PORCUPINE, S.D. – The first woman elected to lead the Oglala Sioux tribe was removed from office with five months remaining in her first term.
Cecelia Fire Thunder, former president of the Oglala Sioux Tribe, met the anti-abortion movement and lost. At a hearing on June 29, Tribal Councilman Will Peters, architect of the complaints against her, said at the outset that abortion was the issue.
”We are here today because of the abortion. We will plan for and fight for all Lakota, including the unborn,” Peters said.
Fire Thunder opened the floodgates of criticism when she suggested opening a women’s health clinic on the reservation in response to the state of South Dakota’s near-complete ban on abortion.
…(Fire Thunder) said the decision violated the constitution and that she would challenge the decision.
…Following a two-hour, closed-door deliberation, Peters in public forum moved to impeach Fire Thunder immediately. On a 9-4 vote, the required two-thirds majority, she was removed. The hearing took place with a reduced council; there are 18 council members from across the Pine Ridge Reservation…
Her opponents accused her of bringing the state and federal government onto the reservation.
”She invited federal and state law onto our sovereign reservation by challenging the new state abortion law, to begin her own abortion clinic under the auspices of the Oglala Sioux Tribe,” the letter of notification of Fire Thunder’s suspension stated.
Fire Thunder told the council that having an idea, or speaking out about issues that go to the heart of her convictions, are not grounds for impeachment. She said the clinic was an idea and that ”ideas and opinions are not punishable.”
…Peters and Councilman Garfield Steele, a co-signer on the complaint, brought six charges against Fire Thunder.
The first charge sited Fire Thunder as organizing the clinic outside of her authority as president and that she didn’t consult with the council about the project and get their permission. The vote constituted the needed majority to impeach Fire Thunder, and the remaining five charges were not read.
Other charges were that Fire Thunder used the media, the U.S. Post Office and the Oglala Sioux Tribe to solicit funds for the clinic. Fire Thunder said she never solicited funds and that all funds were voluntarily sent in and that some media included an address for donations on their own.
She said any money that was not designated for the clinic was, or will be, returned.
…”I can’t look at her as a woman, she is president. She should be focused on the tribe and her duties are first and foremost to the tribe,” Peters said.
Fire Thunder said she had a responsibility to lead the tribe and expand services and a women’s health clinic that educated women and men about reproductive choices was part of addressing health issues on the reservation.
…The scene in the Community Action Program building in Porcupine was of an anti-abortion rally. Packets of material depicting the image of Jesus, a trinket style of rosary and bumper stickers were passed out to the crowd.
Alex White Plume assumes the role of president pro tem and his position of vice president will remain open until the November election.