10th Anniversary of Red Cloud Building takeover

Dakota Digest - 01/18/2010

By Jim Kent
It was 10 years ago this week that members of the Grass Roots Oyate took over the Pine Ridge Reservation's tribal administrative offices. The peaceful occupation continued for several months amid calls for fiscal accountability by the tribal government. Tribal members who were part of the occupation recall what caused the takeover and comment on how things stand on Pine Ridge today.

While the rest of the world celebrated the start of the new millennium, tribal members were marking the start of their 5th month of protest against the Oglala Sioux tribal government. Beginning with a Walk of Accountability in September of 1999, grass roots Oglala people held numerous meetings demanding an explanation of the enormous overspending by elected officials. Overspending, as they saw it, took money away from the unemployed, the elderly and the children of the Oglala nation.

On the evening of January 16, 2000, a handful of tribal members calling themselves the Grass Roots Oyate, decided it was time to take action.

"I remember my ex-wife...saying 'well, I'm going go down to the meeting at the tribal office that we're having," recalls Lyle Jack. "Pretty soon....about an hour-and-a-half later, she comes back....'you gotta come, we're taking over this building."

Lyle Jack attended gatherings of the Grass Roots Oyate - or Grass Roots People - the previous months. He says they did their best to work within the system to bring their demands and concerns to the tribal council ...but no one listened. The council even began having meetings off the reservation to avoid comments from their constituents. That led to the Grass Roots Oyate taking over the tribal offices at the Red Cloud Building.

"I said, 'really?'...I didn't believe them at first," Jack says. "They said, yes we are. We're gonna close the doors, lock it up and we're staying in. So, I went in and, sure enough, there was a few women and a few men in there...asked the security guards to leave. They walked out and I remember us guys closing it up, and saying we're not letting no one in until we get heard. "

"What did that feel like," asks SDPB's Jim Kent.

"It was kind of...exciting," Jack says. "But at the same time...scary, a little scary...not knowing if you're gonna go to jail our if they're gonna barge you. But at that same time you're tryna' get your voice heard and make change happen."

"My brother, the chief, Red Cloud, he talked about it," says Marie Randall. "He said, you know, the council is going beyond their duties. They're not doing the work they're supposed to do."

Eighty-nine year old Marie Randall was one of the many elders who participated took part in the takeover, along with her brother, Oliver Red Cloud. She says the Grass Roots Oyate prayed while occupying the Red Cloud Building - for themselves, for the tribal council and for the future of the Oglala nation.... their grandchildren.

"We prayed daily," Randall recalls. "Everyone had a chance to get up there and pray and sing the sacred songs. And we prayed through the night, especially at dawn. We'd get up and we'd pray. We'd go outside and we'd pray with our pipe......But nothing changed."

Marie Randall says the Grass Roots Oyate was successful in having the tribe's financial records audited by the federal government. But 10 years later, she sees little benefit from the efforts of the occupation. Johnson Holy Rock is considered one of the most versed elders in treaty rights, the tribal constitution and the U.S. Constitution. Holy Rock was quoted 10 years ago as a supporter of the takeover.

"Our tribal government has thrown all caution to the wind," said Johnson Holy Rock, during the takeover. "They are doing as they please. More or less, in effect, daring anyone to oppose or obstruct their direction of administrating the affairs of the Oglala Sioux tribe."

A decade later, Holy Rock agrees with Marie Randall that nothing has changed.

"We have commodity day," Holy Rock says. "So, all those that are hard put for food, they go from commodity day to commodity day. No jobs....there's no work."

And there's no hope, says Holy Rock. He blames the same conditions that existed on the reservation ten years ago for the high rate of youth suicide among the Oglala today. So does Marie Randall. Tribal council representative Lydia Bear Killer says she learned a lot during her participation in the 2000 takeover and has tried to make a difference.

"To represent, really represent the people and not be afraid of putting the financial issues out in the forefront," Bear Killer says.

Bear Killer feels the tribal government is working better since the takeover, but can only do so much without assistance from the federal government. Marie Randall concurs, but wants something more.

"I hope to the Great Spirit that when Obama wants to know our nation...I wish he would come and visit us...the elders," says Randall. "Not the council, Or not whoever is in Washington."

Although President Obama has had several meetings with the tribe's elected officials, Marie Randall feels he won't receive a true understanding of the reservation's needs until he visits Pine Ridge and speaks to the elders.

Until then, she says the Oglala people are keeping the faith.



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