Last Week’s Lessons for Today

Last week the CAIRNS director was interviewed in three ways on three days. Monday was a Zoom webinar, an interview and presentation method that was essentially unknown as recently as eight months ago. It was hosted by Arts South Dakota (ASD), a nonprofit arts advocacy organization. The topic was a short film by Dalton Coffey about the educational art exhibit that CAIRNS developed around the 1890 Wounded Knee Massacre. 

The exhibit, Takuwe, opened in 2018 and closed last month.  Mr. Coffey’s film is also titled Takuwe. Sponsored by Arts South Dakota and the South Dakota Arts Council, it was officially released on Native Americans’ Day last week and is available on the ASD website and YouTube channel. 

The Zoom webinar, A Look Into the Making of Takuwe, was hosted by Andrew Reinartz, Community Development Director for ASD, and Jim Speirs, ASD’s Executive Director. The other participants were the filmmaker Dalton Coffey and the CAIRNS director. This webinar was also released on Native Americans’ Day and is available on ASD’s YouTube channel. 

The wide-ranging discussion among the four participants touched on many topics. One lesson for us today is to think critically about everything we do. Thinking critically means to interrogate things, examine them closely and from various viewpoints, and then weigh their validity or truthfulness against available evidence, like a jury does in a trial. In so doing, we are less likely to fall for fake news.  

For instance, one aspect of the mainstream narrative about the Wounded Knee Massacre is that it was a bitter cold snowy day. The facts are that on December 29, 1890, the high temperature was 66 degrees, it was mostly sunny, and there was no snow. 

On Wednesday of last week, the CAIRNS director traveled to The Heritage Center (THC) where the Articles of a Treaty exhibit about the 1868 Fort Laramie Treaty is on display. Ashely Pourier, THC Curator, invited the CAIRNS director to the gallery so she could videotape him talking about the exhibit artworks. After editing the recording and adding related content, she will share it online, since THC is closed to the public due to the pandemic. 

The treaty remains today the “supreme law of the land,” according to Article 6, Paragraph 2 of the U.S. Constitution, and like the Constitution, its 17 articles are still open to legal interpretation. A lesson for today can be gleaned from Article 11. Buried in the text is this: “They [the tribes whose representatives signed the treaty] withdraw all pretence of opposition to the construction of the railroad now being built along the Platte River and westward to the Pacific Ocean, and they will not in future object to the construction of railroads, wagon-roads, mail-stations, or other works of utility or necessity, which may be ordered or permitted by the laws of the United States. But should such roads or other works be constructed on the lands of their reservation, the Government will pay the tribe whatever amount of damage may be assessed by three disinterested commissioners to be appointed by the President for that purpose, one of said commissioners to be a chief or head-man of the tribe.

Setting aside the potential financial windfall Lakota tribes could gain from reimbursements for all the “works of utility or necessity” that have been built in their reservations since 1868, the lesson for today in this article is that issues impacting tribes and their lands should have citizens of the tribe in decision-making roles regarding those issues—and not as mere tokens but rather as equitable representatives. The treaty implemented this imperative in 1868. When will local governments and our state do the same?

Last week’s interviews wrapped up for the CAIRNS director with a recorded phone call that will be Episode 2 of “Fireside Chat with JR,” a new podcast for Avera Health employees that is hosted by JR LaPlante, Avera’s Director of Tribal and Governmental Relations. The topic of the interview was the tribes and reservations in South Dakota today. Again, the discussion was wide-ranging, but the bases of it were the names of the tribes and reservations. This is the lesson for today: learn the basics. A good place to start are the names of the tribes and reservations in our state. There are nine of each. Learn them. It is the least we can do to demonstrate that we have educated ourselves, instead of merely uttering some words of support or giving a financial donation.

It was a thought-provoking week. We hope you have opportunities to apply last week’s lessons for today in your life this week.  

(This article is also published in Lakota Times.)