Oglala Sioux President Alex White Plume sees the old ways as better
STURGIS, S.D. ñ Alex White Plume, president of the Oglala Sioux Tribe and a traditional Lakota, has a history of doing things differently, or rather, doing things the traditional way. White Plume focuses on his tiospaye, extended family, and works to create a solid cultural structure within that family. When he planted industrial hemp to bring some economic stability to the family, he was arrested and the crop destroyed by the federal government. White Plume developed a horse camp, called Giza Park, on his own property. And with his guidance the family erected a wind-powered generator and solar collectors to provide electric power for his family and, eventually, surrounding residents on the badlands just north of Manderson on the Pine Ridge Reservation. White Plume was elected Oglala Sioux tribal vice president in 2004 and was moved into the presidentís office after the recent impeachment of Cecelia Fire Thunder. White Plume will serve until December, when another president ñ or he himself ñ takes office. White Plume is running for re-election against Fire Thunder and Will Peters, the only candidates known so far. The primary elections will be held in October. Living a spiritual and cultural life is what drives White Plume. He was instrumental in starting the sacred Big Foot Ride Memorial Ride in 1986 to complete the circle for grieving families and to renew a spiritual life for the Lakota. The ride begins on the Cheyenne River Reservation and ends at the site of the Wounded Knee Massacre. Now White Plume is placed in a position to renew a spiritual life for a nation. Shortly after he took over as president, he devoted most of his time to the protection of the sacred mountain, Mato Paha, or Bear Butte. He camped and lived on the mountain frequently, taking time away from his duties as president, and remained there for the entire first week of August. He is an organizer for the Summit of Indigenous Nations, a unity effort of indigenous groups from around the country and South America. The result of the summit was to pass a resolution demanding the rescission of the ìdoctrine of discoveryî to stop the continued colonization of all indigenous people, something White Plume was instrumental in presenting. Indian Country Today was able to meet with White Plume during the recent Gathering of Nations Camp at Bear Butte. White Plume was asked about himself, who he is and what, if anything, he could do to make positive changes for the Pine Ridge Reservation.
White Plume: We have the whole clan together, we put all our land together and utilize all resources we have; we donít want to live on the grid, so we got wind power and solar. ... What has to happen ñ we need to educate all of America, and all our colonized relatives, not to judge us in their paradigm because they have been assimilated. They have a central way of life. As Lakota people, we must learn more about our language. As we learn more and we revitalize our culture and our language, we realize we need access to our sacred sites. As a nation we are getting sick because we are not allowed access to sacred sites, it killed our language; today we are bringing our language back. All our ceremonies are intact; we have chiefs and warriors. We have been real patient and we have been real humble for the past 75 years that America would one day wake up and realize, ëHey, we have an agreement and this agreement says they are supposed to have access to sacred sites; we are supposed to protect ceded American Indian territory.í This has never happened. So we are still being patient today, we are continuing on, we are being patient, but now we are on a mission to educate everybody about the true situation. You see, the American people left their honor on the treaties and by them violating that, there is no honor in this country of U.S.A. Until they start honoring the agreements they made Ö the Black Hills has always been disputed; we never signed an agreement to give our land away ñ they just took. We were estimating how much money is owed. Itís in the trillions of dollars, and this country doesnít have enough money to pay us back for all the hardships and loss of our spirituality. Now we just want access to our sacred sites and we want the broken treaties to be honored. Instead of listening to us they consider us more of a problem than honoring our request in honoring those documents that were made in 1868 and 1851 [the dates of the treaties]. Everybody wants to save their culture and bring their rituals back. On Sept. 6, it will be 200 years that the Lakota had contact. Our language, our ceremonies are still real; we didnít make any of it up. Elders have admonished us for using the word ìtribes.î The original tribes were Vikings, Celts, Germans, Irish. We are not tribes; we are clans, we are kinship. Today we no longer consider ourselves tribes: we will go back to the clan ways.ICT: Can you take your beliefs one step further and apply it to the governance of the Oglala Sioux Nation?White Plume: I plan to take everything that we accomplish here back to the tribal council to inform them of what the traditional people said; tell their sad stories and what their wishes are. We have to draw a line and say this is it, we wonít take it anymore. There are so many nations here [at Bear Butte], it is so good to hear different languages. For a long time I thought the only languages alive were the Lakota, Spanish and English. It boosted my morale. We realize that the traditional people are the poorest on every reservation; it shouldnít be, because they retained their culture, language, they retained their rituals. They should be the millionaires on the reservations, but they are all the poorest ñ why is that? Our own people act like colonizers. Itís a real education experience, being here at Bear Butte Camp.ICT: You are a traditional Lakota; will you work to bring the old ways back to the Oglalas?White Plume: I already initiated that. I brought a resolution to amend the election code that only language speakers would be authorized candidates. [The election is scheduled for November, with a primary in early October.] Their excuse was nobody taught them the language. I declared our language precious and we arenít going to lose it. I guess we have to wait for the next administration and weíll get more traditionalists in there so they can be adamant about our language, because the Oglala Sioux Tribe, what they did was allow the colonization process to continue.ICT: Would a traditional government stop the turmoil that now plagues the Oglala Sioux Tribe?White Plume: Yes.ICT: Outsiders are talking about the Oglala Sioux Tribe in a negative way after the impeachment of Cecelia Fire Thunder.White Plume: I know. I came to a realization that we created all these problems by using the English language because thatís the general rule of thumb; now we are trying to solve the problems using the same language, and itís not working. So my feelings have to use a different language to solve those problems, this is the only way this can happen.ICT: Do you have support for the traditional movement?White Plume: All the people are fighting to protect and preserve our way; we have to bring that way back. We have to work on our relatives who fell off into the melting pot and tell them itís okay to be Lakota, itís okay to speak your language. There is a document that keeps us down as a people: itís the papal bull [that established the doctrine of discovery]. We will ask the pope to rescind that papal bull, thatís the basis of all Indian law, and the Lakota people across the U.S. have never won in any court. So, that papal bull is the one that they go by. Americaís history starts in 1492: we ask the American people to reach out and find your history, find your grandparents, your great-grandparents. Maybe they were Vikings at one time, maybe they were Celtics. They need to know their history, because today everyone is stuck in the rut of capitalism, they donít worry about their relatives, they donít worry about themselves, they just worry about how much money they can make and they take, take, take from the Earth and they never give anything back. This we have to change around. The Lakota were givers; we give everything we have away every year, never take more than we need. We need to educate all of America about all the horrible things they are doing to our lands, our sacred sites, our sacred places, our grasslands. I hope I didnít sound like a politician; I tried not to be.