PINE RIDGE Indian Reservation Cecelia Fire Thunder

Fire Thunder Moves Forward
by: David Melmer / Indian Country Today

PINE RIDGE, S.D. - Cecelia Fire Thunder, first woman ever elected to lead the Oglala Sioux Tribe continued to focus on the transition of government in the face of a challenge to her election.

Russell Means, who ran against Fire Thunder for president, and a group of his supporters filed a challenge with the Oglala Sioux Tribal Elections Board that asked for a ruling on Fire Thunder's residence.

The president elect lives in Bennett County in the town of Martin. The county and town are considered part of the LaCreek District of the Pine Ridge Reservation, but are not located within the exterior boundaries of the reservation.

LaCreek is one of the nine districts on the Pine Ridge Reservation and it seats two council members. The district takes up a large portion of Bennett County and the town of Martin. Her detractors argued that she lives on deeded land and pays taxes to the county for the land, which, they said, does not constitute reservation land.

Fire Thunder said the election board ruled that the challenge was frivolous and she was certified as the new president. She will be inaugurated on Dec. 11.

An unconfirmed rumor circulated around the reservation that Means had also filed a lawsuit in tribal court. The court could not confirm any such filing.

When asked about the lawsuit, Fire Thunder was aware of it, or the rumor.

''I haven't paid attention to what is going on. I trust the process, they [election board] had the rules and they knew what they were doing, and I trust the process.''

Means was contacted, but did not respond to phone messages. The election board also did not respond.

A Means' supporter, Bruce Whalen, told Indian Country Today that if Fire Thunder was accepted as president he would make noise about allowing people who live off the reservation to vote and run for offices.

The election ordinance requires a candidate to reside on reservation territory and be an enrolled member.

Bennett County was formed in 1911; the result of the allotment act, but the Oglala Sioux Tribe never recognized that the land was ever removed from the original reservation boundaries. The Oglala Sioux Tribe continues to abide by the treaty boundaries set by the 1851 and 1868 treaties.

Fire Thunder said she was progressing as if nothing had happened. She said she has met frequently with outgoing Pres. John Steele for a clean transition and to learn about some of the projects that are in the works. She has also met with most of the program directors and newly elected council members. The council will take over on Dec. 7.

''Today I was sitting with Mr. Steele. Never here has been a transition as is taking place now. I respect him and what he has done, he has done a lot for our people and I will call upon him about projects that he has started,'' she said.

''Quality of leadership is respect and integrity,'' Fire Thunder said.

''I'm hoping we will set a new trend on how we run for office on this reservation and be respectful of each other. I ran before and lost, but I had never been angry. I just say, maybe it's not time.

''I learned a lot about my own people and what I learned was totally different from what I thought I knew. Everything in our life we learn and use to our benefit.

''In retrospect I never publicly bashed [Russell Means] and never will. It's not the Lakota way,'' Fire Thunder said.

She said plans were under way for her inauguration, which is expected to be a large gathering of tribal leaders from around the country. Fire Thunder said Wilma Mankiller, former principle chief of the Cherokee Nation will be in attendance and will speak.

Mankiller was the first woman in modern history to be elected to lead a major tribe. The Cherokee Nation is second in size only to the Navajo Nation.

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