Lower Brule Elections Redux: Governance and KXL

Tomorrow are tribal elections in Lower Brule, the Kul Wicasa Oyate. Below is a list of my blog posts about the Lower Brule elections, tribal governance, and the Keystone XL pipeline. There is a lot at stake for the Kul Wicasa Oyate, the Oceti Sakowin, our sacred Treaty Territory, our Mni Wiconi, and Unci Maka. This is an important time in our history, perhaps more so than any other. I have a lot of faith in our young leaders, but they will be taking over a system broken by four decades of no accountability and complete lack of transparency to the Oyate, the People.

Please take the time to read over the issues facing our Nation:

Audit Reveals Lower Brule’s Budget has Major “Material Weaknesses”

Michael B. Jandreau, You Don’t Serve the People

Kul Wicasa Elections: A lot at Stake

Declaring War on KXL: Indigenous Peoples Mobilize

Open Letter to the Lower Brule Sioux Tribal Council on KXL and TransCanada

The Keystone XL Pipeline: Coming to Terms and Demanding the Impossible

Hecetu Welo!

Kul Wicasa Elections: A lot at Stake


It’s election season and the Kul Wicasa should be primed for change. Take into consideration the perspectives of an Ikce Wicasa, a common man, and fellow relative of Kul Wicasa Oyate.

This year, the small Nation of the Kul Wicasa Oyate, the Lower Brule Sioux Tribe, drew national media attention when its elected council leadership passed a resolution in support of a partnership with TransCanada, the multinational firm slotted to build the Keystone XL pipeline. Unfortunately, many tribal members, myself included, had no proof the resolution existed—only rumors on social media and conversations with relatives. Fortunately, a brave soul, presumably “on the inside,” posted the document on Facebook and put the rumors to rest.

The resolution to “authorize Chairman Jandreau to sign [a] letter to President Obama and Secretary Kerry stating Lower Brule Sioux Tribe’s prospective benefits and working relationships with Transcanada [sic]” was dated November 12, 2013. It was only in March of 2014 that the actual resolution surfaced, much to the chagrin of the Oyate.

Meanwhile, the Oglala Sioux Tribe and the Sicangu Oyate, our relatives, ardently opposed the pipeline, even going as far as to publicly declare war on KXL and TransCanada if the project moved forward. Many of our relatives traveled to Washington, D.C.—among other places—to denounce TransCanada, the cataclysmic tarsands extraction in the territories of relatives to the North, and hopefully quash, once and for all, any prospects of KXL.

Many great speeches were given in support of the Kul Wicasa’s opposition to its own government. After all, we posses the only tribal land KXL infrastructure, a power substation and a 71-mile transmission line, would transgress. And our Council seemingly signed away our rights without our knowledge and without our consent.

But this about more than just a pipeline.

It always has been since the first mass community meeting in March. It has been before TransCanada came knocking on our doors, checkbook and contract in hand.

The grandiose speeches and romantic images of Indians uniting with larger environmental movements has largely faded from national attention. It seems we fulfilled our function in one moment in time, to a system that allowed the idea of KXL to be entertained and continues to allow the devastating extraction of Alberta tarsands.

But our problems persist.

Our problems lie within our government system. They always have. Transparency and accountability—as should be abundantly clear by now—simply do not exist. We have no checks and balances, let alone the decent moral character of councilmen to not act against the best interests of the people or the Oceti Sakowin.

Much has changed since the Kul Wicasa Oyate first adopted the IRA government in 1935.

It should be noted, too, that we have lost a lot. We went from an undefined territory, where we were free to roam and live as we chose among the Oceti Sakowin and other Indigenous Nations; to 25 million acres of the 1868 Ft. Laramie Treaty territory; to 446,500 acres of original 1889 Lower Brule reservation land (also known as the Whetstone Agency); to 232,725 acres after the 1887 Dawes Allotment Act; to 122,000 after the Dawes Act formerly ended in 1934; to our current 95,030 acres after the inundation of our lands from the Fort Randall and Big Bend Dams.

To put these numbers in perspective, media mogul Ted Turner owns over a 138,000 acres alone in South Dakota and has wealth that far exceeds all wealth generated from the tribe and its population. Not to mention, state and corporate interests have been successful at swindling away any hope for meaningful existence in our own homelands!

Instead of being appalled at such a drastic reduction and loss of land, the current leadership appears to be ready to cash a check and sign away more land and rights away from our Oyate.

Once we had district voting. Once we had off-reservation voting and an off-reservation representative to account for the population displaced by the massive flooding. Once we had monthly newsletters and town hall meetings to discuss current government proceedings and decisions. These happened on- and off-reservation. We even once had the first woman tribal council representative of all IRA governments back in 1935. Where is that leadership now?

Many of these changes to our constitution and leadership took place in the 1980s when district voting—largely based on clan and family—went to the wayside in favor of council open elections and the voting restrictions to only on-reservation members was enforced. It begs the question, does this adequately reflect the concerns of our current population? About 1,400 members live on-reservation with about 2,100 living off-reservation.

Those living off-reservation, myself included, are denied the right to vote in general elections. Is this democracy when most of our membership lives off-reservation, but are still denied full rights as voting members? Who’s laws does the current Council represent?

Are we less Kul Wicasa? Are we less relatives when we’re denied the vote and representation in a government that counts us but denies our human and sovereign right to vote?

I care deeply about my Nation, the Kul Wicasa Oyate. I am Kul Wicasa. I am Hihansu Wakpa Oyate. Let me show it by allowing me to vote in how our future is determined. I represent 2,100 votes that could make a difference.

Nonetheless, the longest serving tribal chairman, and his cronies, have got to got to go. Make room for the young, those that walk in power in the spirit of ancestors and the generations to come.

Lewis Grassrope promises this. Let’s follow his lead, as Chairman, and speak truth to power. Let’s hold our flag high. Let’s hold our heads high once again and live up to our birthright as sovereign, proud people of this land. Our history and futures depend on it.

Those that are on the ballot that acknowledge this prayer, this wocekiye, know. Kevin Wright for Vice Chairman, Loretta Grassrope for Secretary Treasurer, Robbie Her Many Horses for Council, Desiree LaRoche for Council, and Sonnie Zeigler for Council have the Kul Wicasa Oyate’s best interest in mind. Show them support. If I could, I would.

Hecetu Welo!

Nick Estes (Tatanka Oohitika)

Big Bend


the cool water laps the grey rumbling concrete
buzzing turbines churning life blood into power

this damn dam

past stories now submerged by the cruel machine
overwhelmed fallen trees emerge from this river
pantomiming the living as their lifeless limbs reach for the sky
defiantily proclaiming, “we are still here, you damn machine.”

the spoiling machine hears not the protest of the trees
its metal veins pump, churning out its vital pulses
ruining the ichor of the other, the river and its relatives

like this machine they call the Big Bend Dam this river too has a name
an ancient name forsaken, merely a rumor for some
her antediluvian epithet
the old ones still call to her softly

“Mni Sose,” they whisper
“we know you. we remember.”

Mni Sose

sometimes she answers
her tear ducts swell at her shores
she faces her ruiner
her machine
her immortal appendage

interrupted flows, she continues
a disrupting, calming current