Hispanic? Congratulations, you’ve only a 500% chance your vote will not be counted. Black, 900%. Native American, 2,000%! While you may have been purged from voter roles in the first two classes, you can cast a provisional ballot (of course it will not be counted on election night). If you’re a Native American though, you’re out of luck and… no one seems to care.
Russell Means, Lakota Nation leader who withdrew from all US treaties 11 months ago, is running again for Pine Ridge Sioux Tribal President to head the tribal council in South Dakota. In the 2000 election, a total of 2,700 ballots were cast. He lost. Undaunted, he ran and lost again in 2002 with about 3,000 ballots cast. In 2004, he received 3,200 votes, yet somehow lost as his opponent won with 3,500 votes! (More 6,700 ballots were cast, 4,000 more votes or 110% higher than normal.)
He ran again in 2006 and received 2,700 total votes and again list as another 4,000 ballots mysteriously appeared doubling the normal turnout. Imagine double the number of ballots unexpectedly showing up in Grosse Point Park or Westchester? We’d still be talking about it.
According to Means, “we face blatant vote rigging issues and the tribal council and tribal police don’t care if they’re seen… they stuff ballot boxes or lose them and the tribal police are directly involved. They’re the ones who come to the precincts and collect the boxes and somehow ballots disappear or others are added. There is also a pattern of blatant buying of votes, the political parties haul voters to the polls, pay them $7 or $9 for each vote and give them alcohol before and after.”
This week West Virginia voters using touchscreens claimed their votes were switched from Democrat to Republican. In North Carolina, McCain supporters heckled a group of mostly black supporters of Barack Obama. In Ohio, Republicans stand accused of trying to scare newly registered voters by filing lawsuits that question their eligibility. In the Sioux Pine Ridge Nation elections are just blatantly stolen.
Native Americans on reservations across the USA cannot even get paper ballots counted correctly. They also have no 14th Amendment legal recourse and even their 13th and 15th amendment voting rights are a subject of much debate. “The Federal Courts won’t touch this,” said Means, “we live under a system of colonial apartheid in the USA.”
Every two years though they have to have an election. Said Means, “the 2006 election was so grossly illegal that the Court of Election Appeals, appointed by the Tribal Council, ruled it was an invalid election, that it was crooked.” The existing tribal council simply stated, “no, it wasn’t, ignored the Court they themselves appointed and certified the election result. The BIA (Bureau of Indian Affairs) then rubber stamped the election result.
In a release from that period, the BIA “found no wrongdoing in the Pine Ridge election.” A senior BIA official though, speaking on condition of anonymity said, “if you thought the revelations of orgies and parties at Interior were news, this is even bigger. The gaming lobby (Rick Davis, Jack Abramoff, John McCain…) controls this bureau and these tribal councils are just figureheads that live and die by the generosity of those in charge of Indian casino gaming.”
Means concurred, “the Tribal President, if he loses the election, will have to go on welfare. While in office he lives very well.”
So he does what he’s told and does not rock the boat? I ask.
Said Means, “the ruling class spends pennies here. It’s embarrassing how little is required to corrupt. The only benefit these tribal government puppets have is that they reap liquid assets… autos, double-wide trailer homes, and things that depreciate quickly… plasma tv’s, trips, gambling, they just feed into this penny ante liquid asset game and it’s amazing. You would think some would be rich, but they’re kept poor and under control.”
“The BIA is complicit in seating an illegal government. The People on this reservation are the most sophisticated of any tribe. We’ve used all legal methods available to us, courts, politics, even armed conflict – the Wounded Knee tribal office occupation in 1973 – every avenue available to human beings to no avail and yet we’re trying again.”
Paula Persechini-Petitti runs a medical relief group called The Black River Project.org. She has been working to provide medical supplies, doctors and assistance to third world countries: Ghana, Cambodia, Angola, Liberia, Jamaica, Romania, Cuba, The Dominican Republic and now Pine Ridge. She never thought she would have to work within the borders of her own country or see such need as in the Pine Ridge Reservation. She rattled off the statistics
“I was shocked:
• the Lakotah life expectancy rate is the lowest in the United States
• 53 for women and 47 for men,
• infant mortality is 300%,
• teen suicide 150% (both higher than the U.S national average),
• alcoholism affects 8 in 10 families,
• half the Reservation’s adults battle addiction and disease,
• Indian children are incarcerated 40% more than whites,
• 21% of state prisoners are Native, yet they make up 9% of the population.
And the illnesses:
• tuberculosis 800% higher than the national average,
• diabetes 800% higher,
• cervical cancer 500% higher.
The median income here is $3,100 per year. Most Indians live on federal reservations so less than 2% live where a state has jurisdiction?!? It’s a disgrace. Then we have these elections… we need to have UN observers come in to monitor this nightmare right inside the USA!”
Russell Means continues: “97% of Lakotah people live below the poverty line. Many families cannot afford heating oil, wood or propane and many residents use ovens to heat their homes so the elderly die from hypothermia. 1/3 of the homes lack basic clean water and sewage while 40% lack electricity and 60% have no telephone. We estimate an average of 17-people live in each family home (may only have two to three rooms). Some homes, built for 6 to 8 people, have up to 30 people. The unemployment rate on our reservations is 85% or higher and Government funding for job creation is lost through cronyism and corruption.”
The conversation moves to his unilateral withdrawal from treaties with the USA late last year. He is fond of using a quote from Gandhi:
First they ignore you.
Then they laugh at you.
Then they fight you.
Then you win.
Your public withdrawal from the treaties last year, what do you want people to walk away with from this discussion?
“We withdrew from the treaties to save our tribal culture. Our Lakotah language is an Endangered Language, on the verge of extinction because only 14% of the Lakotah population can speak it and is not being shared inter-generationally, today, the average Lakotah speaker is 65-years old.”
“Back in 1974 at the 1st International Treaty Conference at the Standing Rock Sioux Indian Reservation, John Mohawk, a Seneca Indian from New York said, ‘If you want to be sovereign you have to act sovereign’.”
“Today, the people of the USA, do not care about their rights, they are just lost in greed. They run roughshod, emptying out the land’s entire productive capacity using greed as a motivator and structure of the entire world.”
“If you don’t exercise your right it will be taken away. You want to be sovereign, you have to act sovereign.”
He’s desperate to keep the Lakotah culture alive. He wants to make sure the provisional government of the Republic of Lakota continues its re-building process and employs an ambitious strategy with four key areas: politics, education, health and economic freedom.
He wants to run candidates for president/tribal chairman on the freedom ticket so he can document how many people vote for freedom. He also wants a total immersion education system to assist self-determination. He will build clinics with doctors from around the world and wants to establish his own energy company. “Those who control the energy control the economics,” said Means “and we are after everything that’s currently free, northern plains sunshine and wind in North and South Dakota and Wyoming.” There is immense renewable power there and it’s all free.
If by some miracle he is elected tribal president, he wants to ensure that Pine Ridge is declared an International disaster area like governors and other leaders do. “We have 85% unemployment, our reservation stretches across 1,500 miles, look at the billions pumped into New Orleans and Houston?,” he’ll take a few of those dollars to build schools, hospitals and an infrastrucutre to support his people.
He would also no longer recognize the authority of the Bureau of Indian Affairs saying, “our school and water districts can run their own bond issues. I want a nation-to-nation relationship. We’d deal directly with Charlie Rangel and the White House or the United Nations.”
It seems very ambitious and this reporter is not laughing. So maybe Gandhi was wrong and this can all happen even quicker. One thing for certain, the Pine Ridge result will be loaded into my election night results tracker.
Denis Campbell is a US journalist based in the United Kingdom. He contributes to newspapers and magazines, is a BBC Radio election commentator and publishes the daily e-magazine The Vadimus Post from the Latin Quo Vadimus – where are we headed and do we know why?
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