The Plains Histories series from the Texas Tech University Press publishes histories about areas and peoples of the Great Plains. New addition Ruling Pine Ridge is an interesting study of the government of the Oglala Lakota on the Pine Ridge Reservation in South Dakota. While some of the story is a little boring (which is predictable for a study of a government), the reader will be pleasantly surprised to find that most of the story is quite intriguing.
Akim Reinhardt’s research of the Oglala Lakota tribal government covers the years from 1920s through the 1970s. Reinhardt also updates the history with modern-day events. The author’s purpose in this research is to show how the federal government talked about giving Indians or Native Americans control of their tribal or national governments but unfortunately did more talking than acting. The feds set up one form of government for all the tribes or nations without regard to existing forms of tribal governments even thouth the traditional tribal governments varied from tribe to tribe. Reinhardt’s work shows that the federal government was - and in some cases is still - very paternalistic toward the tribes. The plan was to give the tribes more sovereignty over their own tribal members’ lives, but in actuality they were not sovereign as they were told, and most Indians knew it. Indians would circumvent their tribal councils and appeal to a Bureau of Indian Affairs (BIA) official who could do more for them than the council could. Many times the superintendent would overrule or veto actions of a council, as could other upper BIA officials. Reinhardt suggests that this is still the case for many tribes.
The tribal government of the Oglala Lakota changed over time from the first days they arrived on the reservation at Pine Ridge. Originally the reservation covered more land than it does today; the government forced the tribal members to take allotments, and the remaining land was sold to settlers, a situation too common for many tribes. The tribe’s governance over time changed with certain presidents, like Roosevelt, Truman, Eisenhower, and Nixon.
Reinhardt’s history of the Oglala Lakota tribal council depicts how some of the chairmen or presidents were corrupt. The worst case was that of Chairman Richard Wilson, who was chairman from 1972 to 1978. During his term, the American Indian Movement (or AIM) was starting its activism in the country and on Pine Ridge. Many Indians opposed his corrupt rule, which was dictatorial and autocratic. He had the support of the reservation’s superintendent, though, who followed the idea to allow the tribal council to have more power, and he did not interfere with Wilson’s rule. Wilson’s opponents called in AIM to help them to oppose Wilson and his GOON squad of police. An attempt to impeach him was made in 1973, but he was able to trick his way out of that. That is when AIM members and others took over Wounded Knee and held off the federal government. One would think that Wilson would have been eventually removed by the federal government or someone, but he was able to hold on to power until 1978. This is the most intriguing part of the book.
Reinhardt includes some pictures and maps, along with a bibliography, index and endnotes. There is also a list of the tribal chairpersons and listings of other council members for 1936 through 1972. This book is a re-working of Reinhardt’s dissertation and is highly recommended to those interested in tribal governments, the history of the Oglala Lakota, and Native American history.