In January 2013, Judge Gene Paul Kean dismissed the state's flimsy case against of Shirley Schwab and Brandon Taliaferro for witness tampering and other charges. Last December, Judge Kean ordered the expungement five of the counts on which Taliaferro was arrested, noting with distaste the state's brazen disregard for court orders.

But Schwab says justice still hasn't been done. Schwab thus appears to be launching a whistleblowing campaign to challenge the state and raise money for legal costs. Her first public salvo is this video, summarizing her argument that the state has abused its power to shield a sexually abusive foster father and his silently complicit wife and protect itself from a lawsuit on behalf of abused Native American children:

To summarize Schwab's narrative:

The South Dakota Department of Social Services had evidence for over a decade that the five Native American children it placed in the home of Richard and Wendy Mette in Aberdeen. In 2001, DSS had the Mettes sign a contract requiring that they lock up pornographic materials in their home and refrain from touching the children. In 2007, DSS documented porn, physical beatings, and sexual touching the home. DSS left the children in the home.

Richard Mette was arrested in November 2010 and later indicted on multiple counts of physical and sexual abuse. Wendy Mette was indicted in March 2011 for child abuse.

On June 1, 2011, court-appointed guardian ad litem Scott Heidepriem reported that there was the potential for the Mettes' Native American foster children to pursue a civil claim against the state. The threat of such legal action, says Schwab, prompted the state to dismantle the team assembled to protect the children and sabotage its own case against the Mettes. Schwab alleges that the state executed and leaked search warrants against herself and Taliferro in order to cast doubt on the allegations against the Mettes. The state completely shielded itself from civil litigation by dropping all charges against Wendy Mette and returning the abused children to her legal guardianship.

Schwab says she and Taliaferro have incurred a quarter million dollars (and counting: the state is still fighting them) in legal costs. This video is part of her effort to raise money to cover past, present, and future litigation.

Update 2014.03.03 07:58 CST: Schwab offers documents to support her story and seeks donations to the "South Dakota Child Advocates Defense Fund" online at http://childadvocatesdefensefund.com.

13 comments

Following the bad precedent it set just before members of the Class of 2013 collected their diplomas, the Chamberlain School District has confirmed its misguided and marginalizing decision to keep a Lakota honor song out of its commencement ceremony for the Class of 2014—and, the School Board President implies, any future commencement ceremony.

The four veteran Chamberlain School Board members (Rebecca Reimer, Leanne Larson, Jay Blum, and Dallas Thompson) voted against including the honor song. None of the board's three newcomers opposed the song, with Foster Iverson and Marcel Felicia voting in favor of including the song and Casey Hutmacher citing an unexplained "conflict of interest" to abstain.

Reimer, the School Board President, is upset about the controversy. She made her frustration clear in a post-vote commentary shared in the nearest daily newspaper, Mitchell's Daily Republic:

Reimer said the honor song discussion was not about the students, academics or even the song itself.

“It’s about control and power. It’s about control and power,” she said. “I’m extremely disappointed in a handful of people” [Jessica Giard, "Chamberlain School Board rejects Indian honor song again," The Daily Republic, 2013.12.09].

This controversy is indeed about control and power.

It's about using the power of elected office to control who is and isn't allowed to speak. (For the record, the "isn't" category last week included Marcel Felicia, the board's only Native American member. This week, some audience members questioned the lack of student speakers on the board's agenda.)

It's about using the power of a colonizing history and a numerical majority to control the parameters of any so-called compromise.

It's about using the power of perceived authority to control the perceptions of your opponents, minimizing them as just a "handful of people" or demonizing them as being full of issues from a substandard home life.

It's about using the power of entrenched institutional racism to control the entire framework of the conversation. It's about flaunting that controlling power by characterizing majority-defined token efforts as benevolent gifts to the marginalized ...

“Our district has gone to great lengths to build relationships with the Native American population of Chamberlain School District,” [Reimer] said. “In fact, we’ve done more for this particular group than any other group in the 11 years I’ve served on the board” [Giard, 2013.12.09].

by blaming opponents' criticism, not the initially marginalizing action, for being harmful ...

“Here we are again voting on a topic which is meant to honor all and bring people together. Instead it’s dividing a community,” [Reimer] said [Giard, 2013.12.09].

and by serving as the self-imposed arbiter of when the matter is settled ...

“This agenda item has been exhausted and after tonight it’s done,” [Reimer] said [Giard, 2013.12.09].

The Chamberlain School Board majority (with the vocal support of Superintendent Debra Johnson and tacit approval of Principal Allan Bertram) has inexplicably dug in its heels on this issue for the sole purpose of asserting and protecting its own power and control. This majority apparently believes its own all-important power and control are so tenuous as to be threatened by a single song.

Though it's a different handful than Board President Reimer's, I'm also extremely disappointed in a handful of people. The citizens of the Chamberlain School District, who elected the handful of people I'm thinking of, should be extremely disappointed in them, too.

61 comments

Without even getting to a vote, administrators in Chamberlain have put themselves back squarely in the middle of contentious issue: whether to include a Lakota honor song at Chamberlain High's commencement ceremony. If the debate continues along the lines that it did this past spring, this central South Dakota school district risks appearances of disinterest or discrimination toward its Native American students, who made up 39% of its high school population last school year.

The school board postponed a vote on the honor song question Monday night after board member Marcel Felicia, new to the body since last spring's controversy, spoke about the value of including the song. During Felicia's speech, board president Rebecca Reimer believed that the new member had improperly solicited a response from community members in attendance. Reimer warned Felicia about this breach of decorum, and the board president left the room for a private conversation with Felicia and Chamberlain Superintendent Debra Johnson during an ensuing 10-minute meeting recess.

Though Johnson won't discuss the contents of that private conversation, she uses language that's typical of a representative of the establishment who's seeking to silence a troubling voice of dissent:

Johnson, the superintendent, said Reimer was telling Felicia that he was acting outside agreed-upon decorum for board meetings.

“He had asked a question of the audience and was asking for a response,” Johnson said. “That’s just not the protocol we use in our meetings. If people want to speak, they are listed on the agenda. We need to follow the procedures” [Jon Walker, "Chamberlain pursues 'compromise' with Lakota song for graduation," That Sioux Falls Paper, 2013.11.27]

Though words like 'protocol' and 'decorum' sound non-threatening and egalitarian ("Nothing personal; everybody has to work within the system"), they hide the fact that systems are often set up very deliberately to advance the interests of the historically advantaged and minimize the chance that anyone can topple conventional practice, even when conventional practice may be unfair or may otherwise warrant change.

Unfortunately, an awkward insistence on decorum, tradition, protocol and procedures is not new to Chamberlain's debate over the high school graduation ceremony.

In May, when James Cadwell brought a request for the honor song to the school board, responses ranged from a stick-with-the-status-quo sidestep from Superintendent Johnson to board member comments that included some rambling from the then-Chairperson and a thinly veiled indictment of some Native students' home lives from another board member.

Now, Johnson says she and principal Allan Bertram have been talking with students ... talking about alternatives to including the song:

“Compromise is the word,” Johnson said Tuesday night.

“The principal and I have been working with Native American students as to what they might like to do if the honor song is not at graduation,” she said. “If not at graduation, what would they like to do? That’s what the board is looking at, the board allowing the honor song, but maybe not at the graduation setting” [Walker, 2013.11.27]

Compromise is indeed the word, but I think Johnson is confusing two of the word's meanings.

Johnson seems to think that she's working with students toward 'compromise' by this definition:

com-pro-mise [kom-pruh-mahyz] noun
1. a settlement of differences by mutual concessions; an agreement reached by adjustment of conflicting or opposing claims, principles, etc., by reciprocal modification of demands [dictionary.com].

And such compromise is among the many virtues one might hope to teach high school students as they learn about interacting with each other and the world around them. Such compromise is about each side working to understand the position of the other and also about each side taking a step away from its respective self-valuing perspective and toward a shared and mutually agreed-upon outcome.

However, when one side is setting all the ground rules and the other simply must find an alternative that fits within those rules as already established, the more accurate definition of 'compromise' is this one:

com-pro-mise [kom-pruh-mahyz] noun
4. an endangering, especially of reputation; exposure to danger, suspicion, etc.: a compromise of one's integrity [dictionary.com].

That kind of compromise—the kind that asks those who already lack agency within the system to compromise their beliefs, compromise their identity, compromise their culture—is one that's been taught to generations of Native Americans in our state and our nation. It deserves no continued voice from superintendents, principals, school boards, or anyone else in a diverse society.

Felicia, the school board member who earned a 10-minute time-out on Monday night, shows that he understands the difference between seeking an agreement or common understanding and asking Lakota students to defer the controlling majority. He questions, as do I, whether either compromise really applies when the question is fundamentally one of inclusion and cultural respect:

Felicia said he was puzzled by Johnson’s reference to a compromise.

“What is there to compromise [first definition]? The song is played to honor all senior students. Why should you compromise [second definition] that?” [Walker, 2013.11.27]

The board is scheduled to take a vote on including the honor song at its December 9 meeting, provided no one does anything as indecorous as asking for public commentary on the matter while in session.

24 comments

Apparently Tim Giago prefers empty incompetence to serious policy discussion. In a Huffington Post article eagerly touted by the Republican spin machine, Giago says that even though he's had more substantive policy conversations with Matt Varilek than with Kristi Noem, he thinks Noem will serve Indian County better.

Giago says that he and Varilek have an honest disagreement about economic development policy on the reservation. Varilek, who was Senator Tim Johnson's economic development policy chief, recognizes that investment in education, infrastructure, and a strong justice system lay the foundation for economic development. Giago contends that Varilek relies too much on non-profit organizations and should do more to make loans available to reservation entrepreneurs. Giago contends that he and Varilek engaged in a heated debate over these policies on the phone... from which Giago concludes that Varilek is "enveloped in an archaic mindset" that wastes taxpayers' money.

But what does Noem stand for that trips Giago's trigger? Well, nothing.

Giago thinks Noem did a really good job of dancing in a pow-wow in 2010:

...Ms. Noem, obviously a neophyte, gamely got out on the arena floor and participated in the round dance with her Lakota constituents. After her first hesitant steps she easily fell into the rhythm of the drums and seemed to thoroughly enjoy herself [Tim Giago, "The Failed Policies of the Democrats on Indian Reservations Will Continue Under Matt Varilek," Huffington Post, October 21, 2012].

Yes, because begin able to fall into the rhythm and enjoy herself make for a good Congresswoman.

Giago then points to a speech Noem made at a Sinte Gleska University graduation ceremony. He says she spoke about the importance of higher education and federal funding for Indian colleges... which distinguishes Noem about as much saying she also breathed and walked on two legs.

Giago can't point to any new policy initiatives or unique knowledge or experience that make Noem a good choice for Indian Country. He admits that she still doesn't know enough to help. Instead, he plays to the mere hope that she can learn:

Kristi Noem is new to Indian country and I hope that she will bring fresh ideas to pushing for economic development on the Indian reservations. At least she will listen to successful Indian business men and women and, I believe, learn enough to pass the legislation so badly needed to bring jobs and homegrown businesses to the reservations.

Matt Varilek still clings to the failed policies of his predecessors and when faced with new ideas to overcome these failures he disconnects and rebels.

I think we need to give Kristi Noem the opportunity to continue to learn and strive to reach out to the nine Indian reservations in her state. Her predecessor, Stephanie Herseth Sandlin (D-SD) was great, but it took her many years to connect to the people on the Indian reservations. Right now Noem is our representative and if she keeps that open mind and really wants to learn and to help the people on the Indian reservations, we should all assist in her education. For all of these reasons, my vote will be for Kristi Noem [Giago, 2012.10.21].

Dig through the contradictions if you can. Giago says Varilek "clings to the failed policies of his predecessors." Herseth Sandlin was his most immediate predecessor, and Giago says she was "great."

Giago admits Noem is still learning. Funny: I thought she finished her internship last year.

Giago's support for Noem is based on "hope" for "fresh ideas" that Noem has yet to formulate or articulate. Apparently given a choice between a candidate with real experience and policies that he firmly advocates and a do-nothing Congresswoman who submissively listens but has no position, Giago prefers to gamble on looks and pablum.

Related Reading: This Native Sun News report on the October 12 Varilek–Noem debate in Rapid City wishes both candidates would have said more about Native American issues. However, Brandon Ecoffey finds Varilek "better prepared" to respond to questions on economic development. Ecoffey also finds Noem prevaricating about the cuts to Indian programs included in the Ryan&ndashRomney budget that she supports.

Update 2012.10.24 05:43 MDT: Recall that in 2010, Giago endorsed Stephanie Herseth Sandlin. He called SHS and Tim Johnson (for whom Varilek worked at the time) the "two most knowledgeable members of Congress when it comes to Native American concerns and issues." He said replacing SHS with the vague Kristi Noem would be "a disaster of epic proportions for Native Americans."

16 comments

Lakota holy man Black Elk claimed to have had a vision when he was nine years old. It was 1872 or '73. He dreamed/imagined/saw himself standing on Harney Peak, the center of the world. He saw the "hoop" of his nation strong and healthy, with "the shape of all shapes as they must live together like one being."

As he grew from boy to man, he saw that hoop broken. He saw the Europeans take the Black Hills, the hunting grounds, and his people's freedom.

Sixty years later, at the beginning of the Great Depression, a White occupier, John Neihardt, honored a request from Black Elk and helped the Lakota holy man, now also Catholic catechist, hike to Harney Peak. As documented in Black Elk Speaks, Black Elk prayed to his Great Spirit to restore the sacred tree at the center of his nation's hoop:

You have said to me, when I was still young and could hope, that in difficulty I should send a voice four times, once for each quarter of the earth, and you would hear me.

Today I send a voice for a people in despair.

You have given me a sacred pipe, and through this I should make my offering. You see it now.

From the west, you have given me the cup of living water and the sacred bow, the power to make live and to destroy. You have given me a sacred wind and the herb from where the white giant lives—the cleansing power and the healing. The daybreak star and the pipe, you have given from the east; and from the south, the nation's sacred hoop and the tree that was to bloom. To the center of the world you have taken me and showed the goodness and the beauty and the strangeness of the greening earth, the only mother—and there the spirit shapes of things, as they should be, you have shown to me and I have seen. At the center of this sacred hoop you have said that I should make the tree to bloom.

With tears running, O Great Spirit, Great Spirit, my Grandfather—with running tears I must say now that the tree has never bloomed. A pitiful old man, you see me here, and I have fallen away and have done nothing. Here at the center of the world, where you took me when I was young and taught me; here, old, I stand, and the tree is withered, Grandfather, my Grandfather!

Again, and maybe the last time on this earth, I recall the great vision you sent me. It may be that some little root of the sacred tree still lives. Nourish it then, that it may leaf and bloom and fill with singing birds. Hear me, not for myself, but for my people; I am old. Hear me that they may once more go back into the sacred hoop and find the good red road, the shielding tree.

In sorrow I am sending a feeble voice, O Six Powers of the World. Hear me in my sorrow, for I may never call again. O make my people live! [Black Elk, quoted by John Neihardt, Black Elk Speaks, originally published in 1932]

Seventy years later, on what South Dakota deems Native American Day, another White occupier hiked to the top of Harney Peak:

Harney Peak fire tower, constructed 1939; photo by CAH, 2012.10.08

She is three years younger than Black Elk when he had his vision before the European invasion of this place. She saw many brown and withered trees. Where dead trees had fallen, by wind or blade, she saw many grand views of Black Elk's four directions that her parents did not remember from their last, greener hike up the mountain before she had eyes to see.

View from Harney Peak, Black Hills, South Dakota, Native American Day, 2012

Amid the brown and deadfall, she saw close canyons of green ("like Narnia!" she exclaimed, leaving footprints in the early snow). She saw her mother's favorite, the aspens, clinging to their snow-sodden leaves. And she saw pine saplings springing forth to retake their parents' land.

Trail 9 down from Harney Peak, Black Hills, South Dakota, Native American Day, 2012

She knows nothing of the good red road. She knows the muddy Trail 9 from Sylvan Lake glitters with mica. She stopped often to look at the sparkling soles of her shoes and wonders why her parents break into strange song. (She also knows nothing of cultural incongruity... though her parents hope she will someday wonder about it.)

She had no visions. She had fun. She wants to go back.

But now she sleeps. Rest, rest. Tomorrow (whisper with me, friends), hoka hey—onward.

11 comments

The Rapid City Journal has made yet another questionable editorial choice. Weekly columnist Jim Kent submitted a column inspired by a conversation about The Thick Dark Fog, a documentary about the abuse and cultural oppression one Lakota man experienced in a federal Indian boarding school in post-World War II South Dakota. (See movie trailer at bottom of this post.) Kent wrote of this ugly part of our history and the lifelong damage our white European culture did to Native Americans with the boarding schools.

The Rapid City Journal editorial board rejected the column. According to Kent, the RCJ editors "noted that the boarding school issue — though painful — took place decades ago, questioned references to genocidal federal practices prior to the 19th century as well as their use at boarding schools, questioned references to Gen. Philip Sheridan, and stated that publishing the column 'would further divide Native Americans and whites without justification.'"

Jim Kent has given me permission to publish his column. I do so, with gratitude.

Jim Kent

Jim Kent

Boarding schools left mark for life
By Jim Kent

For most people, memories of their first days of school are often blurred images kept alive by stories passed on over the years at family gatherings.

But for tens-of-thousands of Native Americans, memories of their early school days are nightmares they've relived throughout their lives.

This is, of course, courtesy of Christian missionaries and the federal government who both felt "something" needed to be done about "the Indian problem". Yes, it does smack reminiscent of Germany's Little Corporal.

In the case of the Christians, the goal was to "save the pagan savages" and bring them into the fold of Jesus. A noble calling, I suppose, but I've always questioned the mindset of beating religion into someone. Automatically brings that "what would Jesus do" question right into the equation.

From the federal government side, the goal was to completely eradicate all traces of Native American cultures - something already attempted for centuries, and quite successfully from a genocidal point of view.

The problem was there were still too many of those "redskins" around — and they had all these kids to keep the cultures going.

Enter the boarding school system, which Native American children would be forced to attend and where they would be "assimilated" into the dominant Western European culture.

The methods used to achieve that result were quite a bit removed from the primary definition of the word: to take in, incorporate as one's own; absorb. Unless the parallel is: to absorb; as to soak up blood from a large, open wound.

And that's what Native American children received: wounds upon their bodies, their minds and their souls. Wounds that, for many, would never heal.

Upon their arrival at any of the dozens of boarding schools established across the country their hair was cut (a violation of most traditional Native American beliefs, especially among the Plains tribes), they were given uniforms to wear instead of their own clothing, their birth names were replaced with European-American names and they were forbidden to speak their native languages.

These regulations, often enforced with severe discipline that included physical and emotional abuse — and more, resulted in what some in the medical field now refer to as "Complex Post Traumatic Stress Disorder". The condition comes as a result of suffering abuse for months, or years, and particularly impacts children whose personalities are still forming during this abuse.

It's no surprise the boarding school system would follow such a path, having been created by U.S. Army Captain Richard Pratt — a man who supported Gen. Philip Sheridan's comment that the only good Indian is a dead Indian. Pratt added a slight caveat by noting "all the Indian there is in the race should be dead. Kill the Indian in him, and save the man."

This topic came up recently while talking with a Lakota friend about "The Thick Dark Fog" — a documentary centered on the impacts the boarding school system had on one Lakota man: Walter Littlemoon, who — even as an elder, has trouble talking about that time in his life.

Having experienced the waning days of the strict Catholic school system, I've often told people that all those years with the nuns prepared me for Marine Corps boot camp.

For many Native Americans, the boarding school system mostly served to prepare them for reliving their abuses - over and over again.

The Rapid City Journal cans one columnist for publicly criticizing the paper's decision to lock its content behind a paywall. Now it stifles discussion of a crucial part of white-Native history. That suppression of unpleasant views doesn't seem the best way to celebrate the impending National Newspaper Week.

Next up: we'll see if the Rapid City Journal and the rest of South Dakota's white media find it too "divisive" to discuss this alleged instance of anti-Native hate speech at South Dakota State University.

* * *
The Thick Dark Fog trailer:

"The Thick Dark Fog" Official Trailer from Randy Vasquez on Vimeo.

35 comments

Kristi Noem has a job. Kristi Noem is not showing up to do her job. We should fire Kristi Noem from her job.

South Dakota's current Congresswoman barely participated in House Agriculture Committee hearings until the Democrat who wants to do her job, Matt Varilek, pointed out her non-performance last spring. Rep. Noem's main excuse for skipping 80% of her Ag Committee meetings was that she was busy attending other committee meetings.

Team Varilek puts the lie to that excuse and finds her laziness happens on the Indian Affairs Subcommittee. Even though Noem represents over 73,000 Native Americans, she has skipped 17 out of 22 Indian Affairs meetings. On July 24, 2012, a rare occasion when she did attend an Indian Affairs meeting, she might as well have been absent, since she was too busy jabbering on her phone to pay attention.

When Noem recycles her excuse that other committee meetings kept her from Indian Affairs, she's lying:

Noem tries to excuse her non-performance by saying she skips meetings that don't directly affect South Dakota's tribes. Team Varilek shows that's bogus, too:

Noem also claimed that the meetings she skipped focused on issues that did not affect South Dakota's Native Americans. This is also false. Those meetings dealt with such issues as universal telecom service mandates in rural areas, the Indian Health Services budget, and the American Indian Empowerment Act [Varilek campaign, 2012.09.26].

Besides, who says members of Congress only need to show up for work when the bills under discussion directly affect their states? Rep. Noem is a federal employee, paid by the taxpayers to do the work of the federal government. We pay Rep. Noem to apply her South Dakota expertise and experience for the good of the entire country. Where she may lack expertise (and none of us are experts on everything), it's her job to learn about issues by, among other duties, participating in committee meetings.

By skipping her committee meetings, Rep. Noem exhibits an arrogant disregard for learning and duty. She thinks she need only stay in her very small, self-absorbed world of flag-waving, fundraising, and Fox News image-stroking.

Noem's enablers only response is to try to change the subject. But Kristi's fans can't deny that she's not doing the job we're paying her to do. In almost any reality other than the "Kristi's so pretty on a horse!" universe, people who don't do the job get fired.

27 comments

TransCanada has proposed yet another modification to its Keystone XL route through Nebraska. Remember that TransCanada told us last year that re-routing Keystone XL was "impossible."

As experts on the white man's forked tongue, Native Americans are offering some of the most vocal resistance to TransCanada's plan to further sully the Great Plains with its tar sands pipeline. They face a corporation whose chief liaison to the tribes says "There is no legal obligation to work with the tribes" and says TransCanada is simply extending a courtesy by talking with Native groups.

Tribes in Oklahoma have concerns about the pipeline disturbing Native burial sites. TransCanada neatly skirted reservation land in South Dakota, but South Dakota's Lakota people are organizing teach-ins and other action to stop the pipeline.

Maybe the rest of South Dakota needs a little video kick in the pants to join its Lakota neighbors in opposing TransCanada's endless effort to have its way with our land. Let's try this video skit, which portrays TransCanada as the sleazeball who just won't take no for an answer.

Be the smart girlfriend. Don't fall for TransCanada's promises.

4 comments

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