Rapid City Police deny Lakota’s right to peacefully assemble

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The Lakota People’s Law Project strongly disagrees with Police Chief Karl Jegeris’s decision to deny the permit for Lakota people to participate in an Anti-Police Brutality March and Rally in Rapid City. The march, which is being organized by LPLP Attorney Chase Iron Eyes, Cody Hall and James Swan was slated for Friday at the Rushmore Plaza Civic Center, the same site where the Lakota Nation Invitational is being held.

The LNI provides a unique opportunity for Lakota Indians to educate the public at large about the police brutality that is visited upon Indians in South Dakota. The brutalization of state power that is on the rise across America and has an undue impact on this country’s minority population has also come home to roost in Indian country.

Thousands pour into Rapid City, S.D. every year for the LNI basketball tournament, one of the signature events for South Dakota’s second largest city. The police chief’s refusal also underscores a certain irony in that South Dakota is quick to profit of the Indian community through events like the LNI, but is slow to respond to their calls for justice.

Police Chief Jegeris sent a letter to Hall, Swan, and Iron Eyes, stating that Hall’s permit request had been denied for “public safety reasons,” yet another unsubtle irony given that Jegeris will effectively disallow a protest that calls into question the tactics of his own department.

Police brutality against Native Americans is a serious issue that must be addressed. Earlier, on the Last Real Indians website, Chase Iron Eyes wrote, “I have personal friends who have family that have been killed by the Rapid City Police Department over the years. To my knowledge, every killing of Indians by the Rapid City cops has been “justified” after investigations by the Rapid City Police Dept.”

Such cases of justified killings include the death of Christopher J. Capps, a member of the Lakota tribe who, on May 2, 2010, was shot five times by a Deputy David Olson just outside of Rapid City. While it was claimed that Capps had pulled a knife on Olson, no weapon was found on Capp’s body.

“Rapid City is not a safe place for us,” Iron Eyes writes, “but it has been our home for 10s of thousands of years, and we will stay. There have been several marches on Rapid City amassing as much as 700 people who still feel the same way.”

As of press time, LPLP Chief Counsel Daniel Sheehan has put Iron Eyes in contact with renowned Civil Rights Attorney Patrick Duffey, who is based in South Dakota. Together they will review the possibility of appealing Jegeris’ decision on the basis of the constitutional right to peacefully assemble.

Regardless of whether Iron Eyes prevails in his quest to reverse the Rapid City Police Department’s heavy-handed decision, Lakota People’s Law Project will continue to illuminate issues relevant to Indian justice. The brutalization of Indians in South Dakota, whether through the seizure of their children or through police violence, must stop and it will stop.

Please join us by signing our petition at lakotalaw.org/action.

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Government schemes to steal Native land

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On Friday, the Senate passed a $585 billion defense spending bill that will have an immensely negative impact on Native American tribes. The transfer of sacred Arizona land to Australian-English mining company Rio Tinto will act as a devastation to the southwest Apache tribes in particular.

The National Defense Authorization Act went through with a vote of 89 to 11. The highly controversial Rio Tinto land rider, known as the Southeast Arizona Land Exchange, failed twice in the House of Representatives prior to Friday’s session.

Two thousand four hundred acres of the Tonto National Forest will be granted to the Rio Tinto Group. This land is a place of incredible importance to Natives as it covers ceremonial and burial grounds. Digging it up for mining purposes is equivalent to ransacking a National cemetery. In addition, Apache Indians turn to this land as a crucial source of food and medicine.

Terry Rambler, chairman of San Carlos Apache Tribe, says, “That’s part of our ancestral homeland. We’ve had dancers in that area forever–sunrise dancers–and coming-of-age ceremonies for our young girls that become women. They’ll seal that off. They’ll seal us off from the acorn grounds, and the medicinal plants in the area, and our prayer areas.”

The implementation of this rider into the NDAA is largely thanks to Republican Senator John McCain of Arizona. McCain, along with fellow Republican Arizona Senator Jeff Flake, sees the mining project as a source of job opportunity.

Flake says, “It’s never good to see big packages with so many things in them–that’s what we want to get away from. But it’s been very difficult to move individual pieces of legislation over the past few years.”

Republican Senator Tom Coburn of Oklahoma attempted to remove the land package from the larger bill, but ultimately failed with only 18 supporting votes.

This rider was never discussed publicly. In fact, it was added to the NDAA in a secret negotiation between the House and Senate Armed Services Committee. The deal was revealed just last week when the House began work on passing the bill.

Rio Tinto’s subsidiary Resolution Copper will officially take hold of the land next year. The company talks about working in the best interests of Native Americans, “Resolution Copper plans to work to expand existing partnerships and create new ones with neighboring communities and Native American tribes. The company will endeavor to hire locally and regionally whenever possible.”

Unfortunately, no claim of allegiance will alleviate the blow of destroying acres of spiritual significance. This act exists as yet another preposterous demonstration of the government’s inherent disrespect for Native roots and rights.

Another step towards tribal sovereignty: DOJ authorizes tribal decision making for marijuana laws

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On Thursday, the U.S. Department of Justice announced a decision to give full jurisdiction to Native American tribes over their reservations’ marijuana laws. Tribes, considered sovereign nations, can now choose to be exempt from federal intervention in matters of producing and selling marijuana products.

Timothy Purdon, chairman of the Attorney General’s Subcommittee on Native American Issues, says tribes will still operate under federal guidelines, however, “The tribes have the sovereign right to set the code on their reservations.”

Tribes who choose to legalize marijuana must abide by the conditions present in U.S. states that have legalized it for recreational use (Colorado, Washington, Alaska, and Oregon). Rules include restricting distribution to minors, preventing the drug’s revenue from reaching criminals, and penalizing driving under the influence.

Many reservations face issues of alcoholism and high drug rates. This federal decision has brought up the question of how tribes will incorporate legalized marijuana into their communities as they try to ward off preexisting substance issues.

According to U.S. Attorney Amanda Marshall of Oregon, just three out of 566 federally recognized tribes have shown interest in pursuing the legalization of marijuana thus far. She claims many tribes are concerned about the United States’ willingness to help combat possible drug abuse.

Former Klamath Tribal Chairman Jeff Mitchell insists, “I have confidence in tribal government that they will deal with it appropriately and they’ll take into consideration social and legal aspects, as well as other implications that go along with bringing something like that into a community.” Mitchell expressed concern about how transportation of marijuana over reservation lines into states that have outlawed marijuana will be handled.

This decision comes as yet another small step in the legalization process of marijuana products that has been transpiring in the United States for over a decade.

Indians also subjected to police abuse

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The Lakota People’s Law Project stands in solidarity with all those affected by recent instances of police brutality towards innocent minorities. While this matter has been gaining well deserved media attention lately, it is by no means a new issue. Native Americans have been subjected to these violent encounters with law enforcement as well.

In 2010, hearing impaired John T. Williams died after being shot four times by a Seattle police officer. Officer Ian Birk grew suspicious when he saw the 50-year old crossing and intersection holding a carving knife and block of cedar wood.

Birk waited a mere 4 seconds after his initial call to drop the blade before beginning to shoot. A bullet to the chest ultimately killed Williams, whose knife happened to fall below Seattle’s legal limit for knives.

Prosecutor Dan Satterberg did not pursue charges against Ian Birk.

Last August, Rebecca M. Sotherland of the Oglala Sioux Tribe police force was indicted for Deprivation of Rights Under Color of Law and Assault with a Dangerous Weapon after a video of her repeatedly tazing an unresponsive man went viral.

It appears that the victim, who lay handcuffed and motionless on the ground beside Sotherland’s squad car, was tazed a total of 17 times. The officer’s inappropriate use of her defense tool and repeated warning of “it’s gonna get you again” were eventually stopped by onlookers who offered to carry the man into the car.

While we are encouraged to see due attention turn toward the policing of black communities, it is the job of the Lakota People’s Law Project to point out that similar injustices occur in other minority community, including Indian Country.

It underscores why this issue is about more than what it typically disseminated through corporate media — it’s about more than race, it’s about the responsibility of those who get paid well to protect us, it’s about the impunity attached to police officers who increasingly seem to be above the law while enforcing it.

Unfortunately, for minority communities they are not getting protected by their police, but stand in dire need of getting protected from them.

Holder announces “redoubled effort” for ICWA enforcement

On the heels of U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder’s bellwether speech about a new initiative that will enforce the Indian Child Welfare Act, the Lakota People’s Law Project will host the first meeting pursuant to the new initiative in an attempt to convince federal officials to bypass the state of South Dakota and fund the six remaining South Dakota Indian tribes directly.

The Lakota People’s Law Project applauds the dramatic step forward taken by United States Attorney General Eric Holder on Wednesday Dec. 3.

Mr. Holder prioritized the Department of Justice’s enforcement of the Indian Child Welfare Act in a broad and comprehensive speech that addressed the many social ills on American Indian Reservations throughout the country.

“We are redoubling our support of the Indian Child Welfare Act, to protect Indian children from being illegally removed from their families; to prevent the further destruction of Native traditions through forced and unnecessary assimilation; and to preserve a vital link between Native children and their community that has too frequently been severed – sometimes by those acting in bad faith,” Holder said during his speech in Washington D.C. on Wednesday, December 3.

Since 2008, the Lakota People’s Law Project has been asserting that the state of South Dakota is one such entity that continues to act in bad faith.

“South Dakota has willfully ignored the precepts of the ICWA for years, seizing Indian children and putting them in non-Indian homes at alarming rates,” said LPLP Attorney Chase Iron Eyes. “We are pleased to see that the highest law enforcement agency in the land correctly identifies this problem that is leading to the slow destruction of our cultural heritage and is taking the necessary steps to stop it.”

Holder further announced that the DOJ will undertake a new initiative to promote ICWA compliance, which includes filing “briefs opposing the unnecessary and illegal removal of Indian children from their families and their tribal communities.”

“We are partnering with the Departments of the Interior and Health and Human Services to make sure that all the tools available to the federal government are used to promote compliance with this important law,” Holder said.  “And we will join with those departments, and with tribes and Indian child-welfare organizations across the country, to explore training for state judges and agencies; to promote tribes’ authority to make placement decisions affecting tribal children; to gather information about where the Indian Child Welfare Act is being systematically violated; and to take appropriate, targeted action to ensure that the next generation of great tribal leaders can grow up in homes that are not only safe and loving, but also suffused with the proud traditions of Indian cultures.”

The Lakota People’s Law Project believes the central problem in South Dakota’s child foster care crisis is the state not only ignoring ICWA, but also using Indian Children to enhance the amount of federal dollars that funnels through the state child and family services department.

In response, our organization enlisted the help of grant consultants A Positive Tomorrow to begin filing for federal planning grants to help all nine tribes in South Dakota Indian Country begin to establish a foster care system administered by Lakota, for Lakota.

“The Lakota tribes are best suited to care for their children, ensuring not only they are afforded necessary shelter and care, but also that they grow up in their own culture and language — that they know what it means to be Lakota,” said Oglala Sioux Tribe President Brian Brewer.

On Thursday, December 4, The Lakota People Law Project will have the first meetings with DOJ representatives pursuant to the newly announced initiative, during which it will attempt to convince the high ranking officials in the DOJ, the U.S. Health and Human Services Department and the Department of the Interior to provide federal funding to the five remaining tribes.

Due to the work of LPLP and A Positive Tomorrow, Standing Rock Sioux Tribe and the Oglala Sioux Tribe received planning grants in 2014 in an effort to get out from under the South Dakota social services system. Rosebud Sioux Tribe received a planning grant in 2013.

“The remaining tribes need funding in order to separate itself from the sustained and unflinching abuses the culturally biased state system has perpetrated on the Lakota people,” said Executive Director Sara Nelson. “We believe Holder’s latest announcement represents a bold step forward, but words are one thing, what we need is for federal officials to take action and approve the funding that is necessary for the remaining South Dakota tribes to plan for Lakota-run foster care.”