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Noem Tribal Sovereignty Hero… for Doing Nothing

Last updated on 2013.02.27

Rob Capriccioso of Indian Country Today Media Network includes Congresswoman Kristi Noem on his list of "Heroes on the Hill" for Native American issues. His praise for Noem comes from one issue, her introduction of a bill to "defend tribal sovereignty and promote economic opportunities on reservations lands by eliminating ambiguity in existing federal law".

That's code for "keep unions off reservations," the true intent of Noem's HR 2335, the Tribal Labor Sovereignty Act. Note that Noem has never been able to explain why allowing unions to protect worker rights on reservations is bad. Her bill has sat motionless in the Health, Employment, Labor, and Pensions subcommittee since September.

So once again, Noem hasn't really accomplished anything to deserve praise. She hasn't made a real difference for tribal sovereignty. As on so many other issues, Noem is all talk and no action.

Update 2011.12.26 08:42 CST: An earlier Capriccioso report in ICT cites the NLRB ruling that has twisted Noem's nickers:

The labor board's decision said the following: "As tribal businesses prosper, they become significant employers of non-Indians and serious competitors with non-Indian owned businesses. When Indian tribes participate in the national economy in commercial enterprises, when they employ substantial numbers of non-Indians, and when their businesses cater to non-Indian clients and customers, the tribes affect interstate commerce in a significant way."

"When the Indian tribes act in this manner, the special attributes of their sovereignty are not implicated," according to the decision, which served to reverse longstanding policy that said on-reservation tribal enterprises were exempt from the labor law [Rob Capriccioso, "New Congressional Anti-Tribal Union Advocate Emerges," Indian Country Today].


  1. larry kurtz 2011.12.23

    Yet CREDIT unions will help?

    Barbara Soderlin from the RCJ:

    "The proposed credit union, which would be chartered and federally insured by the National Credit Union Administration, would be the first permanent "depository" institution on the reservation, a safe place for people to keep their money in what has been largely a cash society for decades."

    Read more:

    Reservations should be counties in a non-contiguous 51st State.

  2. larry kurtz 2011.12.23

    Opinions are like recta...everybody has one.

  3. larry kurtz 2011.12.23

    "The Plains Indians practiced Communism with extreme prejudice."

    Hassrick, Royal B. The Sioux: Life and Customs of a Warrior Society. Norman: University of Oklahoma Press, 1964.

  4. David Newquist 2011.12.23

    Unions have had an indisputable role in raising working people into the middle class, which once was the pride of America. Noem's legislation has nothing to do with tribal sovereignty, but is just another angle of attack on the middle class, which is a major objective of the regressive caucus from which she takes her orders. How collective bargaining and contractually defined rights are a threat to tribal sovereignty is, indeed, a piece of cant that has no factual foundation.

    Those "tribal constituents who fear unions and their impacts on tribes" are not enrolled members, but are the corporations contracted to manage the casinos for the tribes. Certainly, the tribes have been fed anti-union cant from those vested interests in Honkeyville.

    Just a little background on the larger issue involved here: some time ago, some professors and organizations in higher education devised academic programs to address the constant rancor and disputes in which tribal councils are constantly embroiled. The basis for these programs was the fact that the traditional approaches to building consensus and make decisions was displaced by the fractious intransigence that stems from factions that are rendered paralyzed by contention and hatred that fuels obstruction and, too often, violence. The tribes have been schooled in the worst of the white-world demand for subjugation of any opponents. Our current Congress has demonstrated precisely the raging contentiousness that afflicts tribal governance.

    Those proposals to offer college programs in comparative business methods and political decision-making had the initial participation and support of very prominent American Indian scholars and leaders. In concept, the programs were promising, and comprehensive, and rigorous curricula were assembled which were ready to implement. The proposals were even pledged grants and support from religious, political, and educational organizations. Then the question that was faced was how to make these opportunities in higher education available to the tribes without seeming like just another scheme from white society to intrude itself into tribal matters. The obvious solution was to offer them through the tribal colleges. Initial responses were quite positive.

    One source of opposition arose when some of those "tribal constituents" realized that one of the stated aims of the programs was to provide educated tribal personnel that could manage the casinos directly for the tribes, with lines of accountability that would discourage and limit the graft that has plagued tribal governance. Another source of opposition took the form of malign neglect. Recent elections changed the approaches to "tribal sovereignty," as evidenced by Rep. Noem's proposed legislation, which invokes tribal sovereignty as a stalking horse for further subjugation of the middle class, and precludes the tribes from being a part of it.

    From the outset, Indian agents--McLaughlin vs. Sitting Bull is a prime example--launched personal attacks against Indian leaders, created and kept Indian factions in a state of foment, and pointed to the constant turmoil as the reason for white intervention and control or tribal affairs. The sending of BIA police to Standing Rock a few years ago, while necessary, was also seen by some as justification for further reducing tribal sovereignty and carrying forward the violation of treaties.

    If labor unions could organize the tribal casino workers and establish collective bargaining agreements that would return executive power and accountability to the tribes, that would threaten a number of those "tribal constituents."

    Those constituents cannot afford neither union organizing or higher education that would jeopardize the keeping of tribal affairs in chaos and benefiting those inheritors of a the lucrative scheme which was devised by the first Indian agents.

    The thread of hope for any true sovereignty is in the refusal to accept money for the Black Hills. And in the potential of tribal colleges to renew tribal intellectual sovereignty.

  5. Vickie 2011.12.23

    BLAH! While she ignores the vast majority of her constituents,she suddenly cares about the tribes in South Dakota?? Yeah...sure she does.*rolls eyes* That's about as believable as me being the Tooth Fairy,Easter Bunny,and Santa Claus all rolled into one.

    Nothing more than Noem fishing for the Native American vote. *YAWN*

  6. David Newquist 2011.12.23

    Hey, Larry, is it the opinions that are like recta, or the sources from which they issue?

  7. mike 2011.12.23

    Larry Kurtz you are repulsive. I don't know anyone who makes less appealing comments on a blog than you. You offer very little to the discourse and I wish you would stop posting such obnocsious stuff all of the time in every blogs comment section. How old are you? 12?

  8. mike 2011.12.23

    And Larry most of the time what you comment on in a blog post has nothing to do with the topic.

  9. larry kurtz 2011.12.23

    Hope that answered your question, Dr. Newquist.

  10. larry kurtz 2011.12.23

    Vi Wain: December a month of tragedy for Native people.


  11. Bruce Whalen 2011.12.23

    Just what is tribal sovereignty? I've been looking a long time for it.

    Who is the leader or leadership of this tribal sovereignty? I look far and wide for this leader and leadership and find none.

    I ask visitors to the Pine Ridge Agency what their purpose for visiting is. They want to experience tribal culture and tradition while sheepishly bearing gifts or advise. For those that care to listen I explain for free the various eras beginning with Pre-reservation and ending with Self-determination. My final comment to visitors is, Don't let America turn into a giant reservation.

    The 560 plus federally recognized tribes operate differently but remain connected to each other through Executive Orders, Judicial Case Laws, Congressional Acts and Department Policies.

    I know we have some book smart people on here and some may live within neo-tribal communities, but can they answer the two questions above.

    So whatever you think of Noem, Herseth-Sandlin, Daschle, Johnson, Thune, Obama, Bush, Conservative or Liberal Courts - Republicans or Democrats - Ultimately it begs an answer to the two questions above.

    I for one don't like standing in line for rations but as lightly referenced by Newquist, that process is the law of the land and engrained into the tribal psyche. Some of us look for another way.

    AKA - Tatanka Ihanbla

  12. caheidelberger Post author | 2011.12.24

    What is tribal sovereignty... and who are the sovereigns? Those are good questions, Bruce, especially when Noem uses that debatable phrase as justification for her stalking-horse legislation (Newquist! what awesome turns of phrase!). By exempting reservations from NLRB regulation, Noem seems to be choosing the sovereignty of casino owners over sovereignty for casino workers. Would you consider the ability of labor to organize and determine (or at least participate in determining) its conditions of employment an aspect of sovereignty?

  13. larry kurtz 2011.12.24

    An attempt has been made to stem a mass exodus of Natives from the faith by 'canonizing' a saint:

    "On Monday (Dec. 19), the Vatican announced that Tekakwitha will be canonized as a Catholic saint, the first Native American from North America so proclaimed."

    Makes me want to puke.

  14. larry kurtz 2011.12.24

    Five centuries of rape, exploitation, and slavery: now the Church panders to the people least able to give money to a global philanderer.

    What hubris!

  15. Bruce Whalen 2011.12.24

    The Oglala Sioux Tribe would have a cow if it had to deal with unions.

  16. Bill Dithmer 2011.12.24

    I have written this so many times I just copied some of it from another blog. Its relevance remains the same as it was when posted the first time.

    The right to self govern that the tribes think they enjoy is an elusion. When someone else ” the federal government” holds the purse strings it can be no other way. I look at it like this. The reservation is like a teenage kid in a family, most of the time when that kid is growing up the parents have a big say in what that kid can do. Why? Because the parents control the money. Cant the same be said about the relationship between the federal government and the tribes?

    Let me say right here and now I am not against the reservation, but the way it is governed. You have to admit that it has been a failure from the start why not try something else. Doing nothing isn't even an option is it?

    Do we really need to go down this road again? Another white congress person that thinks they know what is best for the people that live on our reservations. Never mind that this same congress person doesn't seem to have an original thought in her head, only the talking points of the tea party. Taxes, unions, and morality.

    The problems that our reservations have are not do to the inept management of either political party. Both could share in that department but neither can take any credit for successes either, simply because there hasn’t been any for a long long time.

    The problems go much deeper then national political parties. It has more to do with a people that don’t want to change. When the people finally ask for change they will get it. Until then it will be business as it has always been. No amount of money will fix the jobless rate here on the Pine Ridge, never. The only thing that will accomplish this is the doing away with the system itself, “the reservations”.

    The reservation system was never designed to take care of this many people, and in fact there was no design at all when the land was carved out of what was at that time wilderness. As far as I can tell the only thing that the system did accomplish was control of a people, nothing else. Now even though that control stopped many years ago it seems like the native population didn’t want to take advantage of their new found freedom. They were given the right to vote, they didn’t have to stay on the reservation anymore if they didn’t want to, and they had all the rights that every other American Citizen has.

    So you ask what is the problem? That is both simple and complex at the same time. The simple part is that those in charge want to control every facet of life within the borders of the reservation. They can still do this because the reservations are a nation within a nation. Never mind that these nations don’t have any way to support themselves other then another government “the US” on the outside looking in.

    The complex part also has to do with control as well but in a different way. Because of the nation within a nation thing the leaders want to control who comes on their reservation to do business, what kind of business, who those businesses hire, and how much the tribe will get for letting the businesses set up shop here. Instead of making a business friendly environment the tribe has done almost everything possible to insure that no big businesses will ever start here. No business will put up with that kind of treatment when they can go anywhere else without the problems that would jeopardize the success of their business if they started on the reservation.

    Fortunately the answer to the problem is simple. The tribe has to stop trying to control everybody, both the members of the tribe and those that want to do business on the reservation. The federal government has to stop trying to control the tribe. This “if you jump through this hoop I will give you a bone thing has to stop”. Money isn’t the answer like it was a century ago. Only a free job market will fix what’s broken on any reservation nothing else. That includes the right to self determination when it comes to unions.

    In closing I have one last thing to say. You cant protect a people from itself. Nuff Said Or is it? PS It is our wedding anniversary today and I promised not to get in any trouble.
    Merry Christmas everybody

    The Blindman

  17. Bill Dithmer 2011.12.24

    Adding to these other problems is the fact that the Sioux are losing or have lost their identity. This didn’t just happen over night but gradually over the last twenty years. We not only have natives walking and talking like gang members on the streets of LA or New York in some cases there are three generations doing this. How in the world did that happen to the once proud Lakota nation. Elders used to be respected and honored. Now their mistreatment by both those they know and even their own families makes it hard to not look at this growing culture in a negative way.

    I don’t claim to understand everything native, heck I doubt if even the natives themselves can make that claim. But having lived here for some 58 years on a ranch that has been here for almost 100 I do have a little insight into reservation life. I only wish for success and prosperity for my friends. And I dread the downward spiral that is happening here on the Pine Ridge. We need forward thinking people at the helm both as tribal president and on the council, not someone thinking about the past and how things should have been different. I leave you with this thought. Success builds pride, and pride builds more success. That success isn’t just measured by the economy but by the way the people of that society treat each other. There will always be those that have an extreme prejudice on both sides of the reservation issue but these people are not the majority just the fringe on both ends. I tend to look at it like it’s a diving competition. Take the high score and the low score and just throw them out. Then average the other scores. That average is the middle ground that the rest of us want to meet on to help the native people and the others that live here to succeed. I’m sorry about the length of this post but I have a passion for this reservation and the people, both native and non native, that live here. I think that there has to be a better path then the one that we are all on.

    The Blindman and this is really the last word for me.

  18. larry kurtz 2011.12.24

    Thank you, Bill: sagacious but sobering insight. No doubt we will be talking about this for years to come.

    Happy Solstice to you and yours.

  19. Bruce Whalen 2011.12.24

    Larry - Jeff is my older brother.

    Bill - the fight is about land, pure and simple. Everything else is a byproduct.

  20. Bruce Whalen 2011.12.24

    And Larry, it depends on how rich is defined.

  21. Bruce Whalen 2011.12.24

    Larry, the ip manifesto will never happen. What we do know will continue is the Declaration of Independence and U.S. Constitution will be regarded as a dusty relic yet thought to be living. U.S. Citizens have forgotten or never learned reasons behind letting of blood and treasure to secure newly found and formed freedoms.

  22. larry kurtz 2011.12.24

    The Black Hills is a living relic, living rock. Since she is not for sale, should she be part of the BIA Forestry Division, Bruce? It could be done by Executive Order.

  23. caheidelberger Post author | 2011.12.25

    So maybe corruption on the reservation is so bad that unions would not make a difference. Form them, and they'll become just one more tool of corruption rather than a genuine protection of worker rights.

    But for the sake of argument, let's assume reservation workers could use unions to protect their rights. Can unions gain any leverage without being able to appeal to the authority of the NLRB? Do NLRB rules really infringe on just tribal authority, or do they grant labor more power against the abuses of the moneyed powers on the rez?

  24. Patrick Leary 2011.12.26

    Larry: Are you positive the plural shouldn't be rectii? Looks to me like you utilized a "feminine" ending with recta.
    Patrick Leary, Mobridge High School Latin student, 1949-50

  25. larry kurtz 2011.12.27

    Patrick, you did make me go look.

    LK over at Displaced Plainsman made go look, too, when he penned 'conundrums' instead of conundra (a word that seems only to exist when I'm testing certain grades of cannabis for research).

  26. larry kurtz 2012.07.27

    Recall this anti-union post, Cory: get it?

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