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TIM GIAGO Indian tribes laying claim to closed bases



Published: Thu, June 9, 2005 @ 12:00 a.m.



I wonder if the good citizens of Clovis, N.M., and Rapid City, S.D., would like a little cheese with their whine?

I haven't heard such whining since Russell Means lost the election for president of the Oglala Sioux Tribe last year to a woman, Cecilia Fire Thunder. In fact, he's still whining.

Since the Base Realignment and Closure Commission announced it would close the Air Force bases at Clovis and Rapid City, the people of both cities have been whining with increasing volume. It's all right for the federal government to cut the budget as long as it is not in their back yard, they are screaming. I suppose financial responsibility is a good thing as long as it is not your ox that is getting gored.

Ironically, South Dakota and New Mexico went red in this last election. Of course, South Dakota has nearly always been red, but New Mexico is a late comer to magenta. The general feeling was that since they supported the Republican majority their little bases would be untouchable. Wrong!

John Thune, R-S.D., made it one of the cornerstones of his campaign against the incumbent, Tom Daschle, that with his clout with President Bush and the Republican Congress, he would be the best bet to keep Ellsworth AFB off of the closure list. Wrong again.

South Dakota's Republican governor, Mike Rounds, has added his whine to the songfest, as has New Mexico's Democratic governor, Bill Richardson. In fact on May 21 the entire New Mexico congressional delegation and the governor converged upon Clovis to assure its citizens that they would go down with the ship before allowing the base there to be closed.

And would you believe that the congressional delegations from both states are trying to introduce legislation to stall the closing or to prevent it entirely? They are not alone. States from Maine to California have joined the chorus of whiners.

Anti-Daschle campaign

Rapid City is in Pennington County, and it was this county that led the charge against Tom Daschle. Ironically, the Air Force base is also located in Pennington County. Now which county in South Dakota will lose the most when the base closes? You guessed it, Pennington County.

In New Mexico I suppose the city commissioners of Clovis can vote to have Jemez Pueblo officials open their off-reservation casino there because it is running into all sorts of obstacles trying to open it in Anthony. Indian tribes have a legitimate right to lay claim to federal installations when they are closed. Think about it, citizens of Clovis. The base could turn into a real moneymaker and job provider.

Several tribal leaders in South Dakota are preparing a proposal to submit to the federal government that would lay claim to Ellsworth AFB after it closes. Art Zimiga, an Oglala Lakota, and several other prominent Indian businessmen and women are putting together a package to give to Oglala Sioux Tribal Atty. Mario Gonzalez, who is working on a plan for the Oglala Sioux Tribe, to claim Ellsworth.

It's going to be a very interesting time watching the maneuvering, the elbowing and the hand wringing that everyone involved brings to the table. And the winner is? We won't know until we see what clout Thune and Sen. Pete Dominici, R-N.M., bring to the fight.

The way it was supposed to be set up is that the decision made by BRAC would not and could not be challenged by the self-serving politicians. But, politicians, being the way they are, can get around just about anything, except themselves at times. After all, when the last round of base closings took place a few years ago, Daschle kept Ellsworth AFB off the list. He definitely had the ear of the people that counted. Now that he is out to pasture, he can only watch in sorrow and helplessness.

Impeachment

In the meantime, while this Keystone Kops scenario is played out, the newly elected president of the Oglala Sioux Tribe, Cecilia Fire Thunder, finds herself at odds with some members of the tribal council and some members of the community. They are talking about impeachment. It should be noted here that most of the disaffected are the same people who ran up the debt that Cecilia is now accused of mismanaging.

Fire Thunder is also accused of disrespect to some elders. Heck, I'm an elder and like the late Rodney Dangerfield, I too "get no respect." It comes with the territory, but we should not make it grounds for impeaching the president. There are some elders who deserve no respect and many who are respected do support Cecelia. After all, she's only been in office six months. Give the poor lady a break.

There are times we elders should leave the decision making in the hands of the people we elected.

Anyhow, if Cecilia "Watch that Temper" Fire Thunder is going to have a say in what happens to Ellsworth AFB, it is best that she be allowed to get on with her job. I have often written that we (Oglala) are often our own worst enemy. I suppose the same can be said of many Indian tribes at this stage in our history.

In the case of BRAC and Cecilia, I hope people just stop whining and let the federal and tribal governments get on with their jobs. By the way, a little commodity cheese goes real good with any whine.

X Tim Giago, an Oglala Lakota, is president of the Native American Journalists Foundation Inc. Distributed by Knight Ridder/Tribune Information Services




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