At some point in the reservation past Lakota started settling for less, probably starting with T’shunka Witco having to settle for a bayonet in the back, before they even got to their reservations.
That set the tone for some tough times, and during those tough times, the Office of Indian Affairs, and later, the BIA, had a very simplistic formula: “That one is compliant and cooperative, he is smart and good. That one is angry and uncooperative, he is dumb and bad.”
Over time, reservation clans were life-alteringly rewarded or punished depending on what side of that determination their collective behavior reflected.
By the time the Indian Reorganization Act was put into place in 1934 giving tribes the ability to govern their own agencies those Lakota who were able to assume that new role were mostly the compliant and cooperative kind. They more readily internalized the hypocrisy and greed of their BIA masters.
The best and the brightest were never considered for roles of leadership, and if they were, they were soon horrified by the rampant corruption, nepotism and cronyism, and so they bailed out, and left tribal government to the types that preferred Tony Lama boots and Stetson hats.
The Yee-hah clans had designs, and they wanted to turn a buck manipulating tribal law so that tribal land could make them a fat profit at the expense of all the other tribal members. They got lease fees low for tribal members, meaning themselves, and then they subleased high to Wasicu, and pocketed the difference, and then did every underhanded thing they could imagine, and their imaginations are not especially imaginative, but they had enough under that cowboy hat to sell the tribe down the river so they could buy a brand new pickup truck.
In the meantime, they postured themselves as upstanding traditional Lakota, and went to war with another subgroup claiming that’s what they were. The other subgroup were angry, idealistic young militants, and they were smart enough to know that the way things were now, with the Yee-hah corrupted reservations under BIA control, it was bad news for Lakota people. But they were dumb enough to try and change that system using methods predicated on a childish misperception of how Wasicu power works, and that misperception, sadly, exists to this day.
First thing they did was alienate many of their own Oglala people by claiming they were the traditional warriors standing up for traditional values, and the Yeehah clans were bad guys, but the main enemy they saw was the federal government never understanding that thinking the federal government is your enemy is like thinking the gun pointed at you is the enemy, and not the man pointing it, to the extent they even realized that man existed.
That’s some genius strategy right there, and they had a bevy of Wasicu celebrities and well intentioned liberal academics telling them just how smart and special they were and how much of a difference what they were doing would make.
All of that, unfortunately, was a deeply misguided fantasy.
All small towns struggle against the control of the rocking chair elite that own and operate city businesses. Most of them fail in that struggle. The federal government is no exception. Corporations hijacked it long ago. They own and control everything, the president, Congress, the Supreme Court; the government has no separate, independent identity and does not act in its own dark interest. You cannot blame it or credit it for anything. AIM should have figured that out.
How do comic book mentalities like this on either side achieve power among the Lakota rank-and-file? Because we are all products of a chronic duping that goes back generations. We all believe that there is some magical specialness to Lakota spirituality whether Yee-hah goon or fake warrior activist, and there isn’t.
All the beautiful aspects of Lakota belief are shared in some fundamental principled way by all men, and they belong to all men, and they will not give you special powers to stop evil or protect the things you love. Did they stop the Wasicu from taking everything over a hundred years ago? Did they turn away bullets at Wounded Knee? Did they make the reservations wonderful, safe places to live? Did they keep my mom from having to raise us on welfare and food stamps in a racist Rapid City that just wanted us to go away? Did they stop my brother from committing suicide, or keep my little brother out of prison?
No, and no, and no, and no, and no, and no.
And now people credit these prayers for stopping DAPL up at Standing Rock? It wasn’t the combined efforts and sacrifices, even one young woman giving up her arm, no, it was some prayers and some ceremonies that stopped that pipeline.
It should not be assumed that every Lakota, every ikce wicasa, wants to smudge, or open-heartedly embraces superstition. Maybe they don’t, and to whatever extent they believe what they believe, it is their business. Nothing is more un-Lakota then demanding people toe a sacred line; we should never use spirituality as a cudgel to label other human beings, as a litmus test rife with ugly sanctimony and small-minded, ill-informed self-importance.
(Contact James Giago Davies at firstname.lastname@example.org)