FACT SHEET: THE PEACEFUL ELDER’S OCCUPATION AT THE PORCUPINE ELDERLY MEALS BUILDING, PINE RIDGE RESERVATION
Cante Tenza Okolakiciye - Strong Heart Warrior Society Free & Independent Lakota Nation Box 512, Hill City, South Dakota 57745 | 605-454-0449 or 605-517-1547 www.lakotaoyate.net
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FACT SHEET: THE PEACEFUL ELDER’S OCCUPATION AT THE PORCUPINE ELDERLY MEALS BUILDING, PINE RIDGE RESERVATION Updated:
April 4, 2011 What is the elder’s occupation of the Porcupine Elderly Meals Building?
On Friday March 4, 2011 a group of Lakota elders led by the Lakota Strong Heart Warrior Society and other warrior groups nonviolently took over and now occupy the Porcupine Elderly Meals Building in the Porcupine Community of Pine Ridge Reservation. Pine Ridge Reservation is the home of the Oglala Lakota Nation.
Why did the occupation start? The elder’s occupation is a nonviolent sit-in protest intervention against elder abuse, profiteering within the elderly meals program, and corruption. Elders and their advocates have tried multiple efforts to get action on their concerns from the Oglala Sioux Tribal Government, the treaty council, and others, but to no avail.
Leading up to the occupation, the elders requested, and had planned, no less than three separate meetings with tribal government officials. These officials cancelled or did not attend any of these meetings. As a result, the elders asked the Strong Heart Warrior Society to protect and defend their concerns by leading them into a peaceful protest sit-in of the elderly meals building.
The sit-in is also a religious assembly - a gathering of elders, warriors, and supporters with the sacred canupa - or pipe - to advance their prayers and calls for relief from abuse and corruption.
Is the occupation consistent with the history of non-violent protest and resistance? Yes, in the rich and respected tradition of non-violent protest, the elders and their advocates:Documented the elder’s claims, Appealed for negotiation to those in power to find a solution.Educated and appealed to the public on the issue including the Lakota people via attempted hearings with tribal government representatives and Porcupine district officials; “Indian Country” via news releases and media interviews; State of South Dakota and the U.S. Government via appropriate agencies; and through news releases and social networking.Publicly described their intention to engage in protest action.Undertook the non-violent protest action - take-over and sit-in occupation of the elderly meals building.
Is this an armed occupation with guns? No. This protest sit-in is a peaceful religious assembly led by the sacred canupa (pipe) with prayers for relief and resolution of the elder's concerns. Guns are not allowed. In fact, OST police are asked to leave their guns behind before entering the Porcupine building out of respect for the canupa and the nature of this protest sit-in.
What are the allegations? More than 25 different allegations of abuse, civil rights, or human rights violations have been recorded. Allegations include, but are not limited to, physical assault, verbal abuse and bullying, neglect, inedible/unhealthy meals, profiteering in the elderly meals program, personal use of center resources, illegal alcohol and drug activity at the center, retaliation, threats, false arrest and imprisonment, and human rights violations centered on the prevention of Native elders to safely gather, eat, socialize, communicate and protest using traditional forms of customary law/leadership, language and culture.
What are the Elder Occupation’s demands? The demands are currently:No negotiation with tribal government representatives without Duane Martin Sr. present. Release Duane Martin Sr.. Drop all charges.Remove all current staff involved in the complaints, including the head cook.Construction of a new sanitary building for the elders in Porcupine, and other districts as needed.Restoration of hot well-balanced, nutritious meals for all elders.Expansion of elderly meals delivery to those homebound by illness, location, or lack of transportation.A full and transparent investigation into the abuses and corruption in the meals program no matter where it leads, and accountability for those responsible.
Has the Oglala Tribal Government offered to meet any of the demands? The Oglala Sioux Tribal Government (OST) has made no serious attempts to meet the elder’s demands. With ongoing threats of legal action, forced removal by police, and continued false detention of Duane Martin Sr., it seems clear the tribal government’s intention is more about removing the occupation, rather than finding resolution for the elder’s demands. With clear attempts by the OST to minimize outside investigations and fact-finding into the corruption and profiteering in the elderly meals program, tribal judiciary and other governmental programs - an honest and fair addressing of the elder's concerns by the Oglala Tribal Government officials seems unlikely. The tribal government’s retaliatory action against the protest occupation has also created a threatening environment for negotiations. On March 14th, warrior leader Duane Martin Sr. was detained, arrested, and denied bail on a series of politically motivated charges led by accusations from relatives of program staff and tribal officials who are likely implicated in profiteering from the elderly meals program. Also, elder Lorraine White Face who has faced previous retaliatory legal action from the tribe for her elder advocacy, has been threatened with arrest if she steps outside of the occupation boundary.
In the spirit of cooperation, on Friday March 11th, the elders agreed to a “peacemaking process” with the current center staff. Those staff have not shown up for any scheduled meetings (to date). Even if this peacemaking process is successful, it does not resolve many of the outstanding complaints, the systematic denial of elder’ claims by tribal government, nor retaliatory action taken against the elders and warrior society members. During the last week of March, OST officials met in consultation with representatives of the U.S. Health and Human Services. News reporters were removed from the meeting, and no representatives of the Elder's Occupation were invited to attend. OST officials maintain all the abuse allegations, a (to date) month long sit-in, and exhaustive efforts for justice are simply caused by "personal issues" between elders and former center staff. The elders have stated they will not negotiate further with tribal government until Duane Martin Sr. is released from his false imprisonment.
How can the occupation end? The occupation will end when the elder’s decide their demands have been met to their satisfaction, or the Oglala Tribal Government initiates police action to remove the elders, warriors and others in the building.
Has there been contact or response from other governmental agencies? Yes. On March 8, 2011, a letter from the Department of Health and Human Services Administration on Aging was sent to Oglala Tribal President John Steele asking for the tribe to conduct a fact-finding review on the elder’s claims, and submit a proposed action plan for their resolution to their office by April 7, 2011. In addition, the Civil Rights Division of Health and Human Services is awaiting the official complaint by the elder’s that will facilitate an investigation into Americans With Disabilities Act violations. An online petition has been created at http://www.change.org/petitions/stop-elder-abuse-on-pine-ridge-reservation
which is directed towards Oglala Tribal President John Steele; staff at the Department of Health and Human Services Administration on Aging; Leslie Hagan in the Executive Office of the United States Attorney’s Office, Department of Justice; and Navi Pillay, United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights. On March 15th, health inspectors for the Indian Health Services did an inspection of the Porcupine Elderly Meals Building and found a large cache of outdated, spoiled, rotten, and uncared for food. They have deemed it a health hazard and say it must be immediately destroyed. This finding substantiates the elder’s claim they were served unhealthy, spoiled, and inedible food – including to elders with health issues. The Indian Health Service has reportedly expanded their investigation to other elderly meals buildings based on complaints arising from whistle-blowers coming forth as a result of the occupation. The United States Attorney’s Office of the Department of Justice (DOJ) has been notified and an appeal has been made to intervene to free Duane Martin Sr. from these false charges. In the 2009/2010 year alone, Pine Ridge was the recipient of over 1.6 million dollars from the DOJ for law enforcement activities.
Are other groups involved in the support of the elders? Yes. Several traditional headsman (chiefs) from Oglala and surrounding nations have voiced their support for the occupation and the release of Duane Martin Sr.. A large grassroots solidarity network is in place to support the needs of the elders in this occupation. Members of various Native advocacy groups as well as human rights organizations are either involved, or requesting more information. Warrior society members are actively pursuing additional support as well as independent and transparent investigations into the elder abuse, civil rights, and human rights claims. On March 31, 2011 members of the Longest Walk prayer-run across Turtle Island visited and stayed with the elders in the protest occupation in a sign of solidarity.
Are the elders being controlled by other people inside or outside the occupation? No. The elders are leading solidarity action by telling their warrior society defenders, as well as outside supporters, what they need. I have heard this is just about an interpersonal conflict? While there have been interpersonal conflicts within the elderly meals building, the allegations of abuse are far ranging, and have been reported by at least 23 different individuals. As the occupation goes on, additional complaints and evidence of wrongdoing are emerging. Also, the retaliatory action taken against the occupation and its supporters by OST officials goes far beyond any interpersonal problem and are symptomatic of unhealthy government systems and programs that are resistant to accountability and change.
Have these elders faced other hardships or abuses? Unfortunately, many of these same elders have faced disrespect and abuse at the hands of tribal government before. They have experienced arrest, threats of arrest, verbal and physical bullying, neglect, and denial of tribal services such as heating fuel assistance and housing. Grandmother Valeria Apple, who uncovered evidence of fiscal corruption in the elderly meals program, has also faced previous legal retaliation in the form of a restraining order from the tribal government. The occupation is the latest skirmish in an ongoing struggle caused by U.S. colonial enforcement that has pitted groups of Lakota who have corruptly profiteered off the Bureau of Indian Affairs and Indian Reorganization Act tribal government system versus traditional, full-blood, and poor Lakota people, many of whom are fighting to maintain Lakota language and culture in the face of ongoing genocide. The 2011 Elder’s Occupation is in the tradition of the 1973 Occupation of Wounded Knee as well as the 2000 and 2009 takeovers of the Red Cloud Building by many of these same elders and activists seeking justice. Many of these elders have also supported the Strong Heart Warrior Society blockade of the illegal alcohol sales in White Clay, Nebraska.
How can I get further information? The Occupation is being tracked live at the “Lakota Oyate” page on Facebook. See our Notes section for numerous action alerts and other information and the photo section for a selection of photos from the occupation. Interviews with elders, warriors, can be found at http://audioboo.fm/CanteTenza
. @cantetenza on Twitter. www.lakotaoyate.net
By: Lakota Oyate