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Giago Admits Noem Doesn’t Know Enough to Serve Indian Country

Last updated on 2012.12.13

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."


  1. Rorschach 2012.10.23

    Tim Giago is a contrarian, and never ceases to surprise me with his points of view. I suspect that if he & Varilek had a heated discussion it was Tim Giago that got hot about something & Varilek that responded. Without knowing the details of their discussions, I wonder if they might both be right? There needs to be investment in reservation entrepreneurs. But there also needs to be an investment in institutions on reservations - like legal and political systems that businesses can have faith in. State government, as well as the federal government, has a role to play in building up the reservations.

  2. David Newquist 2012.10.23

    If anyone needs an illustration of how one "damns with faint praise," Giago provides a prime example.

    His arguments run counter to the debate account Ecoffey writes in Native Sun News, Giago's latest journalistic enterprise in these graphs:
    "Varilek seemed to be the better prepared of the two when he mentioned the importance of recognizing the sovereignty of tribal nations, the importance of protecting treaties and acknowledging that he would respect the trust relationship that exists between the federal government and tribal governments.

    "Varilek continued by praising the work of Lakota Funds, an organization that provides loans and technical support to small businesses on the Pine Ridge Reservation. He went on to say that he would support similar endeavors and make infrastructure projects like sewage and roads on reservations a priority; he claimed that projects like these would allow economic development to flourish on reservations."

    Lakota Funds seems exactly the kind of enterprise that Giago cites in his criticism, but he seems unaware of Varilek's specific mention of it.

    Like Rohrschach, I suspect that the source of Giago's attitude is in that phrase "heated exchange" by which he describes his interaction with Matt.

  3. Thad Wasson 2012.10.23

    Matt Varilek is stuck in the past, and his views on federal grant handouts to First Nations will continue the poverty and desperation that has infected the tribes.

    Independence and strong Lakota leadership is the only way forward.

  4. Rorschach 2012.10.23

    Sounds like sloganeering Thad. Not everyone tribal member is Lakota.

  5. Thad Wasson 2012.10.23

    Nine distinct, individual tribes in South Dakota. Yet their health care is administered by the feds, land is managed by the B.I.A. and laws enforced by the U.S. attorney general.

    How demeaning that all of your actions are under the careful watch and eye of big brother who lives in D.C.

  6. Justin 2012.10.23

    You could say the same for everybody on Medicare, Thad, but it certainly doesn't imply privatizing their health insurance to smaller less efficient private insurers is in any way in their best interest.

  7. Dougal 2012.10.23

    Giago's reputation as a gadfly and cheap GOP shill is explified again. He is also apparently incapable of having a serious policy discussion if he finds Noem's lazy indifference to native issues commendable. Nobody put a gun to Noem's head to sign up for the House Subcommittee on Indian and Alaska Native Affairs, yet she skipped out of 17 of its 22 meetings. I guess that's indicative of Noem's interest in Indian Country, and Giago's interest as well.

  8. Jerry 2012.10.23

    Agreed Dougal, this "gadfly" would love to get NOem back into the house as then with her vote, she may be able to kill the Indian Healthcare Improvement Act. I also see that there are another comments about health care on the reservations. Tim and all should take a look at what Obamacare will bring to the reservation hospitals and all the hospitals that service native health. You see, what has always been the problem with healthcare on the reservations is the lack of funding. So, when you go to Martin or some other border town to seek emergency help or just to be seen, the bill is sometimes not paid because there is no funding. Which means that travel money and money that could be spent on the reservations, goes someplace else and the border hospitals and clinics, foot the bill for those treatments. With the right ideas, that money could stay there and be used to support a variety of business interests. With both Obamacare and the Indian Healthcare Improvement Act that will soon change and for the better. It really is astounding to me that Tim would be against healthcare for the reservations and then blab on about how NOem will support Indian Country. Tim is just another in a long line of fabricators and he is sounding like his new hero, Myth Romney.

  9. Douglas Wiken 2012.10.23

    Nothing quite like somebody clinging to a stone age culture to attack a candidate for clinging to old..............

    Like a blind pig searching for truffles, every now and then Giago makes some sense. Most of the time he is an echo of cultural nonsense.

  10. caheidelberger Post author | 2012.10.23

    Thad, what about the loan programs that Varilek supports? Those aren't handouts; those are loans that private lenders won't make available to give reservation entrepreneurs their first shot. As Newquist notes on the Ecoffey article, Varilek appears to support exactly the sort of opportunity-building program that Giago says Indian Country needs.

  11. caheidelberger Post author | 2012.10.23

    Jerry, good point about the boost to Indian Health Services included in ObamaCare. If nothing else, we need to re-elect Obama just so he can be in office to take the credit when all that good stuff kicks in.

  12. Thad Wasson 2012.10.23

    CAH - how can the tribes get loans when most everything of value is held in a government trust?

  13. Taunia 2012.10.24

    "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."

    New to Indian country? Giago makes it sound as if this is her maiden race to the US House. What happened the last 2 years, as Dougal points out? What about the 4 years before that when she held office - and helped to make laws affecting Indians - in SD with ten Indian reservations? What about living in SD her entire life?

    9/09 Giago wrote: "I did not support Barack Obama." Yet, the reservations were the bluest parts of SD in the 2008 election. Giago doesn't seem to be too much in tune with the reservations himself.

    Maybe he's got Romnesia. Giagonesia.

  14. Justin 2012.10.24

    I haven't seen you for a while, your comments are always thoughtful Taunia. Nice post.

    If only we had a view into some of Noem's committee input on this topic. We do? Jabber, jabber, jabber.

  15. caheidelberger Post author | 2012.10.24

    Bingo, Taunia: Giago's endorsement works only if we adopt the amnesia on which Noem has based her campaign. She labels herself as "Candidate," not "Congresswoman" on her campaign lit. She's running from incumbency, just like other GOP freshmen around the country. She's been on the job for two years, and indeed, as you point out, she had a chance to deal with reservation issues in her four years in the Legislature. She didn't learn much then, and she still shows little intellectual curiosity now.

    Thad, I would assume that Lakota Funds exists to address exactly the complication you describe... and Varilek praises that program.

  16. oldguy 2012.10.24

    My question is why does anybody what Giago says? Do you all think whatever Giago says means that is what everybody will do?

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