There are those who choose to take jobs that almost immediately make them unpopular, at least unpopular to those factions that are always on the opposing side.
Theresa “Huck” Two Bulls chose to run for the presidency of the Oglala Sioux Tribe knowing full well that it would probably be the most difficult job she has ever undertaken. Politics on the Pine Ridge Reservation can be vicious. There are no opposing political parties because Democrats or Republicans do not figure into the political spectrum. The politicians are homegrown and they come with all of the passion and ferocity that was a part of their personal trials.
Two Bulls, like all of her predecessors, inherited a tribal government deep in debt. She inherited all of the problems that have plagued Pine Ridge for 100 years. All of the problems can be measured as extreme. There is perpetual poverty, crumbling schools; a law enforcement system short on manpower and funds. She inherited a dominion where gangs one would expect to find in Chicago are now growing their form of crime and violence on her turf.
She inherited a housing problem one can only describe as disastrous. Her housing director, Paul Iron Cloud, an honest and dedicated civil servant, has struggled, pleaded and begged the Housing and Urban Development Administration to step in and provide the financial assistance needed to construct new homes and repair those that are in such bad disrepair that they would be condemned as uninhabitable in any community outside of the reservation. You will find homes in horrible condition that are housing two and even three families. The shortage of homes is a disaster.
Two Bulls inherited an administration that faces an unemployment rate that hovers at nearly 80 percent. There are more than 20,000 residents of Pine Ridge and most of the available jobs are with the tribal government, the schools, or the Bureau of Indian Affairs. There are small businesses scattered throughout the reservations nine districts, but none that employ the reservation’s residents in large numbers. The 1980 U. S. Census named Shannon County, the heart of the Pine Ridge Reservation, as the single poorest county in America.
She inherited a health care system through the Indian Health Service that barely survives each year because of inadequate funding. Thus the rampant, epidemic diseases of diabetes and heart conditions that have helped to reduce the life expectancy on the reservation the lowest in America and the equivalent of the worst Third World countries. The death of newborns and the number of stillborns are so high that at one time in 2009 as many eight per month were reported. If this was happening in any other community in America there would be a horrendous outcry.
Two Bulls is the second woman to ever serve as President of the Oglala Sioux Tribe. Her predecessor, Cecilia Fire Thunder, was impeached because of her pro-stance on abortion .There are those who still believe that she was impeached because she was a woman. Four months into her administration Two Bulls faced rumors of impeachment that never materialized. It is still a factor that lurks in the shadows in her political life, but she is determined not to let it color her ability to make sound decisions for the people.
When an epidemic of teen-suicides erupted on the reservation, she declared a state of emergency to address and, hopefully, solve the recurring problem. When a severe blizzard struck last week Two Bulls set emergency measures in motion in order to get propane, wood and food, to the many residents stranded in their homes far out on the reservation.
When Native American veterans of the Korean War were honored recently in Rapid City, Theresa Two Bulls was the only tribal president to show up and to walk down the row of veterans shaking their hands and placing a kiss on the cheek of all 41 veterans being honored. Many of the veterans felt privileged that she would take the time out of her busy schedule to honor them.
Two Bulls still has a tall hill to climb. The myriad of problems on Pine Ridge would appear to be insurmountable, but she chose to run for the office of the president and she won. Having served as vice president a few years ago, she knew exactly what she was getting into and said after the election, “Every day I have people come to my office because my door is always open and they are the young and the elderly and many people in the middle, and the tell me over and over that they are praying for me and it scared me at first, but now I accept it and it really helps me.”
She has said she did not win this job in order to be in a popularity contest, but instead she took the job in order to; in the best of her ability, improve the lives of the people of the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation and therein lays her motivation. Anyone wishing to let Two Bulls know how they feel can reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org.
She deserves and needs the support of everyone.
(Tim Giago, an Oglala Lakota, is the publisher of Native Sun News. He was the founder and first president of the Native American Journalists Association, the 1985 recipient of the H. L. Mencken Award, and a Nieman Fellow at Harvard with the Class of 1991. Giago was inducted into the South Dakota Newspaper Hall of Fame in 2008. He can be reached at email@example.com)