Oglala Sioux Tribal (OST) President Frank Star Comes Out failed to stop the Indian Health Service (IHS) from demolishing the old Sioux San Hospital building, but in that failure, he displayed the principled leadership and courage long missing from folks who have held his office, and exposed IHS for the unprincipled, indifferent, and tyrannical service that it is.
While many tribes believe they operate separately from the outside world, their inner workings are too often an expression of whatever ails non-reservation society. Just as this country has suffered through a series of truly bad presidents, and a Congress which might be even worse, Pine Ridge has been adrift on hostile waters with blind, land lubbers elbowing each other out of the way to mis-pilot the helm. But Star Comes Out appears cut from a new cloth, which is to say a more traditional cloth, of humility, integrity and straight talking.
His statement, concerning the Sioux San fiasco, released April 13, exemplifies that straight talk: “IHS misled us and lied to us.”
He then gets right to the bone of contention: “The Sioux San Hospital building holds immeasurable historical significance for our Tribe, our citizens, our sister Sioux Tribes, and countless others as well. Some of our memories of it are good and some are bad. Either way, it is indisputable that from its time as a boarding school to a Civilian Conservation Corps camp to the Sioux Sanitarium to the Sioux San Hospital, the building has had a deep impact on the lives of our people since the late 1890s. The building is part of our history.”
Tribes naively expected things were going to change for the better with the selection of Natives Deb Haaland as Interior Secretary and Roselyn Tso as IHS director, but NSNT today stepped away back then from the cheer leading crowd and pointed out that both of these people served at the pleasure of the president, in this case, another bad president, and they could but only do his bidding, reflect his policies. But in this assertion the NSNT was only partially prescient, as we did not view these selections cynically enough—the selections of Haaland and Tso were cover, to paint a Native face on the same old Interior Department shenanigans of feigned consultation and heavy-handed action against the expressed interests and sentiments of Native people.
“The IHS’s actions disrespected…the role Sioux San has played in our lives, “Star Comes Out said. “The IHS failed to inventory and nominate the Sioux San Hospital building for inclusion in the National Register of Historic Places and failed to identify and assess the effects its planned actions would have on historic buildings and affected Tribes.”
This IHS behavior is bad enough on its own but made worse by IHS repeatedly lying to OST to keep organized tribal resistance from stopping the Sioux San demolition. OST was told demolition would not begin until 8:30 am but when NSNT arrived just after 7 am, the demolition of the back of the building was well underway.
People will say just another example of tribes waiting until the last second to stop something bad from happening. But as far back as March 30, the tribes made it crystal clear to Tso they did not want this building demolished without first consulting whether OST, in concert with Cheyenne River and Rosebud, could take over management and use of the building, and preserve the historic sentiment deeply felt by all three tribes.
IHS trampled over the top of all of that, lying and scheming every inch of the way, keenly displaying the lack of principle and integrity, the very qualities OST displayed in standing up to their roughshod bureaucracy.
“IHS’s action is a breach of trust,” Star Comes Out concludes. “Our people have suffered too much at the hands of the Federal Government. IHS’s demolition of the Sioux San Hospital marks another milestone in that appalling history.”
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