HBO Films’ “Bury My Heart” raises questions and kudos, gets official sanction” from NCAI

New York, NY – The red carpet was rolled out for Indian country at premiere screenings of HBO Films’ “Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee” in theaters across the country. From LA to New York, with several stops in between (most notably Rapid City, South Dakota), Native Americans were the honored guests of this new film. This happens every once in a while when major media decides to tell an Indian story and makes sincere attempts to “get it right.”

In recent years, we have seen big to-dos from Turner Network Television for “Into the West,” Disney Touchstone for “Hidalgo,” Showtime Television for “Edge of America,” and New Line Cinema for “The New World.” What is new this time around is that the National Congress of American Indians, the nation’s oldest and largest political lobbying organization for tribes in Washington, DC, took on the role of official consultants to the production and the subsequent educational materials that will be distributed nationwide to Indian and mainstream public schools.

In recent years, all Indian films line up their official “experts” to consult on the production. These folks act as cultural, historical, and even spiritual advisors to the project, and are also called upon to smooth feathers over controversial decisions over what can and can not be included. In some cases, they are used (literally) to justify certain, shall we say, “creative liberties” in the telling of the story. The painfully realistic sundance scene in “Into the West” immediately comes to mind. When things go right, the Indian advisors get thank yous from the production company, but are largely invisible to the movie-going public. When things go wrong, or there is controversy, however, these advisors take the heat. They are pointed to as the “permission givers” who had the authority to speak on behalf of the people being portrayed in the film. This role, therefore, can be a well-paying but thankless job. What starts out as an exciting opportunity to be a spokesperson to Hollywood turns out to be a painful lesson in being a token approval-stamper most often with little or no actual decision making power in the final cut.

The executive producer of TNT’s “Into the West” made a promise – after much controversy erupted from the first screenings – to “cut pieces of the sundance scene for the DVD version of the film.” I was personally assured at the Los Angeles premiere by Michael Wright, senior vice president of original programming for TNT, that this was in the works. When asked why the writer and TNT producers decided to portray a pierced sundancer even though it was clearly a problem for many Lakota people, the answer given by the TNT executive was that “It was important for the dramatic arc of the story.”

The way that this first episode is written, the sundance is integral to the storyline and dramatic climax. Russell Means, who had been an actor in the film and a consultant to the production, boycotted the “Into The West” premieres. He didn’t like TNT’s final choices regarding the portrayal of the sacred sundance ceremony, and found that he had little power to actually influence the final cut of the film. As it turns out, the scene was never altered for the DVD version, either.

To its credit, HBO’s ‘Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee” gets a significant amount of things right in the portrayal of the social and cultural history in it’s story. It is the first time that the largely untold tragedies of the reservation era have been told in a dramatic presentation with an international audience. The film depicts the creation of federal Indian policies and explains this part of history accurately. This is a huge deal. However, the film does take the usual artistic liberties that go along with trying to fit scholarly history into a dramatic format that is compelling and entertaining to mass audiences. As such, this film is not without its controversy.

The screenplay writer for “Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee,” Daniel Giat, was either not listening to the negative reactions, or people did not express themselves to him, as he said, “We were just stunned by the emotion that and the gratitude that was expressed for telling this story (by Lakota Sioux who attended the Rapid City premiere), whether there are small inaccuracies here or there isn’t nearly as important to them as telling the greater truth of what their experience was…”. There are a few major points of history that have been changed for the purpose of creating a more dramatic storyline in “Bury My Heart.” Anyone who knows the history can see that putting Charles Eastman anywhere near the Massacre at Wounded Knee is fiction. He was at Standing Rock. Wounded Knee is in Pine Ridge. The two stories are not at all actually connected. The facts of Sitting Bull’s murder are changed. The list can go on.

The Massacre at Wounded Knee is portrayed in the film as follows: the Indians are armed to the teeth (which they were not), there are lots of young warriors at the encampment (it was mostly women, elders and children), and the massacre was started by an Indian shooting a soldier, which then becomes a cross fire of Indians and cavalry shooting each other. This last point is most significant, because the question of “Who fired the first shot?” is used to justify battles through the ages. And this detail is not lost on the writer of “Bury My Heart.” After the massacre, when Eastman is treating the wounded and dying (a fiction in itself), a U.S. Calvary man says to him, “We didn’t shoot first, I swear it!” How much damage is done by this simple shift in history? Many Indian people we surveyed did not have a problem with “Bury My Heart’s” historic portrayals. The problem is, most of them were not able to point out the fictionalizations, either. When told of the facts vs. fiction issue, most people were so moved by the film that they still thought the overwhelming good that the film will do to teach both Indian people and non-Indians overshadowed any historical inaccuracies.

However, at the New York City premiere, Elizabeth Weatherford, Film and Video Director for the Smithsonian’s National Museum of the American Indian, said she was “extremely disappointed,” stating, “Why couldn’t they have left the history alone?” Upon hearing of the plot line, several notable tribal leaders decided to skip out on the premieres in Rapid City, South Dakota and Washington, DC (at the NMAI). In traditional style, they used their silence, their absence, as a statement.

Ron His Horse is Thunder, Chairman of the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe, did see the film. He said he was “angry” about HBO’s “mis-portrayal” of Lakota history and its leaders. When confronted about the criticism of the film, and specifically, the portrayal of the Massacre at Wounded Knee, NCAIs Communications Director Adam McMullin replied, “You know, there are several different accounts about what actually happened at Wounded Knee.” The film’s writer, Daniel Giat, delivered the same explanation on the red carpet in New York City, stating, “There are different accounts about what exactly happened at Wounded Knee…”. Responding to the question of why the film’s creators didn’t stick with the “facts,” writer Daniel Giat said, “One thing I did see on the reservation is there is a great deal of discord and disagreement over some of the historic detail.”

There is always more than one side to a story, including historical accounts, which is why a lobbying organization like NCAI exists to present the Indian perspective in Washington, DC in the first place. But, “Bury My Heart” is unique. This is the first dramatic feature film that has taken on the task of presenting the complicated and largely untold story of the Indian reservation era, and how the United States government federal policies regarding Indians and Indian country were formed. The film lays down a straight path that everyone can follow. It explains the historical events that laid the foundation of federal Indian policies today – from the land grab, the treaties, the Dawes Act, the founding of the reservation system, to the dismal failures of providing health care, education and general welfare.

As NCAI deals with the modern day manifestations of these policies, they are uniquely qualified to address these historic issues. According to Adam McMullin, NCAI has had honest discussions with HBO. When specifically asked to address the Wounded Knee Massacre facts for the film version that will be distributed to schools, he responded, “HBO said they are going to change the Wounded Knee scene for the educational materials.”


Abortion Debate Editorial. Religion: The Source of the Conflict (published Oct. 2006)


Op-Ed and photos by Lise King

The anti-abortion cause is about a very well-funded and well-organized group of people who believe that their religious values are the correct ones, that anyone who does not agree with them are misguided and lost souls, and that it is their God-sworn duty to protect us from ourselves (sounding familiar?). I went to the rally in Rapid City in opposition to HB 1215, which is where I asked the Pro-lifers about their views on HB 1215, and their personal values.

I went as a journalist, and I made a supreme effort to hear both sides of the debate objectively. What I found was a debate divided clearly between the “pro-rights of the individual” versus the individual’s interpretation of the “word of God.” Religion, and the ages-old argument over whose interpretation is the correct one, is at the center of this very contentious debate. As I approached the rally on foot (parking close was impossible), I found myself becoming very emotional. I was surprised at the numbers of people who crowded the sidewalks, the noise, and the energy being expressed by those people who turned out in opposition to the Bill. Strong expression that is not of an evangelical nature is rarely seen in this Republican cow town. I was so proud of those men and women who came out to exercise their freedom of speech and expression in an environment that tends to punish those who would dare to contradict the our right-wing Christian majority in Western South Dakota.

After taking the prerequisite photos and notes, I turned my attention to the other side of the street where a group had gathered to oppose the opposition. They were dominated by Catholic church signs and children in strollers, and a gaggle of teenagers shouting at passing cars about Jesus and babies. They cheered and jumped, smiling wide, like they were at a football game as people honked at them. They waved American flags, they held cute pictures and had small children holding signs for the passing traffic to read. I was surprised by my own adrenaline rush in response to this scene.

As a journalist, I have found that I am human and will emotionally react to situations, but it is my job to acknowledge my reactions and still objectively represent both sides of an issue. So, I went bravely into the crowd across the street and began to ask questions. I approached one woman who was quieter than the rest, standing behind the shouting line at the edge of the curb. She held a sign that said, “Re: Abortion After Rape: Don’t Follow One Act of Violence With Another Act of Violence.” I asked her to explain. She said, “I don’t think the bill went far enough. If a baby is conceived, that is God’s will, no matter what….If a woman is raped or incested, or is going to die because of carrying a baby, then that is God’s will, too.” She made it clear that her Christian faith guided her to know that this is God’s Truth. I pointed out that there were plenty of Christians on the other side of the street, to which she responded, “Those aren’t real Christians. They are lost. They are wrong. They don’t know the Lord like I know the Lord.”

Then I went to the screaming bunch at the front of the pack. One young man held a sign that said, “We Vote Pro-Life.” I asked him if he was old enough to vote. He said, “No, but I will be some day.” He was fifteen. It turned out that the young group, many of them in uniform, were from the local St. Thomas More Catholic High School. Several of them expressed that it was cool that they got to skip classes to be out there on the street. They all were very interested in telling me their opinions about abortion. Many of the boys were quick to point out that the sin was sex and that they were virgins. The girls, as a group, were less vocal about their personal affairs. Twice, our conversation was interrupted by adult men who wanted to engage me in debate. I was simply asking questions, I explained, not debating any issues. I told one man that I was “not interested in arguing with him. “But I am interested in arguing with you,” he responded aggressively. At that point I looked around to make sure that my husband was close by.

When I got back to The Native Voice office, I called the Principal at St. Thomas More High School. He said that the school was not affiliated with the event, but that more than thirty kids had been checked out of school that day by their parents to be at the rally. I asked him if he believed it appropriate for fourteen, fifteen and sixteen year old students to be participating in an event that was, at the core, about sexual issues. He responded by saying, “In the Catholic Church, we teach them young, and we teach them often.” And therein lies the core of the matter.

The “Pro-Life” protesters were expressing a religious belief. I asked many of them how they explained the large numbers of Christians who were protesting HB 1215, and pointed out that President Bush himself expressed his concern about an anti-abortion bill that would not allow for his “three exceptions” of rape, incest and the life of the mother being threatened. The answer was clear and consistent: those are not “true” Christians who “know the Lord.” Two people said that the difference is one of being Protestant versus being Catholic. One person countered them, saying, “Oh, don’t go there.”

If that is, in fact, the core value split (this is not to leave out the non-Christians, but the majority of Americans identify themselves as Christian, and in even ihgher numbers in South Dakota), there may be no reconciling the two sides. After all, Protestants are so-named because they were “protesting” the Catholic Church. As the French say, “Plus ce qui change, plus c’est la meme chose.” The more that changes, the more that remains the same. As a publisher, it is very interesting to me that it was the advent of the printing press that historically went hand-in-hand with the rise of Protestantism. Before that time, for the most part the only Christian Europeans who could read were the wealthy aristocracy and members of the Catholic Church. Books, including the Bible, were made and written by hand. They were extremely expensive. Thus, the clergy “interpreted” God’s word for the masses, since only they could read and interpret and therefore teach the word of God. This proved useful in many ways.

Once the printing press made books affordable and more available to the people, people learned to read. And once they began reading scripture for themselves, they began asserting their own interpretations. This did not go over well with the Catholic Church, which at the time was selling indulgences to European royalty (these were pieces of paper that “indulged” the sins of the aristocracy, and forgave their sins, for a hefty price). Having the power to use one’s own mind to seek out the meaning of God and scripture rather than simply being told what to believe and being a servant to the decree of the church is a principle difference between Protestant and Catholic. Much blood has been shed over this debate. Let’s not carry that tradition forward into darkened rooms where women will resort to extreme measures to terminate an unwanted pregnancy.

When John F. Kennedy was running for President of the United States, there was concern over his being the first Catholic President. There was speculation that he would always be beholden to the word of the Pope first, not the will of the People. Kennedy was progressive in terms of the Catholic Church, and a Pope-centered presidency was not the legacy that he left.

One must wonder where the Catholic South Dakota Governor Mike Rounds’ views on abortion are formed. One must hope that he will remember that our Founding Fathers were wise in their musings on the necessary separation of Church and State. It is not to say that we are not to expect our leaders to have their lives guided by their spiritual or religious beliefs, but that they must be thoughtful, balanced and measured in their application of leadership – and that they must respect and defend the spiritual and religious diversity of the people they are supposed to represent. Catholic or not, Christian or not, “believers”…or not.

In the end, the issue isn’t even about whether or not you believe in abortion. It is about whether or not you believe in the right of government to legislate and regulate such personal matters based upon specific religious beliefs.

[Sidebar] Girls from St. Thomas More Catholic High School in Rapid City take a break from classes to rally against the HB 1215 protesters. [Sidebar] This protester’s belief: “If a baby is conceived, that is God’s will….If a woman is raped or incested, or is going to die because of carrying a baby, then that is God’s will, too.”

Joe Garcia, President of National Congress of American Indians, and Governor of Ohkay Owingeh (Pueblo of San Juan), addresses current leading issues in Indian country

Special to The Native Voice


Q: What are the most pressing issues that need to be addressed, both at the NCAI Annual Conference and in the coming months?

First and foremost are the social issues, I am most concerned with the number of lives that we are loosing, especially with the younger crowds, and it has to do with suicide and the use of methamphetamine and things of this nature. A lot of us are forming partnerships in Indian country to address this together. The only way we are going to win battles, like this one, is by reinforcing our own partnerships and building a firmer foundation in order to work together. This is so we can take care of our people, and this issue is at the top.

Related to this is the Healthcare Improvement Act. which has not been approved at this point in time, and we need to continue to push that effort.

Also in terms of our youth, in terms of education, we continue to struggle. The No Child Left Behind Act has certainly been the driving force for changes in education, but it is underfunded. Monumental changes in education are expected to be accomplished with measly funds. That’s not how systems work and that’s not reality.

Compare it to business: if you are going to make major changes in business, you’re going to apply money to those changes. And it’s the same thing in Indian country. The truth is that if you are going to incorporate changes you have to have other dollars that will implement the changes, versus using the same programmatic dollars to continue running programs when we are underfunded to begin with. It does not make any sense.

Q: This is an important election year. We are looking potentially major changes in the balance of power on the Hill. What is the most important message regarding getting out the Native Vote?

The first and foremost is the message that Indian people have got to get out and vote. We need to be apprised about what voting means, and not just to the local issues, but more drastically, at the national level. There is a relationship between what happens locally and what happens nationally. But the ultimate is not just leaving it to chance that people are going to get out and vote. The important statistic, and it is wise for every tribe to know this, is that out of your eligible voters, how many are actually registered to vote? If we are sitting there at forty or fifty percent, we’re not doing our job. We’ve got to elevate the number of registered voters. And, we need those voters to get out to the polls and be knowledgeable about who are the appropriate people to support in these elections. If we can get those two things under our belt, then we will have a lot more say so and we will help Indian country by virtue of having that political strength.

I know we’re low in numbers, but there are ways that the smaller numbers can have effect and impact on key elections and elected officials, like senators, congressman, state legislators, governors.

Q: What are the other major national issues that you would like everyone to pay attention to now?

As far as legislation and other political things, the Cobell litigation has kind of gone haywire. I thought we were really close to getting something settled. Unfortunately, in this case, it is not so much that the tribes are not together, it’s more the (Bush) administration that we’re battling at this point. Even Congress is working on our behalf, it is the administration that is hindering a settlement.

The Cobell litigation is tied to trust reform. We’ve really got to be clear on things that we don’t want to compromise – in trust reform. Yes, we want to settle Cobell, but those things should not be compromised. The tribes should have a say so, not individual Indians or in this case, the plaintiffs. I think the important part is that we are working together with the plaintiffs and the attorneys and others to resolve the issue. This is a big positive sign.

As far as the issue on “rights of way” (regarding the Energy Policy Act of 2005) that has been pondered by Indian country, we have concluded that there need to be no changes. The tribes have the final say so on whether they want leasing agreements to go forth or not. No one else should have that responsibility, or in this case, the authority to do that. The tribes, as sovereign nations, should determine that.

Q: On the subject of energy in Indian country, what about alternative energy development for the tribes?

This is a key issue, in fact, because of the energy situation in this country. As you know, a lot of the potential energy development-exists in Indian country, it is important that we be involved in the development of energy and alternatives, and if its green energy, so much the better. But we have to be versed in technology and we ought to be driving whatever we think is appropriate to happen in Indian country.

We ought to be moving forward those initiatives that can be beneficial to us, but, the ultimate idea here is that the tribes then can say, “We are looking out for the best interests of the United States of America, not just my land and my people, but all of the United States.” And I think the tribes can really, really do that and demonstrate to this country what we are all about, and what we can do. And, with the energy bill and the energy titles for Indian country, I think we will be beneficial in that arena. We need to promote this a lot more.

Q: So you are referring to the legislative incentives, the financial incentives, that have been put in place for doing business in Indian country in alternative energy development?


Q: Are you aware of the meeting that Senator Tom Daschle hosted with tribes interested in wind energy development?

This is one of those rare opportunities for Indian country to take the lead on something that’s actually going to benefit everyone, the larger population.

I think what we are doing is providing the knowledge building, if you will. Not only of our tribes and tribal leaders, but relaying the information and having a systematic approach to building that knowledge in the general public. For example, we’ve incorporated the media section in NCAI. If we can put out greater efforts and collaborations to get the message out, then we’ll be a lot better off. So I appreciate the opportunity that you are giving here, so keep up the good work.

Q: Thank you. We think it is an important part of the solution, so we are just doing our small part.

Every little bit of potential solution adds to the greater picture. All of the pieces all lead to the comprehensive solution in Indian country.

Q: This is NCAI’s annual meeting. It is by far a most important annual event in Indian country. That being said, would you like to paint the bigger picture of the trend of how the tribes are working together? Do you feel that there is a good amount of consensus, do you feel the need to call everybody together, are you feeling a good momentum growing?

I think we have a great momentum right now. All of the leg work that we’ve done in collaborations is a good indicator of that positive momentum, it doesn’t mean that all issues have been resolved to this point by any means, that is not the case. This is only because of the large quantity of issues that face Indian country.

And part of the underlying reason why we haven’t been as progressive as we might have been is that a lot of times the knowledge that is required is not yet developed. For example, the federal budgeting process is pretty complicated. Unless you get your feet wet and get into the system and learn that and understand the mechanics behind what drives the federal budgeting process, a lot of the solutions that we propose are blind solutions. Until we got involved in this national budget advisory council where a number of very good tribal leaders are members of this council, until we got our feet really wet and got our hands dirty, about the budgeting, did we clearly understand how much of a dilemma we faced. And we’ve been partly complaining to the wrong people, and bringing the issues to the wrong level, if you will. The target ought to be the OMB (Office of Management and Budget) and the President.

All of these other times, we’ve been battling at the lower levels, and by virtue of that fact, we haven’t been as successful. And working together now with the tribes throughout the country has been a big plus.

Q: This sounds like a positive trend in political development.

Yes. One thing I need to tell you about, though, is that there may be too many national meetings. Where the same tribal leaders that need to be in one meeting are tied down because they attending another meeting that was scheduled at the same time. There is not a whole lot of concerted effort to get the schedules together so that they follow one another. Meetings are scheduled at the same time during the same week in completely different parts of the country.

We still need to do a lot of work on our time management system. With technology readily available, I think we can do that. We all need to be involved finding the right solution for that.

How much do we know about the systems that are available? And its not just in Indian country. This is what the world uses, so why shouldn’t it work for us? We just tweak the systems to fit our needs.

The tests still remain, but I feel very, very positive about Indian country working together. And it’s going to continue. We’ve not reached the ultimate solution, but we’re working towards that end. I trust that within this next year, we’ll get even farther down the road.

Q: Going back to what you said about working directly with this administration, can you fill in what is going on behind the scenes in the negotiations or communications with the offices at the White House and the OMB?

The important piece about OMB is that Indian country has never met directly met with OMB until last December. It was the first time we as a national budget advisory council met with OMB. That began a collaboration. OMB listens a lot, I found out, to the departments (Interior, etc.). They indicated that there is not a lot of down-to-earth advocacy (on our behalf) from the other departments. And it is their place to be doing that. But for whatever reason, it never comes across as such.

So the OMB meetings are really key, and we’ve had at least five meetings with the OMB staff, the main people who make decisions. We’ve also got to be sending our message, the same message, to each of the departments, such as the DOI. We have to be aligned with our messages – what we are proposing and what they are advocating on behalf of Indian country need to be the same message. So that when OMB meets with us, they hear the same story and the same truth, they hear the same needs and they see the same solutions that we all are talking about. We’re all on the same page. In the past, we haven’t been able to do that. I think that’s changed somewhat. Progress has been made.

The other thing to remember is that the budgeting cycles are like three overlapping cycles at any one time. There’s the implementation of last year’s budget, there’s the planning and implementation of this year’s budget, and then there’s the planning for next year and the year after that. Being able to juggle three phases going on at one time is an important piece, and that may not have been very clear to Indian country in the past.

Q: And how have you felt about the response from, for example. Reuben Barrales’ office at the White House, or the Department of OMB? How has the response been from that level of government?

In a sense, they are asking why didn’t we do this before? We can ask ourselves why, but part of the answer is the fact that we didn’t know the system. It’s just like not knowing what to do when a car breaks down. If you knew how that car operated you might be able to do something about it. So that analogy falls into play here, but the response has been really, really extraordinary from OMB, from the Budget Council, from Congress, and a lot of staff at the White House. I have to commend them for being out front and meeting with us.

The one thing that I still want to see happen is for us to meet with President Bush, and we have not had that opportunity as the embassy of tribes, we have not been able to do that. That is going to be one of the initiatives that we push forward at NCAI – the officers, myself, the tribal leaders and the tribes that make up NCAI. We really need to push for this.

Q: There have been some tough issues on Capitol Hill lately. What is the mood, the tone of the meetings with members of Congress lately?

We need to get away from the attitude that we are fighting Congress. Everywhere I’ve been and I’ve talked about Congress, I’ve never said that we’re “fighting” with Congress. What I said is that we’re “working” with Congress to find the solutions. Just from a human philosophical approach, that sends the more positive note to the parties involved. And I think that means a whole lot to all of us so we want to continue to push those efforts.

Besides Congress, we’ve initiated meetings with a number of other federal agencies that haven’t worked with Indian country, per se. One prime example, just the latest one of consultation – and you know how I feel about consultation – is the DOJ (Department of Justice). As long as its been involved in working with Indian country, which is years and years, the very first consultation was held just last week. This was the one in Minneapolis regarding the Violence Against Women Act. This in itself is a prime indicator that our efforts are having some impact. But, we must continue to be vigilant in working with the issues that face us.

As we speak, there is a lot of legislation coming on-line that we knew nothing or little about. One of them is HR 4, having to do with the benefits for employees of tribes. The other is HR 16, that is clarifying labor union issues in Indian country. Under the National Labor Relations Act, we are protected from labor unions setting up shop in Indian country. The latest interpretation was that tribes were exempt from that protection, and so HR 16 moved to clarify that tribes share the same protection as other government agencies.

We still see legislation being introduced that disadvantages Indian country. The latest one that I heard about has to do with the 8A status, that would give tribes no special attention or opportunities when it comes to business or business development. That in itself could be detrimental. What we’ve been pushing for all along is for tribes to do economic development and sustain their own economies by doing economic development, business enterprises and what not.

Q: What is the proposal on the table regarding 8A status for tribes?

What it says is that the tribes with 8A status should not receive any special consideration for governmental jobs or for projects. If it gets by, it wipes out our efforts having to do with economic development and the SBA 8A status that a lot of tribes have been moving toward. It would wipe away a lot of opportunity, a lot of momentum.

Q: There are a lot of tribes that have economic development and industry in place that are dependent on that 8A status.

That’s right. It’s being talked about, and chances are it could be introduced. The best effort would be to cut it off at the knees before it makes it to any other level.

Economic development, in my eyes, goes hand in hand with tribal sovereignty. If we’re talking about self determination and self reliance as tribes, then we have to have the revenue stream and the resource base by which we can say, “I’m no longer dependent upon the federal government.” If you relate that to reality, though, you see that the tribes are at different levels of economic development. Those tribes that have been very successful in their efforts, and there are those tribes that are still in need of help and development, a lot of it by no fault of their own: because of the systems, the funding, the locations, the regions why they have not reached that level.

Q: What is your vision for the future of tribes, of Indian country as a whole?

My vision is that the day will come that we will no longer be dependent on the federal government. We will stand on our own means. That is true sovereignty, that is true self governance, self reliability, self sustainability, and that’s what we all ought to be pushing toward…and this includes every tribe in this country, even those that are not recognized, because the lack of recognition was through no fault of their own. We can help our brothers and sister tribes, and I think that is happening more so than it was before. That is our own solution, if you will, absent of any other help from the feds or from the state. If we can accomplish that, then more power to us.

Q: We went to see the Dalai lama with Arvol Looking Horse last week, and Arvol mentioned that individual sovereignty is important to tribal sovereignty. That if you have the ability to be individually sovereign, then you can lead, have the full understanding of what sovereignty is. You can see this with Indian leaders from around the country, like yourself and Tex Hall. Some of the best tribal leaders are those that understand the meaning of personal self-sufficiency.

That is right.


If we’re talking about self determination and self reliance as tribes, then we have to have the revenue stream and the resource base by which we can say, “I’m no longer dependent upon the federal government.”

Arvol Looking Horse honored with presentation for the Dalai Lama

King: Arvol, you just drove all night to get here, you made a great effort to get here and arrived just in time. Why did you think it was important to be a part of this presentation?

Looking Horse: I wanted to take a message to the world… that there is so much problems, and that this place is the Dalai Lama, and this place, the temple that we came to, was made for peace. People traveled from all over the world, all over, to be here today. They want to see something, to hear something to help them pray for peace, or to help them understand what is going on in the world. And, as spiritual leaders, we need to be heard and that’s why I traveled all night over a long distance to be here.

We have our prophecy with our sacred bundle. Yet, a lot of people, our own people, do not understand why we do the work that we do, promoting peace, global healing.

How I feel as a spiritual leader of the Bigfoot Ride is that we’ve come a long ways. I myself bring prayers. One of my great, great grandfathers was Bigfoot. I never knew that until I came on the Bigfoot Ride. He died for the white flag of truce at Wounded Knee in 1890, when Bigfoot was massacred. He died for peace.

I know that I have to carry on his work. Riding in the deep snow and cold weather is the sacrifice that we’ve made.

Also, being the Keeper of the sacred chanunpa, the sacred pipe.

The story that was told among our people is that a spirit woman brought this spirit bundle, she brought this chanunpa when the people were having a hard time, and she said that “I shall return again when the people are having a hard time.”

In 1994, the first white buffalo calf was born in Janesville, Wisconsin.

King: The buffalo calf that was born white and changed colors?

Looking Horse: “Miracle” was supposed to change color. When the spirit woman brought the sacred chanunpa… when she left the chanunpa, and then she went back towards the West, she stopped four times. She changed colors…black, red, yellow, and white. And we use these sacred colors to the grandfathers to the four directions in our ceremonies from that time to today. And when Miracle was born, she was supposed to change four colors. She was born white, and she became black and then red. She died when she was in the third stage, yellow. Since then, every year a white buffalo calf was born. This year, at the same farm in Janesville, Wisconsin, another white buffalo calf was born August 25.

These white animals, the white buffalo calves, the story of the sacred chanunpa, and all these white animals being born, showing their sacred colors – they are all connected. We’re supposed to be the voice for them, our relatives. And that’s why we came here to be the voice for the relatives. And, this is what people are looking for with the Dalai Lama, to come to pray and speak with him. Leaders like that, they have the heart for the people, for peace, and for understanding throughout the world. So, there are many reasons why we came here.

King: Can you explain what is the connection for Native person on the rez care to the Dalai Lama? What is it about this man that makes him worthy to you to travel all this way to stand there to support him?

Looking Horse: He was exiled from him country of Tibet. He can’t go home. (The Tibetan traditional culture, including practice of the spiritual ways of the Buddhist people there, have been outlawed by the Chinese government). He has in his country the land, the sacred sites, the places that his ancestors they came from. He can’t go home to his spiritual homeland. We have a hard time here on our homeland, we were being imprisoned, and now we’re still having a hard time as a nation. So, he understands about the ways of our First Nations people, how we were, how we lived. And I, too, understand people like him that are spiritual and having a hard time because of what has happened. It has been difficult in the last years, but I also know that we have the keys to the new millennium. That’s why were are trying to gather, to bring our people together to unite spiritually, and globally.

King: What was it like to meet him, what was it like when you were talking to him?

Looking Horse: It was a great honor. If I didn’t have that coming here as a spiritual leader, I would be star struck, too. But I know where his heart is, and I met him twice before, so I knew that we had a very strong connection, where we come from and where we’re going.

King: You are always out there telling people, “Pray for peace,” and the Dalai lama is telling people to pray for peace. He also said today that “Praying for peace is important, but the action is important, the karma is in the action.” I really appreciated what he said, it was so simple and so powerful, “Positive action leads to positive consequence, and negative action leads to negative consequence.”

If you were to tell people one thing that they can do to embody the prayer for peace that you are both promoting, what would you tell them? What would you like people to do in their own lives to actively be about peace in their families, in their communities?

Looking Horse: Right now, our families and brothers and sisters are fighting and it seems like we can’t unite. And I would say that out of respect for our future generations I would tell people to work for peace. People need to see for themselves from their homeland what is happening throughout the world because all of our spiritual ways have brought us through hard times. We’ve survived, and that’s the only way we will survive now because of the stage that we are in. We are at war and there are a lot of sicknesses. So, we just have no choice but to work for this. I know it is a very hard journey, we still have a lot of work ahead of us, but we will make it.

King: You sound really hopeful even though you are saying it is hard and there are a lot of people fighting and you need to pray for peace. It is good to know that people are getting together and praying together and working on this together because it sounds like there is hope.

Looking Horse: I am the 19th Keeper of our sacred bundle, and when I was born, our ways were outlawed. When we talk about freedom and human rights, I feel like we’ve come a long way to be recognized in the world today. So, I’m very thankful, I wish our grandparents would see this day.

King: I think a lot of people need to hear this, especially the young people, because times can seem pretty tough.

Looking Horse: It seems like it’s pretty tough when we’re burying our young people from suicide. But it’s part of our traditions in our songs and prayers to take care and to honor, to have a heart for the people. That’s basically part of our ways, to take this to our heart and stand up and promote peace and harmony.

King: And that brings us back to this day and the experience of being with the Dalai Lama and the other leaders there who were promoting peace. I can see why the Dalai Lama is in brotherhood with you, because the message that he was giving today was very similar to yours, and in many ways, it is the same message.

Looking Horse: The message that he gave and the message from our prophecies is the same. And, it is the reason that I came here today. It feels good, we feel good to be connected with a lot of people, all with a heart for the people, praying in the same way. And it was an honor to be with all of the important people who were here, who brought their own message of peace, like Queen Noor of Jordan (a Muslim), and all of the important leaders who traveled to be here on this day.

King: Thank you. It was an amazing day.


Arvol Looking Horse, 19th Generation Keeper of the Sacred White Buffalo Calf Pipe Bundle, was honored recently by being asked to make a presentation for the Dalai Lama during his visit to Colorado. On the bright and cold Sunday morning of September 17, Looking Horse made a presentation to a crowd of 2500 people at the newly completed buddhist shrine, the Great Stupa of Dharmakaya, near Red Feather Lakes. Looking Horse’s presence at this event was due to his on going work to promote peace, both at home in Indian country and across the globe. While known for leading the annual Bigfoot Ride to commemorate the massacre at Wounded Knee, and his creation of World Peace and Prayer Day, Looking Horse also carries his message “to pray for peace” to countless gatherings, large and small, during the year.

We were invited to join Arvol on his trek to participate in this historic meeting, and sat down after the speeches and songs to visit about the day and the spiritual connections to the Dalai Lama.


Dramatically transforming the landscape of Shambhala Mountain Center, The Great Stupa of Dharmakaya is an expression of the aspiration for peace, harmony and equanimity for all beings. Rising 108 feet from its foundation, construction of The Great Stupa was initiated in 1988 and the monument was consecrated in August 2001.


“it’s part of our traditions in our songs and prayers to take care and to honor, to have a heart for the people”

Nation of Islam leader Louis Farrakhan visits Navajo Nation, Purpose of visit said to be “diplomatic”

WINDOW ROCK, Ariz. – One of the more controversial leaders in modern America has paid a visit to the Navajo Nation. Louis Farrakhan, leader of the Nation of Islam, is well known for his polarizing political statements and large media gestures such as the Million Man March on Washington, DC in 1995. His visit to the Navajo Nation on July 18 and 19 marks the first time he has been invited to speak in front of a tribal council in Indian country.

President Joe Shirley’s office received a phone call from the Nation of Islam headquarters in January from Farrakhan’s granddaughter, Yo’NasDa LoneWolf Muhammed. She serves as the national director of the Indigenous Nations Alliance of the Millions More Movement.

According to a press release from the Navajo Nation, “The Nation of Islam seeks to establish a positive relationship with tribes across the country.” Farrakhan stated that “Yo’NasDa’s recently deceased mother was a full-blood member of the Oglala Sioux Tribe.” Reasons for the visit were described as “diplomatic” by the Navajo Nation press office.

Farrakhan met with President Joe Shirley on Tuesday, July 18. He inquired about “Navajo life, government, politics, culture and belief.” When he spoke to the summer session of the tribal council on Wednesday, July 19, Farrakhan emphasized the similarities between the “black and red nations,” stating that “Here we are today with common problems, and, really, a common destiny.”

During his speech to tribal council, Farrakhan made several references to shared experiences at the hands of the “oppressor.” He emphasized the necessity of all people of color to form alliances and “recognize kinship,” stating, “I’m not a stranger. I am your brother.. .and I’ve come to establish that relationship with the greatest indigenous people in America, the Navajo Nation.”

President Shirley has been recognized for reaching out to other nations, and in the past two years has met with leaders of Latino, Jewish, Christian and indigenous organizations.

The meeting with Farrakhan presents an interesting tack in the Navajo Nation course, considering the fact that many leaders in the United States and abroad have refused to meet with Louis Farrakhan, citing his divisive politics. Probably his most infamous quote, which led to his censoring by the United States Senate was the statement, “Hitler was a very great man.”

Direct solutions for the Navajo Nations’ economic and social ills were not offered in Farrakhan’s speech, but his rhetoric of encouragement was met with a standing ovation. He said that “At one time, before the foreigner arrived with more powerful weapons, the Navajo people were known as fierce, strong and independent.”

He said that “something” happened to cause them to become dependent on the federal government, but now what the government provides is not enough to meet the needs of the people. On the outside, this visit was touted as “diplomatic” in nature. However, inside the tribal halls, political agendas were quietly being mused.

President Shirley is up for reelection in the Fall, and has stated his intention to secure a $500 million no-interest loan from the United States government to take care of a lot of the problems of the Navajo with one major influx of capitol. He stated that the Leader of Islam had “important contacts,” and that the Navajo Nation will look for the loan from other countries, if necessary.

Farrakhan and other black leaders have publically expressed their interest in merging their political influence in Washington, DC, including their voting power, with that of other “people of color,” including Indian country.

Impeached: OST president Cecelia Fire Thunder removed from office

PORCUPINE, South Dakota – The Oglala Sioux Tribal Council voted 9-5 Thursday afternoon to impeach tribal president Cecelia Fire Thunder. The tribe’s first woman president has successfully challenged two earlier attempts to remove her from office, and her staff has stated that she will again work to overturn the suspension.

Fire Thunder was removed from office this time under a cloud of controversy. She announced her intention to build an abortion clinic on reservation land after the South Dakota state legislature passed HB 1215, which bans all abortions except where the life of the mother is immediately threatened, and does not allow for exceptions in the cases of rape or incest or the compromised health of the mother.

However, according to tribal councilman Walter Big Crow from the Wakpamni District, the president’s impeachment “Had nothing to do with the abortion issue, that was just a way to get it on to the floor.”

After HB 1215 was signed into law by Governor Mike Rounds, Fire Thunder made several statements to the press about her intentions to challenge the state law by building “A Planned Parenthood clinic on tribal lands,” and initiated fundraising efforts.

Immediately following her announcement, Planned Parenthood said that they had not been contacted regarding the tribal president’s intention. The Oglala Sioux Tribal Council also was not consulted.

Will Peters, the tribal council member who filed the impeachment complaint, said Fire Thunder didn’t have the tribal council’s approval to pursue the project.

Councilman Big Crow said, “She’s outstanding and she’s vocal, but she’s still a rookie when it comes to politics. She’s not a politician.” Fire Thunder successfully challenged the other two attempts to permanently remove her from office, but councilman Big Crow, who has supported her in the past, said, “Were not going to let her back in. She’s made some pretty controversial statements that are her personal opinions and has created a war…and then she expected us to fight her personal battles for her.”

When asked about the abortion issue around which Fire Thunder was removed from office, he said, “That’s a personal issue, that’s a woman’s issue. I don’t think it should have even been on the council floor.”

Although Fire Thunder has vowed to challenge the impeachment, she was elected in 2004 and her term ends in October of this year.

Wolfchild et al. v. United States


An exclusive interview with attorney Erick Kaardal, P.A., on the background, potential outcome, and implications of this high-profile lawsuit seeking damages for breaches in U.S. trust responsibility in relation to the Mdwakanton Dakota Band of the Great Sioux Nation

Notice to plaintiffs: The deadline for application has been extended to June 23, 2006

There have been countless grievances – personal, political and legal – against the United States for wrongs done to Indian people since the formation of this Country. Many have been brought to the attention of the general public, a smaller number have been tried in court, and a few have been actually been successful in their effort to make the government accountable for the injustices. Wolfchild et al. v. United States is one of those rare examples. This court case, filed in the U.S. Federal Claims Court in Washington, DC in 2003 by the Minnesota law firm, Morhman and Kaardal, P.A., has been successful in arguing that a breach of trust responsibility has happened, and that certain compensation is due to those parties who have been damaged by this breach of trust. These people are, as named in the court case, all direct lineal descendants of the original members of a small band of Dakota Sioux called the “Loyal Mdewakanton.” These people signed a contract with the U.S. Government, were given tracts of land in Minnesota, and were promised the “exclusive and equal benefit” of said lands. The lawsuit contends that these benefits have not followed the descendants “exclusively and equally” as intended, and the U.S. Federal Court has concurred.

Not only does the outcome of this lawsuit promise payment of damages for past mismanagement of trust responsibilities, but it may have far reaching consequences for those Indian communities that have, up until the decision of this court case, been the sole beneficiaries of the “benefits” of the original lands. They are the Shakopee Mdewakanton Sioux Community and the Prairie Island Indian Communities of Minnesota. Those lineal descendants who participate in Wolfchild et al. may be provided the opportunity to become members of these communities and therefore may reap the current benefits of “said lands,” including significant casino revenues.

In the case of the Shakopee, owners of reportedly the second-most-profitable gaming operation in Indian country, the changes could be earth-shattering. Each of the 186 members of this community receive per-capita payments of over one million dollars per year. The current membership has been successful at severely restricting entrance of new members, including those with proof of adequate blood quantum and direct blood lineage. It is feasible that Wolfchild et al. v. United States could open up Shakopee’s membership to include all lineal descendants identified in this lawsuit, thereby re-distributing their percapita payments from under 200 members to over 4,000 members. The geographically less-advantaged Prairie Island Community has not been as successful in their gaming ventures, and has a different set of enrollment and per-capita payment guidelines.

This portion of the lawsuit, asking for compensation of “exclusive and equal benefit” into the future, has been by nature controversial. The Shakopee Community has been generous to the other, less financially successful Sioux tribes, donating millions of dollars each year to worthy causes and projects. They have been invited to participate in this lawsuit as plaintiffs, as has Prairie Island. Both Communities have declined the invitation.

There is a significant amount of work being done to identify the actual lineal descendants of the “Loyal Mdewakanton” for the purpose of compiling an accurate and complete Plaintiffs list for this case. If you believe that you are a direct lineal blood descendant, you have until June 23, 2006 to submit your application for consideration. All of the information relevant to this pursuit, including research, history, court documents and rulings, the original 1886 and 1889 census lists that form the original members of the “Loyal Mdwakanton,” and a list of current plaintiffs can be found on the Morhman and Kardaal, P.A. website:

(Please do not contact The Native Voice with your inquiries. We will direct you to contact the law firm.)

King: First of all, how did this lawsuit get started and how did you come to be involved in this issue regarding the Mdewakanton Dakota?

Erick Kaardal, P.A.: Oddly enough I was born in Redwood Falls, [Minn.], and my family has been there for a long time. That’s right next to Morton and Lower Sioux. And my father has a State Farm Insurance Agency and always had good relations with the members of Lower Sioux. Then I went on to go to college and law school and I started my practice here in [Minneapolis/St. Paul] which included civil rights work. My father, after his retirement, was friends with a few elders from the Lower Sioux and they heard about some of the case work that we were doing in the legal arena including a case we had won in the U.S. Supreme Court involving civil rights. One of the elders, Royce Pendleton, asked my father if he could meet with me about issues of grievances or complaints he had regarding how the federal government was working with the lineal descendants [of the original Mdwakanton]. Then after that, Royce and I met for about an eighteen month period and we worked through the different grievances and issues. At times I was thinking there wasn’t any way I could help them and other times I was thinking, “Well there is some promise here.” Then I started doing some investigations factually and legally and then it really took off when Royce introduced me to others including Dr. Barbara Buttes (the lead anthropologist and historian for the Mdwakanton) and that’s when we decided to do it. At the time, I didn’t expect to win, I just thought that these people deserved having their question, their claim, put to a proper forum because I think that they had not been treated properly. So, that’s kind of where it was; with a civil rights background, I was looking to help people and sometimes it takes a lot of conversation to figure out if a lawyer can help people. We had that conversation and then we filed the lawsuit.

King: This started in 2003, so what is the status of the lawsuit now?

Kaardal: We’re in the U.S. Court of Federal Claims. They have jurisdiction over any Native American trust mismanagement claims. When we filed the lawsuit, the United States moved to dismiss on the grounds that our clients weren’t trust beneficiaries; we made a cross-motion for summary judgment on the grounds that, if the United States is wrong on that then they’d breach the trust because they made the elementary mistake of misidentifying trust beneficiaries. There are two elementary mistakes that a trustee can make; one would be losing or giving away the trust property to the wrong person, or secondly, misidentifying the beneficiary. And so, here, there has been a misidentification of the beneficiary – and that’s a big one, a very fundamental error – and so the judge resolved on our cross-motion that we won on liability at that point.

That was October 2004 and then the government made a motion for reconsideration and they lost that in November, 2005. Now we’re working hard on the genealogy, because it is important to us and to everyone to get resolution on this and we’ve resolved that the best way to get an expeditious result is to do the genealogy ourselves and not to rely on the government. I know that many other instances of these cases get resolved in the sense that liability is established but the settlement funds are never distributed because the genealogy is not finished. Or another way, the accounting is not finished in the Cobell case and so forth. So in our case, we saw that it was very important, if we want to get this case done with justice, that we complete the genealogy. And to the credit of every plaintiff, and we’re going to be at about 5,000, each one of them understands that they want to wait because by waiting and making sure that everyone’s pulled in we can move forward.

King: In that regard, there has been a lot of rumor about who is eligible, how they’re eligible and how the number of people affects the final outcome. You just got an extension for the lawsuit, what is that extension for?

Kaardal: It’s for plaintiffs joining the lawsuit. The deadline has been extended to June 23. They can either file a claim directly or they can use an attorney to file a claim, that would be a motion to intervene and a complaint and intervention.

King: So, what are the requirements for joining this suit?

Kaardal: The requirement for joining the suit is to be a lineal descendant of a person on the May 20, 1886 census inclusive of the 1889 supplement; there are about 264 people on the two lists. So, you are qualified to be a plaintiff, in our opinion, if you are a lineal descendant of any of those 264 people.

King: How are you expecting people to apply?

Kaardal: The challenge here is – particularly here in South Dakota, and in Nebraska, North Dakota and Montana and in Canada – that the connections can be somewhat remote and so there’s an issue here of, what is legal work and what information should someone know if they are going to get into this case.

The way I would describe it…it’s not really legal work to know who your grandparent is or your great-grandparent; so you need to be able to self-identify your ancestors and then once you’ve done that, then check on the census to see if they’re there. If they are, then you know that you are a lineal descendant. What the lawyers are really good at is helping prove something like that.

I think that critical first step is for people to identify their ancestors and then to see if one of their ancestors is on the ’86 or ’89 list and then once they are, then we’re here to help guide the search for finding the documents. Now, often, what happens is people are searching for documents but it’s not really for the purpose of proving the link, it’s to figure out who their ancestors are.

Now in Minnesota, there are easy cases. For example, a few people at Lower Sioux have parents on the list. So that’s not very hard; you just have to get your own birth certificate, your parent is on the list and you’re done. But because of the history here, particularly the 1,300 people who were shipped by U.S. Federal river boat from Fort Snelling to Crow Creek in 1863… some of those people leaving parents and grandparents behind end up on the list. These are difficult, challenging journeys for everyone to figure out. It’s one thing to know your great-grandparents, but to figure out who your great-great-grandparents are, that’s something.

For those people who are, and I’ll use the phrase “full” of Dakota blood, it’s a difficult task to find out who all your Dakota great-great grandparents are and each of them needs to be searched. We’ve had a case where a person that was Dakota had to search all 32 great-great grandparents, and then on the 32nd one being searched found the connection. So those who are just kind of getting started, we’re very sympathetic because we’ve been doing it for three years, helping people find their ancestors. Even more importantly, were helping them prove their lineage through Dr. Buttes and her expert opinion.

King: I’ve also heard that folks who have relatives who have already successfully made a claim as a lineal descendant, all they have to do then is link their blood lineage to the claim that has already been successfully proven.

Kaardal: You can imagine because not all families are perfect, not any family is perfect, but a lot of families are less perfect than others, so we have a lot of families saying, “We’re going to submit these documents but we don’t want the other family members to use them,” and vice versa. We have a rule: if you’re not going to let us share documents to prove other people’s lineal descendence, then we don’t want your documents. We’ll find their connections another way. We’re kind of tough on that one, but we’re all in it together, so we might as well get used to it.

King: There have been some people making claims about being able to “get people in on this claim,” and even going to the point of charging money for their services. Who is an authority on this lawsuit and who isn’t?

Kaardal: Dr. Buttes is an authority. She’s worked in this area professionally for 20-some years and she has a Ph.D. in anthropology. Not only has she shown the ability to collect relevant and important information, but she’s also shown an ability to analyze the information and almost as importantly she’s shown an ability to then take the information and put it in a useful way. I am in awe of Dr. Buttes’ work, because she’s done it and it’s just exceptional work.

There are a number of factors laying in favor of this and that is, basically, that people do self-identify Dakota and they have been for a long time, and particularly the story of the lineal descendants has been preserved at Lower Sioux. People have shown leadership by saying, “If we’re going to fix this, let’s fix it right and be done with all the litigation, the name-calling, all these disputes about genealogy. Do it once, have it done right, and then move on.” Because for 26 years, since 1980 when the BIA started saying that lineal descendants don’t have rights, they knew it was wrong and they have been working to get this resolved.

King: The BIA has been using probate records since they began accounting and trust management, so how can they then say lineal descendants doesn’t count, because that’s what probate records are?

Kaardal: That’s right. With respect to the genealogical rules that we’re following, and we’re kind of following the BIA standards, we’ve done our own independent research. Probate records are very useful in helping a person identify who their ancestors are, but when it comes to proving the genealogical connection, we have to use documents that more accurately reflect the parent-child connection and the records that most accurately reflect the parent-child connection are documents that are contemporaneous with the birth and those documents tend to be birth certificates, infant baptismal records, or hospital records if you can get them.

King: Because you can put someone on your probate, who is not necessarily [biologically connected] you can say, “I adopted this child?”

Kaardal: Exactly, or particularly death certificates, because what’s being recorded is the death, it’s not who the parents are. So, with probate records, if it’s adjudicated, maybe you have a good record to support the court’s findings. We understand the unfairness and arbitrariness of people not being trust beneficiaries when they are adopted in, but we’re trying to correct what we see as a huge injustice at Shakopee. And, that is, a small group of people has a co-opted the trust corpus of the federal government and we’re trying to fix that. So it’s not going to be a perfect world when we’re done, but we’re hoping it will be a more perfect world.

King: What can you tell me about those folks who are out there circulating false information on the reservations?

Kaardal: We identified, through complaints that were filed through our office, that a Becky Red Earth has been transmitting information, apparently with the sponsorship of the Yankton Sioux Tribe, and that information has not been useful. In fact, for two years, we’ve kind of been battling with Becky Red Earth providing information that is inaccurate. When she’s out there giving people bad information, the result is they’re copying documents, they’re making up lists and they’re paying FedEx fees or overnight fees and sending us information, but it’s bad information. So, if you can imagine, over half the stuff we received on April 20th (the previous application deadline) was mostly from the Yankton area or that part of South Dakota (where Red Earth is circulating), and it was not good information. So when people were filling out the cover sheet saying who their ancestor was on the 1886 census, it wasn’t a person actually on the 1886 census. (Please note: There are NO alternate or additional lists)

That is problematic for two reasons: one, these people may think they’re qualified and they ar not, and two, they may be qualified for the suit but they have not done enough work to prove their lineage and they are saying, “Oh, we’re qualified. We’re done.”

King: So they think their work is done and actually it’s not?

Kaardal: That’s right. And that’s our principle concern and then on the other hand there is a damage that is done if someone is told that they’re qualified and then they are not going to be qualified, that they are not a lineal descendant, then there are unrealistic expectations.

Then on the other side, and this just makes me gasp, in one instance we have an affidavit where Becky Red Earth has told someone that they are not qualified, where it appears they will be qualified or may be qualified, and that’s awful. So, we need to work through that and reeducate these people that they need to keep working until they either prove or disprove lineal descendence.

King: There’s also a rumor that the more people who participate in this lawsuit, the less money each peron will receive in the eventual settlement. Is this true?

Kaardal: I think the fact is that the judge has indicated (at the February, 2005 status conference) that the case won’t be completed until adequate notice has been given to the Minnesota Mdewakanton world and everyone has the chance to participate. So what we’ve added to that is this element that we’re so concerned about due process that we think it includes educating and informing everyone.

King: Let’s talk about family members sharing documents.

Kaardal: We need to persuade the genealogical researchers in the families to work together to find the necessary documents. The most successful people in South Dakota in qualifying through very difficult journeys – having to go six or seven generations back – have worked together. We have had examples of family members from five or six different reservations working together to find the critical documents. That’s the best, that’s ideal. Because, imagine 32 great-grandparents, they could have been scattered too; so different family members would know different information about different great-great grandparents.

King: How do you win this case? You have already been told by the court that the trust responsibility has been breached, and therefore there is a responsibility for the U.S. government to repair that, correct?

Kaardal: That’s right. I think the best way to describe the case is that, principally it’s about getting damages for the past and so we’re trying to establish these breaches so that we can get damages for the past misconduct of the federal government. As a secondary matter, we’re trying to get prospective relief and fix it for the future. The way the prospective relief is going to have to work is… if I’m speaking to a group of Mdewakanton, I always tell them “I’m looking at you, because you have many voices here as lineal descendants of Lower Sioux as the Lower Sioux Community.” The lead plaintiff on the lawsuit, Sheldon Peters Wolfchild, is now the Chairman of Lower Sioux and he’s firmly committed to the case. The other voice that is very important is the organization, or non-profit corporation, called the Minnesota Mdewakanton Dakota Oyate and they’ve been holding annual conventions for the last two years and they’re going to meet again on May 20. That’s a voice for the lineal descendants and what the lineal descendants need to decide is what they want for the future. So, this is in the hands of the descendants through these two organizations.

King: So, there are two parts to this lawsuit; one is that the plaintiffs are going to get money from the United States Treasury for past harms done and then, two, they’re all looking at the inclusion as direct beneficiaries of the original trust land revenues into the future. There is talk that this includes the possibility of enrolling in the Shakopee Community and becoming beneficiaries of the current casino revenues. Is this true?

Kaardal: Yes. But, there are papers that very clearly stated that the Shakopee Community was based on a constitution which was the product of a breach of trust by the United States, so there’s an issue of whether this would be an opportunity for the lineal descendants to reorganize the government. Because we have one trust beneficiary class, some lineal descendants think that one government may be appropriate. So you have one genealogical list, and then you could have some local governments; then you could have a Minnesota Mdewakanton Nation. To think about it, we’re at 5,000 lineal descendants now and we know there’s a few hundred more in communities that aren’t participating in the lawsuit. It would be a fantastic thing to have the Dakota finally reunited after they were forced into the diaspora back in 1862, 1863 and forward. Then again, some of the Dakota aren’t lineal descendants of the May 20, 1886 list who would not be Minnesota Mdewakanton Dakota Oyate based on the 1886 statutes because the membership was separate. But, then again, it isn’t about correcting all the world’s problems, it’s just about correcting the injustice at Shakopee.

King: Am I correct in saying that the settlement money from this case, as it stands now, is coming from the United States Treasury?

Kaardal: Absolutely.

King: Because there is a misunderstanding now because some potential plaintiffs think that they are getting casino money. So what I have been trying to qualify is exactly where that money is coming from and it’s coming from the United States Treasury for a breach of trust responsibility.

Kaardal: Exactly, dollar for dollar.

King: The rumors are rampant. Can you speak about the amounts that people may be getting?

Kaardal: The only thing I know, because we haven’t been allowed discovery, is there’s a 2000 Minnesota Court of Appeals decision called Vig v. Vig … and the Shakopee per capita payments were adjudicated and in the adjudication, the 1998 Shakopee per capita payments per individual were $950,000. So the per capita payments in 1998 were nearly a million per member, and there have always been about 185 members. Right now I think there are 186. At least in 1998, the per capita payments, apparently totaled $185 million.

(Editor’s note: the amount that the U.S. Government will be expected to pay for breach of trust responsibility may be based upon the revenues generated by the casino and the per-capita payments made to the community members. As these are the recent “benefits” of the trust land.)

I never had expected to win. When we won on liability, my reaction was “Wow, I have got a lot of responsibilities.” So, I have been much more reactive about this part. Remember, I came to this not as ambulance chaser, I came to it as a civil rights attorney and I represented elderly people forced out of a nursing home and I had represented parents who had their children wrongfully taken by child protection. And I represented interest involving certain minority Protestant sects who wanted to participate in the public school system. I’ve taken free speech cases…yesterday I won a free speech case in the Minnesota Court of Appeals, so I am very interested in constitutional issues, statutory issues, difficult legal issues. So I think I’m a bad person to talk about the money because to the people who had approached me, it wasn’t about the money, it was always about the land and of painting the political status, the political position of the Minnesota Mdewakanton.

King: But I’m trying to quash some rumors out there. This is part of what’s fueling the family feuds regarding “who is getting on the list and who is or isn’t sharing genealogical information.” So what I am trying to do is look at this realistically and realize that we’re not talking about each person getting millions of dollars individually.

Kaardal: Again, I can say that I don’t know that because we haven’t been allowed to do any discovery. But my advice to clients is that the case isn’t going to be completed until we get all of lineal descendants in, so we have got to continue to work on that. And then after we finish that, I think we will be allowed discovery and we’ll find out what the potential damages are. My recommendation to people who are prospective lineal descendants is to hurry up and get their work done and then we’ll find out. To me, the issue of being a landowner, a trust beneficiary, at Shakopee or Lower Sioux should be sufficient motivation to get your documents together and then with respect to cash payment for past, we’ll see how that goes.

Now with respect to prospective relief, I’m absolutely convinced that the consequence of this case that the lineal descendants will be receiving equal per capita payments and whether that’s a little money or a lot of money but I am going to look at the lineal descendants and say, “It’s up to you. If you decide for a reason that you’re not going to manage the casino well, or manage the casino at all, it’s up to you. Or you want to have one casino or other businesses it might end up being quite profitable for you.”

…to be continued…check the next issue of The Native Voice for Part Two of the interview with Erick Kardaal, P.A.


Anpetu-Tokece, (Other Day), who rescued sixty-two persons from the Indian Massacre of 1862, in Minnesota. One of the “Loyal Mdewakanton,” so named because they believed in living in peace with the United States and the settlers. The lineal descendants of this band are now the plaintiffs in the class-action lawsuit, Wolfchild et al. v. The United States for breach of trust responsibility. For more information, go to


Dakota Sioux fight white settlers during the Minnesota uprising, 1862.