Subject:         Sisseton-Wahpeton relaxes
   Date:         29 Feb 2000 21:00:42 -0000

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[article provided by Lona. Thanks!]


Area resources called in: Because weapons were reported in
the tribal building, area law enforcement officers were
called in to augment Sisseton-Wahpeton units along with the

Protest settled: Some 70 officers were called in to help
maintain order; standoff actually began and ended

Sisseton-Wahpeton relaxes
Dan Anderson
Today correspondent

AGENCY VILLAGE, S.D. - Having had their primary demand met, a group of
demonstrators peacefully ended occupation of the Sisseton-Wahpeton Sioux
Tribal building Feb. 23. Both sides are happy that no blood was shed in the

"I'm just glad it ended the way it did," said Andrew Grey, tribal chairman.

About a dozen members of the Sisseton-Wahpeton "Akicitas" veterans group
ended a day-long occupation after the Tribal Council decided, in executive
session Wednesday morning, to meet the demand that the council get rid of
the tribe's gaming board, which the veterans' group says is corrupt.

Grey said the tribal council decided to suspend the gaming board, which
oversees the tribe's gaming interests, until March 7, when input from the
tribe's seven political districts can be gathered and a decision can be

"At this point it's a good solution," Grey said. "For us not to get the
people's input, the council isn't doing what they should be doing. It should
go back to the council."

The council also agreed to a demand that demonstrators occupying the
building not be charged for their actions.

The group decided to occupy the building after the tribal council did not
address their problems at the Feb. 22 council meeting, said veteran, elder
and demonstrator Jerry Flute.

Flute said the group told the tribal council that its decision to not
address the issue was unacceptable, and that they wouldn't leave until it
was resolved.

"They laughed and said goodbye, and left," Flute said. "The next thing we
know we were surrounded by the feds."

Things could've easily turned ugly, with as many as 70 law enforcement
officers from reservations throughout South Dakota as well as the FBI
surrounded the tribal building.

Flute said that despite the large number of law enforcement officers, the
demonstration was meant to be peaceful from the start. "We understood
yesterday (Wednesday) there were at least 70 police there. It could've been
like another Waco, another Idaho," he said.

"When I personally looked out the window and saw federal police with their
high-powered rifles pointed at us, that scared the hell out of me. I'm a
vet, but I didn't want to be shot," Flute said.

He said demonstrators all asked themselves the question, "Are we ready to
sacrifice ourselves for these issues," and everybody said, "That's why we're
here - to protect the people."

Law enforcement officials backed off and turned off searchlights focused on
the building around 4 a.m. Wednesday morning, Flute said.

Early news reports claimed the group was armed, but both sides down-played
reports of weapons. Grey said that it was not clear at any point if the
group had weapons. He said, however, that he was concerned for the officers'
safety, and threats were being made. "(It was) something I didn't feel
comfortable exposing our council to."

Flute said weapons were brought into the building, but that the weapons and
other related materials were possessions of the group's highly-respected
color guard, who had decided to bring in the possessions, including
ammunition, so they would not be confiscated by law enforcement officers.

He said it was just a case of people securing their possessions, and that
the occupation was meant to be peaceful from the start.

Despite the peaceful end, the day was not without confrontation. About 100
supporters clashed with law enforcement officers after they gathered
Wednesday morning at the nearby Sisseton-Wahpeton Community College and
marched to the tribal offices. They were met by three barricades of law
enforcement officers, who tried to stop the advance.

Joe Williams, an elder and member of the veterans group, originally was one
of those occupying the building. In the night he left to check on his kids,
and when he returned, the building was already surrounded. He was one of
those at the front of the march supporting the demonstrators in the tribal

"It was tough, but when we got to them (law enforcement at the barricades,
it didn't matter any more. We were after something that was for the benefit
of the people," Williams said. "What I can't understand is why the tribal
government called in law enforcement when the majority (of demonstrators)
were tribal elders. I can't understand why the tribal government would call
law enforcement to do harm to these people.

"We were subject to termination - that is what angers me," he said.

"Why they treat us that way is unbelievable. I think the tribal council is
in violation of their constitution. Why do we have to face such situation
that could've cost lives, especially elders? It's so ridiculous, and I'm
angry and I'm not going to let this go.

"As I sit here, I am very, very angry. But we have accomplished our goal."

Despite the resolution, there are still many issues that need to be

addressed. "The tribal government just got a wake-up call," Flute said,
adding that corruption is widespread and continuing.

The day of the occupation, the group released a press statement that was
read over the tribal radio station KSWS by Flute's son, Dave Flute, also a
demonstrator. The elder Flute said Grey immediately put a gag order into
effect, trying to block the broadcast, and subsequently ordering tribal law
enforcement officials to confiscate the tapes of the press releases.

In the statement, several concerns are addressed, including housing and
basic care for the tribe's poor and elders. Flute said the veteran's group
is confronted by tribal members quite often about helping resolve issues,
and veterans feel compelled to help protect the tribe's people.

"Basic simple human needs are not being addressed," he said.

For a year and a half the group has been hearing concerns and have tried to
address the board about many issues. Flute said they see this fight as not
about gaming, but the welfare of the tribe1s members. He said the tribal
council has concerned itself too much with profits and the casinos, and has
forgotten about those in need.

"Our government dwells on gaming and neglects the needs of the people," he

©2000 Indian Country Today

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