Seven honored by Oglala Sioux Tribe

WANBLI—Last Friday at Crazy Horse School in Wanbli, the Oglala Sioux Tribal Council opened their regularly scheduled meeting by honoring seven tribal members for contributions to the tribe.

Jade Ecoffey was the first honoree. Going into her junior year at Red Cloud, Ecoffey has been a fixture in South Dakota distance running since she was a Seventh Grader, when she placed 11th at the State A Cross Country Meet. While she continued to excel at cross country the past four years, minus one year lost to COVID restrictions, she came into her own, pulling off a distance running double this spring at the State Class A Track and Field Championships. Ecoffey won both the 1600 and 3200 races, competing with consistency and excellence seldom seen in Lakota Country since Cheyenne-Eagle Butte’s Jeff Turning Heart’s dominating performances back in 1980. Athletics are not her only area of excellence, as she maintains a 4.0 grade point average at Red Cloud.

“I have a lot of pride being Lakota,” Ecoffey told the Council, “and I have a lot of pride going to these state track meets and representing my people and my tribe and it brings me a lot of joy and a lot of meaning. I would just like to thank my coaches and everyone who put this on today. I really appreciate it.”

The next three honorees were Toby Carlow, Kanyen Mousseau Begay and Autumn Zimiga. All three girls qualified for the Class A State Golf meet in a COVID compromised spring marked by bad weather conditions. Golf excellence in Lakota Country is surprising given the lack of proper facilities and the expenses incurred learning the game. But Lance Christiansen at Little Wound was state champion, and White River was also state team champion some years back so Lakota golfers persevere, and find a way to hone their skills and compete at the highest level.

Honoree Irene “Pee Wee” Fast Wolf., according to the proclamation, “served the students and staff at American Horse School as an educator from August 9, 1965, to May of 2021. She reached thousands of students over her 56 years of service” The tribe also awarded Fast Wolf with a $1000 honorarium.

Bud Waters was also slated to be honored, but as he was in the hospital and the family requested that his honoring be scheduled for another council meeting. Waters was to be honored for 30 years of service to the BIA and the tribe at the Land Operations Department, Oglala Sioux Rural Water Supply System and as a Field technician for the OST Land Office.

The last honoree was Mario Gonzalez, tribal attorney. Councilman Mike Carlow, Sr., gave an introduction: “Today I think we have the greatest Native American lawyer in all of Indian Country. He takes great pride in all the accomplishments that he does in the name of the Oglala Sioux Tribe. He’s an example, not only to members of our tribe, but outside membership for the leadership that he does and he’s a leader all across Indian country with a lot of the documents that he provides them to assist them in whatever areas that they are needing assistance in. I hope Mr. Gonzalez doesn’t think this is a retirement party that we are throwing for him, because it’s not. We want him to continue working for the tribe because of his dedication.”

Gonzalez opened his acceptance speech with, “I would like to donate two hundred dollars to the drummers. Wopila”

Councilman Craig Dillon made a motion to award Gonzalez $1000 for his years of service, and the motion passed.

“I would like to thank the council for this great honor,” Gonzalez said.  “It means a lot. I been around for a long time, through many, many administrations, and, you know, I grew up in this area. I went to Wanbli Day School. I grew up on my grandfather’s ranch almost seven miles from here and went to school in Kadoka, my parents moved over there, and I never thought I would be in this place at this time. Life is like a road. You start out and you never know where it’s going to take you. It has its ups and downs and you go zig zag and you live through it. I have a good friend who was a Vietnam vet, and he says life is a journey so enjoy the journey while you’re at it. I want to thank someone who is very instrumental in any success I’ve had and that’s my wife, Dorothy Conroy. She was a very supporting spouse and she supported me when I was in college, and law school, and so sometimes you forget your spouse has a lot to do with your success in life. It’s just an honor for me to be able to represent my own tribe. To me family comes first, loyalty to my family, and second, loyalty to my tribe, and then loyalty to the US government, But who is the tribe, it’s our relatives, so it’s still family.”

There are three major accomplishments that Gonzalez was elemental in bringing about, and these will probably go down into the history books.

First, Gonzalez conceived of a strategy to stop payout of the Black Hills award in 1980. His eleventh-hour injunction prevailed, as he argued that because Arthur Lazarus did not renew his contract with the tribe, he could not represent them as counsel. This blocked payout to the tribe, and because one tribe did not receive payment, then none of the other tribes could, either. The second accomplishment was Docket 74-B, which was added to the award for the black Hills, and now the money sits in the bank at nearly $2 billion because of interest. Had Gonzalez not been present in both instances, all monies would have been paid out and the tribes would have no further legal claim to the Black hills or treaty lands.

The third accomplishment was Mni Wiconi, a tribally owned water system that has brought water to many Lakota families that did not have it.

(Contact James Giago Davies at skindiesel@msn.com)

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