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Can A "Breed" Lead? By: David Yeagley
FrontPageMagazine.com | Monday, December 17, 2001


CAN A PERSON with only fractional Indian blood – a "breed," to put it crudely – serve as an Indian leader?

Well, Crazy Horse did it. Eyewitnesses agree that he had sandy hair and pale skin – a description that is confirmed by an 1876 photo taken by one S.J. Morrow – the only known authentic portrait of Crazy Horse.

His mixed background did not prevent him from leading the Oglala Sioux.

Now let’s take a more modern case, Elsie Meeks. In 1999, Senator Tom Daschle appointed her to the Commission on Civil Rights, instantaneously making her the most high-profile Indian leader in the country.

Like Crazy Horse, she is part Oglala Sioux. But she is reportedly even fairer, with white skin, blue eyes, red-auburn hair and freckles.

I tried in vain to obtain a full-color head shot of Elsie.

Mr. David Wong of the public affairs office of the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights turned me down flat, without explanation.

The Argus Leader, a newspaper in Sioux Falls, South Dakota, told me they had at least four photos of her on file. But again I was refused, by Ron Wuertz, the newspaper librarian.

He offered this cryptic explanation by e-mail: "Corporate policy based on newspaper objectivity question. The decision was made by our Managing Editor."

I finally located three Meeks photos on the Internet. Sadly, they were all black and white, making it more difficult to appreciate her beautiful blue eyes and auburn hair.

Elsie is reportedly one-quarter Oglala from her mother. Her father was a white rancher, and Elsie herself married a white rancher, James Meeks.

Why Senator Daschle chose Elsie to represent Indians on the Civil Rights Commission is unclear.

She does not sit on any tribal council or hold tribal office.

She is, however, a successful businesswoman, with international connections and successful businesses on the Pine Ridge reservation.

And she also doesn’t hesitate to play the Indian card when it works to her advantage.

For instance, when a non-Indian neighbor sued Meeks for allowing 124 head of her cattle to wander onto his land, Meeks argued that because her ranch was on Indian land, he could only sue in tribal court.

The gambit failed. Meeks’ one-quarter Indian blood did not exempt her from liability for her trespassing cattle.

But it soon catapulted her to a position of power in Washington.

As the first Indian ever appointed to the Civil Rights Commission, Meeks was in a position to chart new ground. What would she do? Would she address Indian sovereignty? Treaty commitments? Tribal membership rules? Corruption?

None of the above.

Instead, Meeks spearheaded an "ethnic cleansing" campaign to remove virtually all Indian images from the public eye. She declared the use of Indian names, images, and religious symbols by sports teams and advertisers to be racist and sacrilegious.

She wants federal funding cut from schools that use Indian mascots, monikers, or symbols.

How this will help Indians has never been explained to my satisfaction.

Our country is saturated with Indian names for states, towns, cities, counties, rivers and mountains. It is tragic that so many of the Indian people commemorated by those names are no longer with us. But at least the names live on.

Will they survive Elsie Meeks? When Indian names and images have been "cleansed" from campuses and media, will she move on to "cleanse" them from all other areas of public life?

Will the names of Oklahoma, Mississippi, Connecticut, Massachusetts, North and South Dakota all have to go?

On the Indian mascot issue, it seems to me that Meeks speaks with ‘ironic’ tongue.

For one thing, she married a white man. While she had every right to do so, her choice does indicate a less than passionate commitment to the preservation of Indian heritage and bloodlines.

Whose interests does Elsie Meeks serve?

White liberals, like Tom Daschle?

It is reported that Crazy Horse was considered strange by his own tribe, because he spent much time wandering alone in the mountains.

He once told his uncle, "You have noticed me, the way I act. But don’t worry. There are caves and holes for me to live in, and out here the spirits may help me. I am making plans for the good of my people."

I believe that Crazy Horse was sincere. He was not a full-blooded Indian. But he married one. And he did indeed make plans for the good of his people.

I wish I had the same confidence in Elsie Meeks. But I just don’t.


Dr. David A. Yeagley is a published scholar, professionally recorded composer, and an adjunct professor at the University of Oklahoma College of Liberal Studies. He's on the speakers list of Young America's Foundation. E-mail him at badeagle2000@yahoo.com. View his website at http://www.badeagle.com.


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