impact of Native American votes.
Before 1924, Native Americans could vote only after “severing tribal relations,” Schreier wrote.
Even after the 1924 American Indian Citizenship Act gave Native Americans full citizenship rights, South Dakota continued to ban them from voting or holding office until the 1940s.
Native Americans in the part of the Pine Ridge Reservation now in Jackson County could not vote until 1983, because people from “unorganized counties” – counties attached to other counties for judicial purposes – were forbidden to vote.
South Dakota’s Help America Vote Act task force supports the measure to place a voting office on the reservation, and has even reserved funds for Jackson County to do so, the complaint states.
Nonetheless, minutes from a County Commissioners’ meeting in June this year, cited in the complaint, state: “This would be an additional expense for Jackson County.”
Jackson County Auditor Vicki Williams, a defendant in the new case, declined to comment on the county’s position.
The Pine Ridge Indian Reservation in Southwestern South Dakota encompasses 11,000 square miles and spans three counties – Bennett, Shannon, and Jackson. It is home to more than 18,000, of which 88 percent are Native American, according to the 2010 census. The nationally famous Badlands of South Dakota also lie on Pine Ridge Reservation land.
About 39 percent of Native Americans live below the poverty line in Jackson County, which is nearly twice the percentage of whites, according to the Census Bureau’s 2006-2010 American Community Survey.
“Due … to the disparity in socio-economic status and the history of racial discrimination, Native American election turnout has historically been very low in South Dakota,” the complaint states, though South Dakota voter turnout is high overall.
Poor Bear wants Jackson County ordered to establish a satellite office on the reservation before the November elections, which will include gubernatorial candidates and constitutional amendments.
He claims there is “no justification” for not opening the satellite office, and that “the cost and burden on the county to designate a satellite office will be negligible in comparison to the irreparable harm that plaintiffs have already suffered, and will continue to suffer, as a result of the violation of their statutory and constitutional rights.”
Attorney Rappold, of Mission, S.D., said, “If we’re successful, and there are similar issues in other areas, this case would be something to tell the local folks: ‘You need to make sure you are doing things properly.'”
PIERRE – Kiva Sam hopes to draw more Native Americans to do what she did — return to the reservation and teach.
The 24-year-old begins her new role this month as a recruiter for the nonprofit Teach for America in hopes of diversifying the South Dakota corps of teachers in the program.
The Oglala Sioux member is considered a legacy corps member because a Teach for America instructor at Little Wound School on the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation greatly influenced her. Then she signed up after graduating from Dartmouth College.
Teach For America has expanded since it entered the state in 2004. The percentage of native corps members also has gone up. In 2004, the organization had 17 teachers, 5 percent of whom identified themselves as being native. The 2014-2015 crew includes 78 teachers, about 18 percent native.
The organization works in the state to help ease teacher shortages and the achievement gap between white and native students. It initially served the Pine Ridge and Rosebud reservations and has expanded to include Standing Rock and Lower Brule.
Teach for America staff said it’s important to have Native American teachers on their team. The organization launched the Native Alliance Initiative in 2010 to help recruit more tribal members as teachers and promote culturally responsive teaching.
“I think having native teachers provides that connection to that community and who (students) are as people,” said Robert Cook, an Oglala Sioux member and the senior managing director of the Native Alliance Initiative.
The organization has been criticized, including by state Sen. Jim Bradford, a Pine Ridge Democrat, who argued against state funding for the organization. He said teachers stay for only two years, and the program charges schools one-eighth of their cost to recruit, train and support teachers.
“They’re not a poor organization,” Bradford said.
In 2012 and 2013, the state provided $250,000 matched, dollar for dollar, by private funds. The state did not provide funding this year, so the organization is targeting private contributions.
Sam said she has heard another critique: “Oh, you’re just another group of white people trying to come in and save the Indians.”
But she would like to see Teach for America build up the teacher base on the reservations to the point where there’s no need for the organization at all.
Cook said that goal might be too lofty, considering tribal schools get fewer than one application, on average, for every open teaching position.
The shortage of teachers across the state and the changes presented by the housing shortages and rural location of reservation schools will leave a place for Teach for America, he said.
Additionally, fewer than a third of students on South Dakota reservations are reading at their grade level, compared with more than three-fourths of white students in the state. And native students here have the lowest graduation rates of any demographic in any state, said Jim Curran, executive director of South Dakota’s Teach for America.
In her new position, Sam will meet with college students and work with Native American groups that could help funnel young people into teacher roles.
“You want to recruit more people from this area” she said. “Because after their two years, you hope they’ll stay in the area.”
The Department of the Interior has sent purchase offers totalling more than $100 million to nearly 16,000 landowners with fractionated interests at the Pine Ridge Reservation. These offers will provide landowners the opportunity to voluntarily sell their interests, which would be consolidated and held in trust for the Oglala Sioux Tribe of the Pine Ridge Reservation. Pine Ridge is among the most highly-fractionated locations in the United States;landowners with purchasable interests have been located in all 50 states.
The Buy-Back Program was created to implement the land consolidation component of the Cobell Settlement, which provided a $1.9 billion fund to purchase fractionated interests in trust or restricted land from willing sellers, at fair market value, within a 10-year period. Interested sellers will receive payments directly into their IIM accounts. Consolidated interests will be transferred to tribal governments for uses benefiting the tribes and their members.
Owners Must Respond Soon. Purchase offers are valid for 45 calendar days. Owners must accept and return current purchase offers for fractionated lands on Pine Ridge postmarked byMay 2, 2014.
Staff Ready to Answer Owner Questions. Landowners can contact the Trust Beneficiary Call Center at (888) 678-6836 with questions about their purchase offers, visit their local Office of the Special Trustee for American Indians (OST) or Bureau of Indian Affairs (BIA)office, or find more information atwww.doi.gov/buybackprogram/landowners. Landowners may also contact Oglala Sioux Tribe outreach staff at 605-867-2610 with questions.
Sellers Receive Fair Market Value. In addition to receiving fair market value for their land based on objective appraisals, sellers also receive a base payment of $75 per offer, regardless of the value of the land. Early purchases from willing sellers have resulted in the consolidation of more than 100,000 acres of land for the tribe, and in payments to landowners exceeding $35.5 million. While the amounts offered to individuals have varied, a few owners have already received more than $100,000 for their interests. On average, payments to individuals have been made within seven days after Interior approves a complete, accepted offer package.
Tribal Outreach Events Are in Progress. Interior has worked cooperatively with the Oglala Sioux Tribe over the past several months to conduct outreach toeducate landowners about this unique opportunity, answer questions and helpindividuals make a timely decision about their land. For information about outreach events at Pine Ridge where landowners can gather information in order to make informed decisions about their land, contact the Oglala Sioux Tribe’s outreach staff at 605-867-2610.
Participation Is Voluntary. Participation in the Buy-Back Program is voluntary and selling land does not jeopardize alandowner’s ability to receive individual settlement payments from the Cobell Settlement. Cobell Settlement payments are being handled separately by the Garden City Group, (800) 961-6109.
Offers Aim to Consolidate Fractionated Lands for Tribal Development; Will Be Valid for 45 Days as Part of $1.9 Billion Land Buy-Back Program
Office of Public Affairs – Indian Affairs
Office of the Assistant Secretary – Indian Affairs
U.S. Department of the Interior
WASHINGTON, DC – In another step to fulfill President Obama’s commitment to strengthen Indian communities, the U.S. Department of the Interior today announced that the Land Buy-Back Program for Tribal Nations (Buy-Back Program) has sent purchase offers to nearly 16,000 individual landowners with fractionated interests in parcels on the Pine Ridge Reservation in South Dakota. Totaling more than $100 million, these offers will provide landowners the opportunity to voluntarily sell their fractionated interests, which would be consolidated and held in trust for the Oglala Sioux Tribe of the Pine Ridge Reservation.
“The success of the Buy-Back Program is vitally important to the future of Indian Country,” said Kevin K. Washburn, Assistant Secretary for Indian Affairs. “Consolidating and returning these lands to tribes in trust will have enormous potential to unlock tribal community resources. While we know that it will be a challenge to reach all landowners, we are committed to exhausting all efforts to make sure that individuals are aware of this historic opportunity to strengthen tribal sovereignty by supporting the consolidation of tribal lands.”
The goal of the Buy-Back Program is to strengthen self-determination and self-governance for federally-recognized tribes. The Program implements the land consolidation component of the Cobell Settlement, which provided $1.9 billion to purchase fractionated interests in trust or restricted land from willing sellers at fair market value. Individuals who choose to sell their interests will receive payments directly in their IIM accounts. Consolidated interests are immediately restored to tribal trust ownership for uses benefiting the reservation community and tribal members.
Land fractionation is a serious problem across Indian Country. As individually-owned lands are passed down through several generations, they gain more and more owners. Many of these tracts now have hundreds and even thousands of individual owners. For many of these owners with fractionated interests, the land has very little practical value. Because it is difficult to gain landowner consensus on the use of these lands, the parcels often lie idle and cannot be used for any beneficial purpose.
The Pine Ridge Reservation is one of the most highly-fractionated land ownership locations in Indian Country. The vast majority of landowners with purchasable interests have received offers– and have been located in 46 states across the country.
Interior has worked cooperatively with the Oglala Sioux Tribe over the past several months to conduct outreach to educate landowners about this unique opportunity, answer questions and help individuals make a timely decision about their land. Many owners have already been paid in response to offers delivered in December 2013.
Early purchases from willing sellers at Pine Ridge have resulted in the consolidation of thousands of acres of land for the tribe and in payments to landowners exceeding $10 million. While the amounts offered to individuals have varied, some owners have received more than $100,000 for their interests. On average, payments to individuals have been made within seven days after Interior received a complete, accepted offer package.
Purchase offers are valid for 45 calendar days. Owners must accept and return current purchase offers for fractionated lands on Pine Ridge by May 2, 2014.
For information about outreach events at Pine Ridge where landowners can gather information in order to make informed decisions about their land, contact the Oglala Sioux Tribe’s Buy-Back Program at 605-867-2610.
Landowners can contact their local Fiduciary Trust Officer or call the Trust Beneficiary Call Center at 888-678-6836 with questions about their purchase offers. More information is also available at:http://www.doi.gov/buybackprogram/landowners.
Sellers receive fair market value for their land, in addition to a base payment of $75 per offer, regardless of the value of the land. All sales will also trigger contributions to the Cobell Education Scholarship Fund. Up to $60 million will go to this fund to provide scholarships to Native American students. These funds are in addition to purchase amounts paid to individual sellers, so contributions will not reduce the amount paid to landowners for their interests. The Scholarship Fund will be governed by a board of trustees and administered by the American Indian College Fund in Denver, Colo., with 20% going to the American Indian Graduate Center in Albuquerque, N.M.
Interior holds about 56 million acres in trust or restricted status for American Indians. The Department holds this land in more than 200,000 tracts, of which about 93,500 – on nearly 150 reservations – contain fractional ownership interests available for purchase by the Buy-Back Program. There are more than 245,000 landowners, holding more than 3 million fractionated interests in parcels, eligible to participate in the Program.
Individual participation is voluntary. A decision to sell land for restoration to tribes does not jeopardize a landowner’s ability to receive individual settlement payments from the Cobell Settlement, which are being handled by the Garden City Group.
PINE RIDGE INDIAN RESERVATION — The fierce winter of 2014 continues to bring record cold spells across the Great Plains. American Indian across South Dakota have been particularly hit hard with lack of propane gas and propane prices almost double from what they were last year at this time.
One Spirit, a non-profit organization that assists with fuel for low-income homeowners, reports people are burning clothes to stay warm, 20 or more people at a time in one room using an electric heater, and families who have been out of propane for days and not able to have hot food or drinks.
One Spirit is delivering wood as fast as possible to prevent people from having to burn clothes to stay warm.
However, not all homes on the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation are equipped for wood-burning. In those cases, propane is typically the much needed heating fuel.
One Spirit is attempting to match as many families as possible for a minimum $200 purchase of propane. One Spirit is also providing help with conservation measures to make the heat go as far as possible.
With single-digits temperatures and even below zero temperatures still in the weather forecast, One Spirit is seeking financial assistance so that tribal members can be provided with propane fuel and wood. Every dollar the public donates will be used to provide heat during this brutally cold winter.
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PINE RIDGE INDIAN RESERVATION, S.D. — Dodge tumbleweeds and stray dogs. Venture down a deeply rutted dirt road. Walk into the warmth of a home heated by a wood-burning stove. There’ll be a deer roast marinating on the kitchen counter.
It is here, in a snug home that sits on the edge of nearly 3 million acres of South Dakota prairie, that you’ll find the heart of a culture. It’s here, at the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation, where Joe and Randi Boucher make dinner for their two young daughters. The smaller one squirms and is gently admonished: “Ayustan,” she is told — leave it alone.
It’s here where the Lakota language is spoken, taught and absorbed in day-to-day life.
That makes the Boucher home a rare find. According to the UCLA Language Materials Project, only 6,000 fluent speakers of the Lakota language remain in the world, and few of those are under the age of 65. Of the nearly 30,000 people who live on Pine Ridge, between 5 and 10 percent speak Lakota.
For the past four decades, the race to save the language has started and stuttered, taken on by well-meaning individuals and organizations whose efforts were often snuffed out by lack of funding, community support or organizational issues.
Some days, saving the language “seems like an insurmountable challenge,” said Bob Brave Heart, executive vice president of Red Cloud Indian School on the reservation.
The reason, some say, is a number of serious socioeconomic issues that overwhelm the Pine Ridge communities and make it difficult to successfully revive the dying language. The reservation has an 80 percent unemployment rate, and half the residents live below the federal poverty line, making it the second poorest county in the United States. Next to Haiti, it has the lowest life expectancy in the Western Hemisphere. Men live an average of 48 years; women, 52.
But those aren’t hurdles to learning the language, Randi Boucher said. Instead, they should stand as the very reason to perpetuate it.
“It is our language and our life way that will make change,” she said. “We have a loss of self-identity. We’re trying to exist without that. The language, that’s where the healing starts.”
‘Time to do it right’
Language signs at Red Cloud Indian School, which plans to publish the first comprehensive Lakota language K-12 curriculum by the end of this year. Kayla Gahagan
Brave Heart agreed.
“If you lose the language, you lose the culture,” he said. “When students are informed and part of their culture and their language, they have a better sense of self-worth.”
From Joe Boucher’s point of view, they face a much more serious hurdle.
“The biggest enemy we’re battling is apathy,” he said. “Our young people don’t care. They’d rather live in the now.”
They aren’t the only generation resisting the past. Cultural assimilation practices in the U.S. in the 19th century — sometimes in the form of verbal and physical punishment — forced many natives to speak English.
Elders here relive stories of having their mouths washed with soap or their tongues snapped with rubber bands by boarding school staff for speaking their native language.
“We were persecuted; it was dehumanizing,” said high school language teacher Philomine Lakota. “I was completely brainwashed into thinking English was the only way.”
And yet, Brave Heart said, now is the time to move forward.
“We’ve been teaching the language for 40 years, and we’ve been very ineffective,” he said. “It’s time to do it right.”
The school, alongside the American Indian Studies Research Institute at Indiana University, is about to publish the first comprehensive K-12 Lakota language curriculum. The private Catholic school embarked on the project six years ago, developing, testing and revising the curriculum, with the goal to publish by the end of this year.
Starting next year, students will be required to take Lakota language classes through elementary, middle and the first three years of high school. The final year is optional.
“This year’s first graders will be the first group to go through the entire curriculum,” said Melissa Strickland, who serves as the Lakota language project assistant at Red Cloud. She works with the six Lakota language teachers and trains staff across campus to use the language when conversing with the 575-member student body.
An immersion school
The Boucher family lives on the edge of the nearly 3 million acres that make up the reservation. Here, a shelter, constructed with a view of the scenic Badlands, that is used by Native American artists during the summer to create and sell their artwork. Kayla Gahagan
And is it working?
Last year, language test scores at Red Cloud jumped by 84 percent, and this year more than 70 percent of students reported using Lakota at home, in school and in their communities.
Teacher Philomine Lakota is encouraged, but is also aware that many students do not have family members speaking the language at home, and that many will leave the reservation and enter a world where it is not used.
“I realize I will not turn them into fluent speakers,” she said, but her desire is that they become proficient and eventually teach others. “There is hope.”
The $2.2 million project has not been without its hiccups, including personnel changes and disagreements among staff over which materials to use.
“Many programs for language revitalization are immersion,” Brave Heart said. “We’re not. We’re trying to do it within the confines of the educational system.”
Others have taken a road less traveled.
Peter Hill taught Lakota at Red Cloud before embarking on what he calls an exhausting journey to create the reservation’s first successful Lakota language immersion program, one that promises to fill two major gaps for families — language learning and quality, affordable child care.
“Child care out here is horrible. There’s no day care,” he said. “People just kind of get by with family members.”
After months of often unfruitful fundraising and research, the Lakota Language Immersion School opened a year ago with five babies and toddlers, including one of Hill’s daughters.
“At some point, you feel like it’s now or never,” Hill said. “There’s never going to be enough money or the ideal situation.”
The word has since spread, he said, and things are looking up. Today the program has 10 kids and three full-time staff members.
“We literally have kids on a wait list a couple years into the future, for kids not even born yet,” Hill said.
‘Love’ in two languages
The program was almost derailed last month when a severe South Dakota blizzard forced it out of its building. It was given another building in Oglala and recently moved in, but Hill knows the clock is ticking.
“The oldest kids are between 2 and 3 and starting to talk,” he said. “Eventually our feet will get held to the fire. If we say we’re an immersion program, we need to produce fluent kids.”
Finding qualified staff and enforcing 100 percent spoken Lakota remains the biggest hurdle.
“Even fluent speakers aren’t used to avoiding English,” he said. “People aren’t used to speaking Lakota to children. If they were, the language would be in much better shape. It’s a steep learning curve.”
If the language is to survive, the greater movement to save it will have to center on two things, Hill said — kids learning it as a first language and people like himself learning and teaching it as a second language.
Randi and Joe Boucher, who both studied the language in college and learned it from relatives, say they are encouraged by the new efforts.
They speak in Lakota half the time, gently pushing their kids to learn more than names of household objects. They want conversation:
Le aŋpetu kiŋ owayawa ekta takuku uŋspenič’ičhiya he? (Has the dog been fed?)
Wana wakȟaŋyeža kiŋ iyuŋgwičhuŋkhiyiŋ kta iyečheča. (We should put the kids to bed.)
And: thečhiȟila (I love you), a sentiment now mastered by both girls.
Randi is pursuing a master’s degree in language revitalization and hopes to someday open a school focused on a holistic approach to culture and language.
She is expecting another child next summer, and said that even with her aspirations to start a school, the heart of language learning should be in the home.
In their home, their daughters’ traditional native cradleboards — built, sewn and beaded by family — are out on display, a visible reminder of the couple’s insistence on raising their children with ties to their native blood.
“The day we have grandchildren and they can speak to us in Lakota, then we’ll know we did it right,” Randi said. “Then we can die happy.”
Fresh from his election as the 21st president of the National Congress of American Indians (NCAI), Brian Cladoosby has made it a priority to get aid for tribal members whose homes or livestock were wiped out by the record-breaking, early-season blizzard that devastated South Dakota and the Pine Ridge Reservation earlier this month.
The government may have reopened, but in the wake of its 16-day shutdown, a key farm bill still languishes that would provide assistance to ranchers and landowners who lost millions when 100,000 cows, horses and other animals died in the blizzard, many of them on the Pine Ridge Reservation.
“As I begin my term, my thoughts and prayers are with the South Dakota tribes,” Cladoosby said in a statement, his first since being elected on October 17. “The Oglala Sioux and Cheyenne River Sioux Tribes have been devastated by the recent storm that swept the Great Plains—and the federal government failed, again, to maintain treaty agreements that ensure disaster relief is provided when citizens are in distress. When the federal government neglects citizens in times of emergency, the effects can be long term.”
One of the bill’s provisions would be to make disaster relief available under the Livestock Indemnity Program, which would pay ranchers part of the animals’ market value, Reuters reported on October 8. The deadline to extend the 2008 farm bill was October 1—the very day that the government stopped working. Now the government is back in business, but a vote has yet to be held.
Members of the Senate and the House of Representatives are scheduled to meet next week to try and reconcile their respective versions of the bill, according to the Billings Gazette. It had already been stalled for months before the shutdown.
During the shutdown, livestock producers could not file the paperwork on their losses with the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Farm Agency, Reuters said. All that state and tribal authorities could do was tell them to carefully document the losses as they buried their cattle and horses in mass graves.
Cladoosby, who is also chairman of the Swinomish Indian Tribal Community, said thresholds for assistance should be lowered for federal tribal disaster assistance and urged Congress to make Native issues a priority in the “post-shutdown calendar.”
Collapsing homes and widespread livestock losses are just the beginning, Cladoosby said, since the damage will cause tribal ranchers and farmers in South Dakota for years “as they will now have to rebuild their livelihoods from scratch.”
The first step, he said, should be to pass the farm bill.
“Allowing the current Farm Bill to lapse without action, coupled with the government shutdown, meant that support systems at the Department of Agriculture were unavailable to Native farmers and ranchers during this terrible storm,” Cladoosby said.
“Congress must pass a Farm Bill that will support tribal nations and others around the country who are in dire straits and it must keep nutrition programs with farm policies because there should never be a disconnect between food production and feeding people,” he said. “Congress must act immediately to provide rapid recovery for our tribes and work to ensure that political gamesmanship and inactivity does not harm Native peoples again.”
Help from the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) can go only so far, even with the Stafford Act allowing tribes to apply in their own right, Cladoosby said, because aid doesn’t kick in at the amounts of money that people make, and lost in the disaster. The dollar amount triggering aid eligibility needs to be lower, he said.
“The high monetary damages threshold hampers impoverished areas because what is lost by low-income citizens often does not meet the required amount,” Cladoosby said. “The federal government has a fiduciary duty to protect tribal citizens, but without changes to the threshold, tribal citizens will continue to suffer from the consequences of disasters.”
He added the lack of action not only violated treaty and sovereignty rights but also cut off food supply to many tribal members.
“These failures of Congress prolong the claims process and inhibit Native food production and economic development,” Cladoosby said. “Further, with no Farm Bill and the lack of government funding for food assistance programs, many tribal citizens were left without access to food all while these vital programs are used as political bargaining chips. No one—especially our tribal citizens most in need—should ever have to go without food while being used as pawns in the lawmaking process.”