- Ruling Pine Ridge: Oglala Lakota Politics from the IRA to Wounded Knee
Histories of Native American politics generally focus on particular eras such as the Indian New Deal, Termination, and Red Power. Akim Reinhardt demonstrates the value of crossing such historiographical boundaries in analyzing Oglala Sioux politics from the Indian New Deal of the 1930s to the Wounded Knee occupation of 1973 that capped the Red Power era. The occupation, he contends, resulted from the failure of the Indian Reorganization Act (IRA) of 1934 to ameliorate the U.S. government’s control of Sioux affairs on the Pine Ridge reservation, where this story takes place. The IRA did not lead to a dramatic increase in the Oglala’s sovereign powers but to a “shift in colonial administrative policy” from “direct” colonialism to “indirect” colonialism. Internal political dynamics shaped by long-standing ethnic and cultural tensions heightened by IRA-style governance, as much as external events such as the arrival of American Indian Movement (AIM) activists, precipitated the violence of 1973.
Reinhardt divides the book into two parts -- Part I: 1934–1946; and Part II: 1970–1973. Although the 1930s and early 1970s are the key years of politicization for Oglala leaders and citizens, he could have explored 1946–1969 in more than two pages; federal termination pressures, the Vietnam War, and the international dynamics of the Cold War and decolonization helped to shape the details and the discourse of Pine Ridge politics. Reinhardt’s focus in Part I is the Oglala’s tenuous embrace of the IRA, which offered the promise of enhanced selfgovernment via a new constitution and charter of incorporation. Reinhardt’s animus toward the IRA is clear. He frames the IRA as the product of white bureaucrats’ colonial ideology, especially that of John Collier, the commissioner of Indian affairs who helped to draft the law. Here Reinhardt might have explored Collier’s own analysis of the colonial character of the Bureau of Indian Affairs during the 1920s instead of focusing on Collier’s neo-colonialism of the 1940s. And his account does not consider the tensions within the BIA over how much self-determination to grant Indian nations, given BIA officials’ understanding of class and ethnic dynamics; he tends to pin the colonial mentality on Collier alone.
That being said, Reinhardt demonstrates that the IRA sustained federal control over key areas of Oglala decision-making, even as the Oglala made good use of its provisions (detailed in Ch. 4). Ethnic conflict on Pine Ridge and the related contention over the legitimacy of the IRA deepened as an “elite” group of Oglala politicians grew increasingly tied to federal monies and advisors, isolating a “traditional” group of activists who had formerly seen the federal government as a bulwark against Oglala Sioux Tribal Council (OSTC) abuses. Reinhardt acknowledges that “full-bloods” (whether cultural or biological is not made clear) remained active in the political process, though he maintains that the IRA tribal council system was “foisted” on them. The election of Dickie Wilson in 1972 led to full-bloods’ estrangement from mainstream politics; Wilson’s violent suppression of dissent in turn led to opponents’ failed campaign to impeach him and the formation of a countervailing political force, the Oglala Sioux Civil Rights Organization (OSCRO), which secured the backing of the American Indian Movement (AIM). Reinhardt tells a familiar story in claiming that the siege of Wounded knee that resulted from this OSCRO-AIM alliance was “a grassroots political protest,” though he makes good use of a range of documents to make this case; and he presents an engaging picture of Wilson as a politician whose loyalties to U.S. agencies and to his extended family hardened in the face of resistance that turned him into a Sioux version of Dickie Nixon.
Native sovereignty remains a contended idea and practice, both between Native people and federal and state officials, and within Native communities which continue to wrestle with questions of identity in the 21st century. In the end Reinhardt asserts that American Indians...