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Tribe President Wants No Reservation Unions; Noem Dodges Question

Last updated on 2013.03.19

Congresswoman Kristi Noem's effort to hamstring unions on Indian reservations has at least one powerful supporter on the rez:

Noem said that tribal leaders around the country support her bill, and at least one South Dakota tribal leader backed her up.

"I don't want any labor unions here," said John Yellow Bird Steele, president of the Oglala Sioux Tribe.

Yellow Bird Steele said he's had troubled interactions with unions on the reservation, including the teachers' union at the Pine Ridge High School [David Montgomery, "Noem Bill Would Keep Unions out of Tribal Affairs," Rapid City Journal, 2011.06.24].

President Yellow Bird Steele isn't talking about tribal sovereignty and freedom from Uncle Sam's interference, the sham excuses Noem gives for her legislation. President Yellow Bird Steele is saying he doesn't want his own people organizing to protect their rights as workers. That's a chilling statement from any elected official, and strong evidence that the Oglala Sioux president, like our Congresswoman, puts the interests of big business over common citizeens.

Bret Hayworth of the Sioux City Journal asks Noem how unions on reservations would be harmful. Noem dodges the question:

I am taking it as a situation where the tribes are not asking for this change. This is not something that they would like to have happen....

They certainly support this bill, because they do not want the National Labor Relations Board to come in and have jurisdiction over the businesses that they are trying to conduct on their land. So for that point, the bureaucracy that this usually brings, as far as the NLRB and the authority that they have, would not be beneficial to them (the tribes) [Rep. Kristi Noem, quoted by Bret Hayworth, "Noem Seeks to Restrict NLRB," Sioux City Journal, 2011.06.24].

Noem turns the issue to federal bureaucracy and authority. She doesn't say what's wrong with local workers engaging in collective bargaining or other activities to protect their own rights, which was the question.

Rep. Noem's party fervently supports the idea that big businesses ought to enjoy corporate rights. Yet Noem apparently doesn't believe that workers should be able to band together to enjoy any sort of collective rights as a union to check the power corporate grants to big business. It's too bad she can't muster the guts (or the coherent language) to say that and let us have an honest discussion about labor rights versus corporate rights.


  1. shane gerlach 2011.06.25

    The only politics dirtier than tribal politics is church politics. I have been involved in both and will gladly never be involved in either again.

  2. larry kurtz 2011.06.25

    It's important to remember that President Yellowbird-Steele is a Republican.

    From Indian Country Today is this from Mark Trahant:
    "Seattle attorney Gabriel Galanda puts it this way, on the social network, LinkedIn: “Tax-starved states and counties will continue to attempt to extract value from reservation economic development projects, through taxation or otherwise. Tribes must be vigilant in their defense against illegal inter-local cash grabs.” But tribes (and states) have far more to gain with cooperation over confrontation.

  3. mike 2011.06.25

    Why don't these reporters just start asking her to answer their questions?

    So far the only person I've read that has called her out was a reporter from Mitchell when she had a conference call and couldn't say anything specific regarding budget cuts.

    Ellis, Montgomery and others need to hold her feet to the fire.

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