Defend Oglala Sioux President Cecilia Fire Thunder

After taking a courageous stance against the ban on abortion in South Dakota, Cecilia Fire Thunder, first female president of the Oglala Sioux tribe, has been attacked by members of the Tribal Council, who are attempting to remove her from office.

Background:
After abortion was banned in South Dakota, Fire Thunder, a healthcare provider, announced that she would personally help set-up Sacred Choices Women's Clinic on her own land, within the boundaries of the Pine Ridge Reservation where the State of South Dakota has no jurisdiction. The clinic would provide reproductive health care to all women. In an interview she said, "Ultimately, this is a much bigger issue than just abortion. It's time for women to reclaim their bodies." and "As Indian women, we fight many battles. This is just another battle we have to fight."

The Complaint:
On May 30 the Oglala Sioux Tribal Council banned abortions on Pine Ridge Indian Reservation and suspended President Fire Thunder for 20 days until an impeachment hearing can take place. The complaint is that Fire Thunder improperly used her title to solicit donations for the clinic. Fire Thunder has said that donations for the proposed private clinic have been unsolicited, though she has welcomed nationwide support. The surprise vote was called when Fire Thunder was out of town getting an annual checkup of the cochlear implants that restored her hearing. Read more at http://indianz.com/News/2006/014231.asp

Fire Thunder said the people who brought this complaint are the same people who have opposed her since she was elected in November 2004. Fire Thunder ran on a platform of fiscal accountability, the Oglala Sioux Tribe was in financial trouble and listed as a financial high risk. Since Fire Thunder became president there have been audits that go back into 1997 And she took tribal employees off the roles for jobs that had been defunded by the federal government. (see analysis by Elizabeth Castle at the end of this message.). For her brave stance, Fire Thunder has been suspended and cleared before, see http://indianz.com/News/2005/010954.asp

Support Fire Thunder:
President Fire Thunder's supporters are organizing on the reservation. They would like letters, especially from indigenous people, to the tribal council in support of President Fire Thunder and opposing the tribe's ban on abortions. Message should reach the council before Monday, June 19.

Oglala Sioux Tribal Council
PO Box 2070
Pine Ridge, SD 57770-2070
fax: 605-867-1449
phone 605-867-5821

and send a copy to
President Cecelia Fire Thunder
PO Box 2070
Pine Ridge, SD 57770-2070

If you have any questions about this issue, please contact National Radical Women at 415-864-1278 or natradicalwomen@aol.com. Thank you for your support!

In solidarity,
Anne Slater
National Radical Women Organizer

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Below is an excerpt from an email from Elizabeth Castle, UC Berkeley History Professor and personal historian to Madonna Thunder Hawk.

...there are many complicated political factors behind this action. This is the third time it has happened and the danger is that this time the Tribal Council is using the abortion issues as leverage.

When she was elected she cleaned up house. This meant taking tribal employees off the roles for jobs that had been defunded by the federal government. In addition to federal cuts, often the grants were lost for these tribal programs because the employees had not taken the necessary action to see their reports were in and the grants were properly renewed. Fire Thunder notified these individuals that they were welcome back if they were able to get the program funded again.

The ending of this "gravy train," created significant enemies. These actions must be understood in the ever relevant context of the continuing effects of colonization. They are very real as in the welfare mentality that reigns on the reservation makes progressive change difficult. The federal government not only knows this but encourages it as it makes the pathway to terminating treaty obligations to tribes.

Though the full details are as of yet unknown, it is easy to see that the Fire Thunder's bold leadership makes her vulnerable not only to those right wing individuals off the reservation in the racist state of South Dakota but even more so at home in Pine Ridge. With generations of boarding school christianity drummed into the minds of many Native people, there is little awareness of the Lakota's traditional practices of reproductive control.

It would be easy to see "Abortion is not traditional" signs popping up as a very patriarchal and inaccurate reinvigoration of traditional practice. Also, in a community where illegal sterilization was commonly practiced, the link to organizing behind the right to abortion will not be as easily made.

Please take a look at the links below to see how often Fire Thunder has been attacked. It is dead clear that she needs serious support. Website: http://indianz.com/News/2005/010954.asp