Seeking Religious Freedom on Native Lands

April 23, 2006 by lynnell

By Lynnell Mickelsen and Susan Lenfestey

There's a wee bit of a backlash in South Dakota since its legislature passed the most sweeping abortion ban in the country two months ago. It appears many residents are not exactly lying back and taking it.

According to last week's New York Times, (See the original story at Republican Governor Mike Rounds enthusiastically signed the law and promptly watched his job approval ratings drop 14 points. A flood of new, energized Democratic challengers is now running for the state legislature. And abortion-rights activists are gathering signatures to put the law on hold and put it on the ballot for voters to consider this November.

But for our money, the real story, buried in the bottom of the 11th paragraph of the Times story was this: "The leader of the largest Indian reservation here, meanwhile, has pledged to open an abortion clinic on tribal land if the state ban stands."

Whoa! Stop the presses! Why wasn't this in the headline? Although this might seem like a minor point to the editors in Manhattan, here in the Land of 10, 000 Lakes and a Whole Lot of Tribal Casinos---this could be the announcement of one of the biggest expansions of abortion availability in the upper Midwest, if not the country.

Because in Minnesota, as in South Dakota and Wisconsin, Indian reservations and casinos are scattered across the state, in both urban and rural areas, complete with shuttle bus service from shopping malls, hotels and airports. If the newly-seated Supreme Court follows the hopes of South Dakota lawmakers and throws out Roe v. Wade, women may not have to return to back alley abortions. They could simply take the shuttle bus to the nearest designated tribal land where abortions could remain safe and legal. Ditto for women whose pharmacists refuse to fill their birth-control prescriptions.

But why stop with family-planning? Why not open stem-cell research centers? Currently, some of our top scientists are going overseas or off-shore because of the Bush administration restrictions on stem-cell research. Why not plow some of those casino profits into bio-tech centers and let the tribe take a cut from the profits of any brilliant new medical research? After all, scientific research is often a gamble-----you bet on the long shot and hope for a lucky break.

If Halliburton and other mega corporations can hide the things they hold most dear -- money and Ponzi-scheme profits -- in off-shore banks, away from taxes and government regulations, why can't we stash away a few things that we hold dear -- the reproductive rights of women and cures for diseases, for starters -- onto the reservations, free from the grip of Elmer Gantry-like legislators?

True, this scenario would make for a wildly mixed crowd at say, Mystic Lake, with women coming in for their annual pap smears, scientists, black-jack dealers, lab assistants, senior citizens and fans arriving for the latest Gary Puckett concert, all sitting down together at the all-you-can-eat buffet. But hey, that's America. What a country!

There could be a few glitches. The South Dakota Attorney General has suggested that a reservation-based abortion clinic would have to be staffed entirely by Natives, and could only serve Native women. But hang on Kimosabe. Does that mean all casino employees will have to be Native too, and those gambling grannies will all have to be card-carrying tribal members? Don't bet on it.

The irony is, tribal people have always been there for us, trading their corn for Smallpox, Manhattan for beads, their nation for lies. They took us in the first time we were on the lam from repressive religious fanatics, and now, despite 400 years of our disgraceful ingratitude, they stand ready to do it again. Migwetch.

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