Democratic presidential cnadidate, U.S. Senator Bernie Sanders at the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation on Thursday. Native News Online photo by Diane DuBray
Published May 13, 2016
PINE RIDGE INDIAN RESERVATION — Some 1,000, mostly American Indians, were on hand at the Pine Ridge High School to hear Democratic presidential candidate, U.S. Senator Bernie Sanders (Vermont-D) on Thursday.
Tribal leaders from various tribes in South Dakota came to the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation to show the support of Senator Sanders, who has made exerted extreme effort during the 2016 primary campaign to reach out to American Indian leadership.
On Thursday, when Senator Sanders showed up on the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation, he came to one of the poorest counties in the entire United States. The Pine Ridge Indian Reservation, home to the Oglala Sioux Tribe, has unemployment over 80 percent and sub-standard living conditions that rival third-world conditions.
John Yellow Bird Steele, president of the Oglala Sioux Tribe, said he stopped by the Crow Creek Tribe on Wednesday to invite its tribal council to Pine Ridge for the Sanders rally and they showed on Thursday.
“Bernie lives up to his word. Indian Country would be better off, if he lives up to his words,” commented C.J. Clifford, who sit on the tribal council of the Oglala Sioux Tribe.
Ryman Lebeau, vice chair of the Cheyenne River Tribe, headquartered in Eagle Butte, South Dakota, drove down to Pine Ridge to attend the Sanders rally.
“I’m here in Pine Ridge to ‘feel the Bern’ and not that kind of Burn,” Lebeau joked with others waiting outside in line to get through security to get into the rally.
When asked by Native News Online for a quote, Lebeau said his only comment for the day: “Feelin the Bern.”
While Sanders spoke to the crowd with some of the same stump-speech material he uses at other campaign stops across America, but concentrated on American Indian issues saying he would support treaties, if elected president of the United States.
Sanders spoke for about 15 minutes and then allowed for town hall type forum where he was asked questions and he answered.
“There is a lot of pain in the community,” Sanders told a forum that focused on poverty, inadequate health care and schools. “We’ve got a lot of work to do but nothing ever good happens if people give up. You’ve got to stand up and be involved in the political process.”
“The reason we are here today is to try to understand what is going on in Pine Ridge and other reservations,” Sanders said. “There are a lot of problems here. Poverty is much too high. There are not enough decent jobs in the area. The health care system is inadequate. And we need to fundamentally change the relationship between the U.S. government and the Native American community.”
“Everything that was discussed was not even the whole issues that face Indian Country. It’s just picking at the scab of the issues,” said Oglala Sioux Tribe Councilman Clifford.
While excited about Thursday’s rally, President Steele feels it is important that American Indian issues become part of the Democratic Party’s platform that will emerge out the Democratic Party Convention in Philadelphia in July.
Diane DuBray contributed to this article from the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation.