Dances With Senators

AN INDIAN PERSPECTIVE

IN his 1986 race for a seat in the United States Senate, South Dakota's Tom Daschle campaigned with vigor on the Indian reservations of his home state. Mr. Daschle won by about 11,000 votes because the reservations, at least in those days, voted a straight Democratic ticket. One of the first appointments Daschle sought after winning the election was to the Senate Select Committee on Indian Affairs. In my opinion, Daschle has used this position to block legislation prepared by the tribes of the Great Sioux Nation aimed at getting a small portion of their sacred Black Hills returned.

Not only did he prevent the legislation from getting out of his committee, but he was instrumental in assisting an anti-Indian group calling itself the Open Hills Association in spreading misstatements about the proposed legislation, thereby effectively turning public opinion in South Dakota against it.

Daschle wrote an opinion piece for the Feb. 14 edition of The Christian Science Monitor under the headline, ``Dances with Garbage.'' I know Daschle didn't write that head, but his opening paragraph led directly to it. He wrote, ``The sweeping beauty portrayed in Kevin Costner's epic drama `Dances with Wolves' is about to become host to one of the largest garbage dumps in America.'' As the lone Democratic senator from South Dakota, Daschle should be totally aware of the economic situation on the state's nine Indian reservations. Desperate people do desperate things in order to survive.

IF the United States of America, through its good senators and congressmen, had seen fit to honor the nearly 400 treaties between the Indian nations and the federal government, Indian tribes would not be considering building dump sites on their sacred lands in order to survive.

In the final paragraph of Daschle's article, he says: ``I and others have spent years attempting to improve economic conditions on the nation's reservations.''

When the Sioux Moccasin Factory in Pine Ridge, S.D., was going to be shut down because it could not get federal dollars to survive - even though it was about to turn the corner that would have provided a powerful market for its product, and even though it employed nearly 150 Indian people - where was this savior of the reservation's economy?

When the Nebraska Sioux Lean Beef Company, a business 51 percent owned by the Oglala Sioux tribe, was ripped off by non-Indian participants and all that would have been required to save this business (which had just signed a contract to supply meat products to the MacDonald's hamburger chain) was for powerful senators like Daschle to step forward and get the tribe the expertise and the money to keep this business operating, where was Mr. Daschle?

Don't get me wrong. I cannot agree or disagree with decisions by an Indian tribe to build waste-disposal sites on its reservation, because I believe it is up to each tribe to decide this matter for itself. But the tribes are suffering very badly under the massive budget cuts they have been forced to endure, cuts that fly in the face of and directly violate the treaties signed with the US.

The tribes have done everything except crawl on their hands and knees to get people like Tom Daschle to help them build an economic base on their reservations that would enable them to survive and prosper. Their pleas have fallen on deaf ears, and yet our elected representatives are ready, willing, and able to send billions of dollars in foreign aid to other countries while the indigenous peoples of America turn to bingo parlors and dump sites to survive.

So, if the Indian nations end up ``Dancing with Garbage,'' it should be understood that they tried to ``Dance with Senators'' long before they were reduced to this pathetic state. Unfortunately, the senators knew only one dance, the ``assimilation, termination, and acculturation waltz.''

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