The Lakota People’s Law Project has spent the last eight years attempting to convince the general public about South Dakota’s egregiously racist attitude towards Native peoples.
This is not to say that every South Dakotan is a racist, but systemically, the institutions and mechanisms of power are established in such a manner to abet the repression of the Lakota people.
While our focus has remained primarily on the Department of Social Services and the other state agencies that have marshaled resources to protect it and shield it from scrutiny, the case of Vern Traversie further underscores racist attitudes toward Indian people.
Traversie is a 71-year-old blind Lakota man who underwent heart surgery at Rapid City Regional Hospital in Rapid City on August 26, 2011. His lawsuit was filed on July 16, 2012 by a team of lawyers that includes Lakota People’s Law Project Attorney Chase Iron Eyes.
In the suit, Traversie claims he was subject to abuse, denied pain medication and suffered “severe emotional trauma” during his time at the hospital.
After being released, Traversie’s relatives noted that he had several scars and flesh wounds across his abdomen, some of which appeared to form the letters “KKK.”
In July 2012, South Dakota Attorney General Marty Jackley, who has been at the center of several controversial decisions relating to Indian relations in the state, declined to prosecute the hospital on Traversie’s behalf.
The lawsuit was filed in United States District Court, District of South Dakota, Western Division and will go to trial after the summary judgement filed by the hospital’s lawyers was denied by a federal judge.
From the perspective of the Lakota People’s Law Project, the incident provides yet another example of how the South Dakota justice system routinely fails to protect its Indian citizens and demonstrates how they are often left with expensive federal lawsuits as their only form of redress.
We will continue to follow the Traversie case.