Rapid City Community Conversations
Innovation Teams Mark Second Summit

~Mary Burrows

Note: Author was unable to attend the Friday

evening Roundtable discussions, so coverage

is for Saturday’s session.

This event took place on April 28th and 29th, 2017,

in Rapid City, South Dakota.

Following the opening song and prayer by Tyrell Selway, LeMoine LaPointe introduced featured speaker and respected elder Victor Douville, professor of Lakota Studies and Cultural Coordinator at Sinte Gleska University, Mission, South Dakota.

What ensued was a semester’s worth of education about the history of the Great Sioux Peoples, starting with their beginnings as sedentary clans in the Carolinas and their transformation into westward moving semi-nomadic tribes beginning in the 1500s.

Knowledge about the evolution of governance, starting with the clan system; which encompassed blood members, uni-lineal descendancy, and uni-local residency; was shared. Clans were of the woodland culture and traced their lineage to a mythological ancestor. Oceti Sakowin (Oh-che-ti Sa-ko-ween) includes Lakota, Dakota, and Nakota people, a matrifocal, blood-related group that traced itself to the Pte Oyate (Bison family). The concept of “chief” was created in the matrilineal societies, according to Douville, to deal with “Wasicu,” basically the white man. Initially, leadership was hereditary that later evolved into political, because  as tribes grew, hereditary leaders were unable to meet the needs of the people. The young were eager for change and challenged the elders.

Douville went on to instruct about family and clan

protocols, the qualities required of leaders, and

the symbols of leadership that included the pipe,

the lance, the feather bonnet, and the shirt—all

symbolic in design. He explained that tribal

governance sought to create a state of harmony

between good and evil, with the purpose of keeping

evil to a minimum. The fundamentals of tribal law

were based upon the balance of good and evil and the equilibrium of the Universe, known as compensatory jurisprudence. Woohpe is the state of equilibrium and symmetry based on the philosophy of equilibrium. Tribal law and order was designed for group balance aimed at kinship groups. Major infraction—theft, murder, rape—by one resulted in punishment of the whole family, including banishment or destruction of tipis.

Judgments were administered by Wakicunza, a Socratic form of governing as described by Plato in “The Republic,” (and dismissed as unworkable) wherein government was administered by “philosopher-kings” who had been groomed from childhood to govern. Every thought was for the good of the nation, and the ability to govern was based on logical reasoning. Wakicunza, run by elders, continues to be the oldest continuous form of leadership among the People.

He also shared that the Rosebud people have returned to a traditional governing system in place of the tribal council.

While there was a wealth of information imparted, it is impossible for this writer to put it all down in a coherent  manner. Douville is an educator who says that the system needs to change, especially now, since new threats to terminate programs upon which they rely are coming down the pike. He spoke of battles for funding, stating that if enrollment drops in Lakota Studies, then the university cannot afford instructors.

Douville is an expert on treaties and Lakota star knowledge, and spoke to the group in preparation for next year’s summit: April 25 through 28, 2018, in commemoration of the 150th anniversary of the Fort Laramie Treaty of 1868.

Following Douville’s impressive presentation, LaPointe spoke briefly of the far-reaching impact of the Rapid City Community Conversations (RCCC). On March 28, 2017, he was in Bismarck, ND, for two days of Conversational training. People there and in Fargo, ND, were anxious to learn about RCCC’s success in creating change and the model of all ethnicities and entities working together. In the past, the People held onto dysfunctions that prevented advancement. When the Community decides the agenda, progress moves forward in a unique way. The Community is the “expert.” RCCC are unlike any other gathering in the United States, an advancement over the so-called town hall meeting. Through conversational methods, the initiative of RCCC has not stumbled or failed. “We make our community better by looking in to each other in an educational and awareness-building process,” he said. “It is innate in all of us to want to do right.”

He then introduced Arlana Bettelyoun, program director of the Oglala Sioux Children’s Justice Center and a member of the Pine Ridge Community Conversations (PRCC) Innovation Team. The Justice Center is a comprehensive advocacy center for children and is a recipient of a three-year Nobel grant. She explained that the Children’s Code was formerly based on Victorian-era thinking. They are breaking new ground in becoming a voice for the child and its extended family. The Center advocates for the child’s right to know his/her culture and ceremonies, and they succeed by looking forward.

Richard Iron Cloud, of the PRCC, spoke of knowing the enemy of the past, but “now the enemy is invisible (inside ourselves and in our homes), being alcohol and now, meth.” These enemies are combatted in the Lakota Way. “Any other way does not work. It is natural to ourselves.”

Tatewin Means, also of PRCC, former Attorney General for the Oglala Sioux Tribe, and member of the Pine Ridge Crisis Intervention Center, spoke regarding changes in the justice system. She had recently been deputized to prosecute crimes on the reservation in state court as Oglala Lakota County State’s Attorney. She quoted her father, the late activist Russell Means, when she said the People must “be free to be responsible.” She spoke of how there are now court-ordered healing ceremonies as part of the change on Pine Ridge. “Healing needs to happen! Sixty percent of the youth in the system are Native, although they make up only 13% of the population.”

Larry Swalley, another PRCC participant, discussed spiritual honor and integrity within tribal leadership. Leaders are now elected in “popularity contests” and the switch has come from a matriarchal to a patriarchal perspective. “When the Grandmothers are in charge, they allow no excuses for behavior, whereas when men are in charge, they make excuses.” He wondered how the judicial system will come to address the effects of trauma on the victim. Under the current system, “women and children are at the bottom, as opposed to a culture where women and children are protected.” Currently, there is a refusal to validate culture and ceremony as valuable to children. Using Western concepts does not encourage contemplation, whereas ceremony emphasizes and teaches the difference between right and wrong.

All of the Innovation Teams are planning for the next Summit and the celebration of successes achieved in their various communities in honor of the 1868 Fort Laramie Treaty. Following the speakers, an honoring ceremony was held for facilitator LeMoine LaPointe.

Readers are encouraged to Google individuals named in this article because there is a wealth of information about all of them on the Internet.

 Images Courtesy of the Author