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Fire Thunder suspended and abortions banned on Pine Ridge Email this page     Print this page
Posted: June 05, 2006
by: David Melmer / Indian Country Today
PINE RIDGE, S.D. - The Oglala Sioux Tribal Council banned abortions within the reservation boundaries, and at the same meeting suspended President Cecelia Fire Thunder - again.

Nearly mirroring the state of South Dakota in the abortion ban ordinance, the council voted unanimously to not just ban all abortions regardless of the circumstances, but to ban the use of any drug that would prevent a pregnancy or abort a fetus the day after any sexual activity.

An amendment to the ordinance would require disciplinary action against a person who contemplates or supports an abortion. That person could be banished from the reservation. The ordinance states that any donation sent directly to the tribe to financially support the clinic would be returned.

The ordinance requires BIA approval before being enacted. As it violates the U.S. Constitution as interpreted by Roe v. Wade, it should be disapproved, legal counsel said, noting that it may show the current administration's position on the issue, legal counsel said.

In anticipation of legal action, the council also approved a legal fund for any possible litigation.

The anti-choice issue was placed at the top of the council's agenda and the debate coincided with the arrival of some 200 protesters.

''You are here and you have a voice,'' Councilman Will Peters told the crowd. ''If you were born out of rape or incest, thank you for being here.''

The ordinance does not make exceptions for rape and incest or health of the mother. Throughout the debate, the health, mental or physical of the mother was never brought to the table.

Councilman Lyle Jack said that he guaranteed there would not be an abortion clinic on the reservation. He did say, however, that he supported a women's clinic that did not perform abortions.

The original idea for the clinic was conceived thought of by Fire Thunder after the governor of South Dakota signed a bill that became the strongest anti-abortion law in the country. Cora Whiting, Fire Thunder's assistant, said the original intent of the clinic was to protect victims of crime and for the protection of women.

''There are 300 kids on Social Services, these are our kids,'' Whiting said. ''There are women who drink heavily because they don't want children and they are afraid to go to the IHS. This is a wellness clinic; it's not about abortion.''

''I agree with the ordinance, but we should have a women's health clinic; we should have an elder health clinic also. Take these ideas and find something positive,'' Whiting told the council.

As heated and emotional as the issue was, the real and hidden agenda quickly emerged: the removal of Fire Thunder from office. Speakers merged anti-choice comments with a request for Fire Thunder's suspension and impeachment.

Councilman Ruth Brown was the first to bring up the president's removal. ''I want to know what to do with the president.''

Peters said Fire Thunder did not get permission from the council or the people for this clinic.

''She violated the constitution of the tribe, she needs to be suspended indefinitely; we should be embarrassed - remove her today,'' said tribal member Eileen Janis.

Fire Thunder was accused of soliciting funds on the Internet, through the U.S. mail and the media. She was also accused of misrepresenting the tribe by allegedly saying that Pine Ridge supported the clinic and abortions.

Whiting said Fire Thunder did not solicit funds and that so far any checks received have not been cashed. She said the Sacred Choices Clinic was organizing a board of directors who would make the decisions about the funds and the clinic.

Following the unanimous anti-choice vote, Peters moved the suspension of Fire Thunder without pay. That motion, too, was not legal, according to the constitution, but Peters later signed a formal complaint that set the suspension in motion.

''Your statement is meaningless to me,'' Peters told the tribal attorney who advised the motion was not legal. ''The constitution doesn't work for the majority; we are not a paper people.

''The president has fallen out of touch with the people,'' he said.

''The president has violated the [tribal] bylaws. The governing body gives her direction; she advocated for an abortion clinic and didn't consult with the governing body and not the Lakota people,'' Peters said.

Fire Thunder told Indian Country Today in a previous interview that a nonprofit organization would administer the clinic separately from tribal government.

An initial vote to suspend Fire Thunder failed, 9 - 7. The first motion did not include a hearing, which denied Fire Thunder due process, according to legal council.

The second attempt, which included the provision for a hearing, passed 14 yes and one no. Again, the actual motion violated the tribe's constitution, but Peters said he would sign a formal complaint that would make the suspension valid.

Fire Thunder is suspended without pay and is not allowed to represent the tribe in any manner, and the complaint states that she is not allowed to tell her side of the story to the media.

Fire Thunder was not present at the meeting.
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