Unable to eke out a living from the land, many of them joined Buffalo Bill's Wild West show to earn a few dollars. As they traveled the world with the Wild West show, they would dress in their tribal regalia and ride into huge arenas in front of thousands of screaming spectators. They were stars for a year or two, and then returned to the reservation and back to the life of poverty to be forgotten by Bill Cody and the rest of society. That was the late 1800's and early 1900s. Last week, I overheard a tribal member talking about a flag-raising ceremony where Native Americans were marched into a huge arena and put in front of thousands of screaming spectators, and some gave speeches on how much they loved being called the Fighting Sioux. Imagine my surprise when I realized he was not talking about Buffalo Bill's Wild West Show, but an event held at the Engelstad Arena just recently. This led me to ask myself, "What century is this anyway?"
Because of treaties signed with the US government, our ancestors gave up millions of acres to live in extreme poverty on reservations consisting of a fraction of the land they gave up. Still, the thousands of immigrants who settled on what was recently tribal land wanted more. They lobbied Congress to pass the 1887 Dawes Act, and our ancestors lost more of what little land they had left.
Within the past decade, all the tribes of the Great Sioux Nation (with the exception of Spirit Lake) passed resolutions against the use of the Fighting Sioux logo by the Ralph Engelstad Arena. Now the North Dakota Board of Higher Education (NDBHE) is going to appoint a committee to meet with the tribal governments. The message is this, "just wait until our governor, the attorney general, and North Dakota's Congressional delegation march onto their reservations. We'll take what we want regardless of what you Indians do!" What century is this?
Our ancestors did not forget their "old ways". Time and time again, they were warned against practicing their customs. In spite of the warnings, our ancestors did not give up, and some of them were massacred in 1890 at Wounded Knee as a result. What will happen if Spirit Lake and Standing Rock do not kowtow to the might of North Dakota? Will the governor send in the National Guard? Probably not. More likely, the Governor will hold the gambling compacts over our heads, or funding for our roads. The attorney general might vigorously pursue legal cases that will weaken our tribal sovereignty. All the progress we fought so hard for to make us self-sufficient is in jeopardy because the Ralph Engelstad people want to keep an out-dated logo. What century is this anyway?
The NDBHE started this whole moral morass for the state by caving in to Ralph Engelstad's unreasonable demands. Now they hope the state's highest official will step in and use might, as oppose to right, and rescue them from their untenable position. Their one-sided plan reflects the arrogance of the pro logo supporters on the board. The plan states, "A quick decision should not be reached even if the first couple of meetings do not yield a positive reaction." Quick decision? How long has this controversy been going on? How many times have the tribes already told them no? In addition, suggested delegates include the governor, the attorney general, and North Dakota's Congressional delegation. There! That should take care of those pesky Indians!
In closing, the NDBHE has the opportunity to demonstrate real ethical and courageous leadership. Just as history will judge poorly the original board members who caved in to Ralph Engelstad's demand, history will judge the current board members highly if they step up and do what is right - give up something that is not theirs to own.