Report: Native Americans most likely to be killed by police

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Photo courtesy of Rapid City Journal

The Lakota People’s Law Project sent out a press release on Wednesday with a 15-page report detailing the unequal treatment of Native Americans under the United States criminal justice system. The report is comprised of key findings and proposed steps of action to alleviate issues such as extraneous violent crime against Natives and unfair police treatment. Following this important release, key players in the fight against such discrimination led a Native Lives Matter march in Rapid City, South Dakota which attracted 100 people.

Facts show Native Americans are the racial group most likely to be killed by law enforcement or violently victimized by non-Natives in general. This vicious treatment starts young, with Natives making up 70% of the youth admitted into the federal bureau of prisons–a number entirely disproportionate to the mere 1% of our nation’s youth population constituted of Native Americans.

South Dakota’s foster system continues to threaten steady upbringings and weaken ties to community and culture and this surely plays into issues such as substance abuse and crime on reservations. The Lakota People’s Law Project remains committed to the implementation of autonomous, tribe-run child and family service programs to ensure cultural preservation and limit instances of familial trauma within Native American communities.

70% of of jailed Native Americans convicted for violent crime claimed to have been drinking at the time of their offense. The establishment of tribe-run drug rehabilitation centers would greatly decrease the possibility of Native recidivism.

Native mistreatment must be incorporated into the current societal discussion regarding injustices under the hands of law enforcement. It is due time for these problems to be addressed in order to reduce government expenditures and heal the broken relationship between Native Americans and the law enforcement purported to serve them.

Further, an effort must be made to build up a police force fit to serve Native populations. While Natives account for 12% of Rapid City’s population, they hardly make a dent in the ranks of local law enforcement. There are just three Native police officers and no sworn deputies or corrections officers on the city’s team.

According to KOTA News, progress is on the horizon. The force’s current hiring cycle is in full swing and they claim to be committed to diversifying.

“We would welcome any Native American and any other cultural group to come and apply with us. Obviously we are looking for for the best qualified candidates we can hire,” said Rapid City Police Sgt. Andrew Becker.

Becker’s department is taking a variety of measures in order to attract these indigenous applicants–collaborating with Native publications, recruiting through the United Tribes Technical College, and making an appearance at Pine Ridge High School’s annual career day.

“Certainly it is ideal for any police organization to reflect the community that it serves,” stated police chief Karl Jegeris. This reflection is vital to a healthy relationship to a squad and the people it serves. A level of trust necessary for smooth operation is currently missing in areas such as Rapid City.

The persistence of injustice in South Dakota is an ugly stain on the American fabric and until this country confronts its cruel treatment of indigenous peoples both past and present, it will remain unable to live up to the values of liberty and justice for all that it continues to espouse.

Feds strengthen ICWA guidelines

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Kevin Wasburn Photo courtesy of Indian Country Today

It looks like Washington D.C. is listening. In response to the continual and flagrant violations of the Indian Child Welfare Act (ICWA) in the state of South Dakota (in particular) and elsewhere, the Bureau of Indian Affairs released updated ICWA guidelines.

After spending the last decade investigating, reporting on the deep-seeded problems in South Dakota, while lobbying members of the federal government, there is little doubt that Lakota People’s Law Project, in its partnership with members of all nine of the Lakota tribes in South Dakota has worked to bring about this significant victory in the effort to end the slow genocide that continues in South Dakota.

ICWA was enacted in 1978 and states that Indian children who are taken from their homes by state agencies must be placed in foster care facilities within their tribes.  Unfortunately, this act has been dishonored numerous times throughout the nation, most notably by the government of South Dakota.

Even though youth population comprises less than 15 percent of the state’s demographic makeup they account for 54 percent of the foster care population, according to a Congressional report prepared by Lakota People’s Law Project. South Dakota has repeatedly taken Indian children away from their families and their tribes, placing them in non-Native foster care and thereby removing these children from their culture and heritage.

In May 2013, LPLP, in collaboration with Standing Rock and Oglala leaders, organized an ICWA summit to discuss the widespread problem and the racially biased state institutions that were reaping financial benefits by ignoring federal law and preying upon the most vulnerable population.

There, the Bureau of Indian Affairs and ICWA program directors discussed the problems concerning ICWA and possible solutions to these problems. Assistant Secretary for Indian Affairs Kevin Washburn was in attendance.

Yesterday, Washburn announced that a new set of guidelines would be released to ensure that all Native American families would be protected under the rights of ICWA, and he made particular mention of the situation in South Dakota as one of the reasons the federal government felt the need to release newer, more robust guidelines.

Many of these new guidelines are stricter and are meant to provide as much protection for Indian children as possible. For example, if a child is taken, that child must be treated as an Indian child until he or she is proven to be otherwise.

This will promote officials to always follow the rules of ICWA. A person testifying in an ICWA-related case must also be an expert on Indian culture and customs in order to be considered a qualified witness, as they will have a better understanding of whether or not the child is really in any danger staying with his or her Indian parents or guardians.

The new guidelines also state that the emergency removals and placement of Indian children must be limited and that a child should only be removed if he or she is in a situation involving imminent danger or harm. Often times the South Dakota state government has sited “being poor” as harmful. The new guidelines not only prevent courts from taking children away based on socioeconomic status, but give a strict definition of what is to be considered harmful:

Imminent physical damage or harm means present or impending risk of serious bodily injury or death that will result in severe harm if safety intervention does not occur.

This comes in direct response the the bevy of flimsy excuses that members of the South Dakota DSS have used in seizing Indian children from their parents and tribes at a staggering rate.

The updated guidelines also give more power to the tribes; for instance the tribes alone have the discretion to determine tribal membership.  When determining a child’s tribe, the child’s guardians and tribe must always be notified before each proceeding, and the tribe can intervene at any time. The guidelines also state:

The updated guidelines establish that an Indian child, parent or Indian custodian, or tribe may petition to invalidate an action if the Act or guidelines have been violated, regardless of which party’s rights were violated. This approach promotes compliance with ICWA and reflects that ICWA is intended to protect the rights of each of these parties.

By giving more power to the tribes, the Bureau of Indian Affairs is helping to ensure that government officials will not persist in their illegal seizure of Indian children.

It is crucial for officials throughout the nation and particularly in South Dakota to honor ICWA and to protect the rights of Native families. These children are sacred. They are the future of the tribes, and it is important for them to be brought up in their heritage so that indigenous people in the United States can once again flourish.

To read the new ICWA guidelines, go to http://www.bia.gov/cs/groups/public/documents/text/idc1-029447.pdf.

BREAKING: Huge revelation in the Mette Rape Scandal

One of the principle investigators in South Dakota levied serious accusations against South Dakota Attorney General Marty Jackley and former Brown County State’s Attorney Kim Dorsett, alleging they both covered up for a child rapist in order to protect their financial interest and do favors for campaign contributors.

Mark Black, who was the lead investigator on a case against attorney Brandon Taliaferro and Shirley Schwab, issued a statement on Feb. 23 that alleged criminal wrongdoing committed willingly by the highest law enforcement official in South Dakota — Marty Jackley.

“I remind you the real victims are the Mette children, who have been failed by the system set up to protect them,” said Black in a prepared statement. “The most shameful consequence being that they were returned to an adopted mother who did not protect them and this was as a result of the actions of Kimberly Dorsett and Marty Jackley whose true motivation was financial gain for Dorsett personally and the financial gain of Jackley’s largest political contributors.”

The background of the case begins in 1999, when Richard and Wendy Mette, a white couple living in Aberdeen, South Dakota, had seven Lakota siblings placed with them by the South Dakota Department of Social Services.

The Mettes then began a pattern of sexual and physical abuse that defies the imagination and despite a preponderance of evidence that showed the children were subjected to horrendous living conditions the state DSS continued to allow the children to stay in the home.

Finally, in 2010, when a doctor noticed signs of abuse on one of the children and alerted law enforcement the police raided the house and discovered the children had been abused consistently for the past decade.

The case was given to Brandon Taliaferro and Shirley Schwab, however, after the two officials began to openly question the DSS’s competence in the case they were summarily removed by Taliaferro’s boss Kim Dorsett and replaced by a different attorney, Mike Moore.

Moore promptly dropped 22 of the 23 counts against Richard Mette and all 11 counts against Wendy Mette in exchange for a plea.

If this wasn’t horrible enough, the Brown County State’s Attorney then filed charges against Taliaferro and Schwab, the only officials who had protected the children, accusing them of perjury. In January 2013, Judge Gene Paul Keen tossed the case against Taliaferro and Schwab out of court and admonished the prosecution for even bringing charges with such lacking evidence.

Yesterday, Black issued a statement that accused Dorsett of illegally embellishing an affidavit that said the Mette children lied about Wendy Mette’s involvement in their prolonged abuse. He further asserted that Dorsett lied as an effort to protect her $75,000 annual contract she had with South Dakota Department of Social Services.

“Dorsett’s embellishment of the affidavit for the removal of Schwab, withholding of the Wendy Mette plea agreement, the misinformation about the unsigned document and her request that I lie with respect to a friendship, is not mere happenstance or carefully crafted incompetence, but rather an obvious attempt to see that Schwab and Taliaferro were prosecuted unjustly to protect (her contract),” Black said.

Black then said that having the children placed back with Wendy Mette would subvert the Mette children’s civil lawsuit against the state DSS.

Jackley has long maintained that he was not privy to the details of the case, but Black asserted in his statement that Jackley’s two largest campaign contributors had a direct financial interest in ICWA funds. Those contributors and Jackley maintained a vested interest in the state DSS continual seizure of Lakota children, which had been happening at an unprecedented rate beginning in the 1990s.

“Schwab and Taliaferro’s attempt to raise issues surround the ICWA funds potentially jeopardized the money these contributors received,” Black said. “I think we can put two and two together that if Jackley’s corporate political contributors are benefiting financially that benefits Jackley and his future political ambitions.”

Black also said he was order to keep the Attorney General’s office updated on the progress of the case against Taliaferro and Schwab.

“For Jackley to say that he was not involved in the decision making process with respect to my investigation is ludicrous,” Black said.

Black said he has since been subjected to the same official retaliation that Taliaferro and Schwab received and called upon the U.S. Attorney’s Office and the South Dakota Bar Association to open an investigation into the actions of Dorsett and Jackley with respect to obstruction of justice, tampering with evidence and violation of civil rights and the abuse of power and public corruption.

For more visit Lakota People’s Law Project’s initial investigation into the case here:

http://docs.lakotalaw.org/Abandoned-and-Forgotten-abbreviated.pdf

Mark Black’s entire statement can be read here:

http://broughttolight.com/2015/02/24/extra-mark-black-statement-on-mette-rape-scandal/

Obama’s Cabinet begins its Native American Youth Listening Tour

Sally Jewell

Sally Jewell, the U.S. Secretary of the Interior, travelled to Arizona to listen to inspiring testimonies of Native American children.

Jewell visited the Salt River Pima-Maricopa Indian Community and the Gila River Crossing Community School, both located near Phoenix, as part of a listening tour. The goal of this tour is to inform Obama’s Cabinet members of the challenges Native American youth face every day.

President Barack Obama was inspired to send his Cabinet members on this listening tour after he and the first lady Michelle Obama visited the Standing Rock Indian Reservation. There they heard the stories of six students who spoke of how issues such as poverty, drug abuse, violence, and suicide have affected them.

“We were moved because [the students] were like Malia and Sasha—just as smart, just as hopeful, just as beautiful,” Obama said. “But at their core, there was a nagging doubt that they would have the opportunities that my daughters had. And nothing gets me more frustrated than when I hear that. Nothing gets me angrier than when I get a sense that our young people early in life are already feeling like opportunities are foreclosed to them—because that’s not who we are.”

Obama stated that he felt “shaken because some of these kids were carrying burdens no young person should ever have to carry. And it was heartbreaking.” He is sending his Cabinet members on tour to listen to other testimonies so that they too will realize the importance of helping these children.

Jewell is the first member to visit with Native American youth. They have discussed how they felt federal policy could help them and their community. More listening sessions will occur throughout the year.

Obama’s administration is currently working on setting up multiple programs and initiatives to help Native American youth, including a National Tribal Youth Network which will provide peer support and a

White House Tribal Youth Gathering for summer 2015. The administration also hopes to gain funding for tribal schools which tribes will control.

Although the Obama administration has made a great effort to help tribes, many tribes are still struggling with a lack of tribal sovereignty. Building tribal capacity is very difficult when the federal and state governments obtain control of family and tribal decisions. It is our hope that creating foster care for Lakota, run by Lakota, which will redirect federal funding to the tribes rather than through the state of South Dakota, will aid in the sovereignty of the Lakota people.

This listening tour could be the first of many steps to encourage the U.S. government to provide tribes with the funds they need to become self-sufficient and create a better tomorrow for their people.

Man Charged with “Disorderly Conduct” for Hockey Game Hate Crime

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On January 24th, Native American students and staff of American Horse School were harassed at a Rapid City hockey game by a group of about 15 white men. The students, ages 9 to 13, were part of AHS’s 21st Century Club and were at the hockey game as a reward for their academic achievements. They left the game after a group of white men began yelling “Go back to the Rez!” along with racial slurs, the men even sprayed beer on them.

Only one man, Trace O’Connell, has been charged with disorderly conduct. The charge is punishable by up to 30 days in jail and a $500 fine if he is convicted.

Many are angered by this decision, feeling the punishment is not nearly as severe as it should be. National Coalition Against Racism in Sports and Media has called the actions of these men “racist and criminal behavior” and stated that this incident “should be considered a hate crime.”

“They poured beer on children. They yelled racial slurs. I don’t know how that is not a hate crime,” said American Horse School Superintendent Gloria Coats-Kitsopoulos.

“Some of our kids — they’ve had nightmares, they cry,” stated Angie Sam, whose 13-year old daughter was one of the victims at the hockey game. “[T]hey were being rewarded for good behavior, and these drunk, white men ruined that for them.” Her interview can be heard in the NPR report by Charles Michael Ray.

What these men did to the students and staff of AHS was cruel and unwarrented, and it should not be tolerated.  Sadly, this unfortunate incident reflects the grave problem of racism that has plagued Rapid City for years. An article by Danielle Miller, which can be found at Chase Iron Eyes’ webpage Last Real Indians, states,

“The racism and biases are not new in South Dakota, where you can find sacred Lakota objects hung next to KKK outfits in the museum. The very landmarks such as Mount Rushmore constructed by a white supremacist are a reminder of the theft of the Black Hills, which was supposed to fall under the protections of the Sioux in the Fort Laramie.”

It is important to make our voices heard and to expose the racial issues Native Americans face everyday. Unless these issues are discussed, incidents such as the attack on the AHS students and staff are bound to repeat themselves.

Natives stand for justice to children wronged at hockey game

Rapid City’s Stand Strong Against Racism rally held on Tuesday, February 10  was a powerful display of Native unity against racism. A group of 300 raised their grievances by singing, drumming and speaking outside the Rushmore Plaza Civic Center. As hockey fans lined up for a Rush home game, protesters respectfully reminded them of the major injustice that had ensued within the center just weeks before.

For those unfamiliar with the story–a group of Rush onlookers in VIP seating targeted 57 Native children from the American Horse school with a stream of blatant racism on January 24. Offenses ranged from pouring beer on the kids’ heads to ordering them to, “Go back to the rez.” Read our original post here.

We continued our coverage of events with this post regarding the Rapid City Journal‘s mishandling of the story. Rather than holding the adult perpetrators accountable, the Journal questioned the youth’s role in provoking such atrocities. The publication has since issued an apology in response to heavy public criticism.

Now, we would like to highlight the inspiring resilience of Rapid City Natives standing up for righteousness as their children are violated.

The rally followed Monday evening’s public forum hosted by Lakota pastor Larry Salway at He Sapa New Hope Church. Discussion between citizens, Mayor Sam Kooiker, and Police Chief Karl Jegeris bridged feelings surrounding the event between the public and community authority figures.

“They keep telling us to be patient. Why is it always us being patient when a white man does something?” commented a Lakota man at the meeting.

The Stand Strong Against Racism rally attracted protesters not only dedicated to bringing immediate justice to the children, but to liberating Rapid City from deeply rooted, systemic racism against Natives. The tone of the event was one of empowerment rather than undirected rage and can be viewed through the attached videos originally posted on Chase Iron Eyes’ official Facebook page. There exists a clear vision of prosperity that drives Rapid City Natives in their efforts to provoke transparency and discussion on topics of blatant racism.

Speakers at the rally ranged from U.S. Hockey Hall of Famer Clyde Bellecourt of the White Earth Ojibwe to Olympic gold medalist Henry Boucha of the Chippewa Ojibwa. Lakota People’s Law Project attorney and leader of Last Real Indians, Chase Iron Eyes, was the last to speak to the crowd that night.

“We’re not gonna be patient. We can’t lay down anymore; we’re not gonna lay down. We can’t just take this,” he states in the clip below.

There is no justification for the behavior exhibited within the Rushmore Plaza Civic Center on January 24, and the driving forces behind such instances of injustice must be tackled. The children affected not only deserve to see their abusers face due punishment, but watch the social boundaries, which allowed them to walk free for so long, be eventually dissolved. We commend Rapid City Natives for holding their ground and demanding fair dealing to their children.

Since last week’s demonstration, the men behind the incident have been charged with disorderly conduct–a punishment many have deemed insufficient considering the severity of the crime. Keep an eye on our page for updates on this new development.

 

Facebook’s Offensive Policy on Native Names

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Numerous Native American accounts were deemed “invalid” because it was believed that the Natives were using fake last names. Dana Lone Hill, for example, had her Facebook account suspended and received this message:

[I]t looks like the name on your Facebook account may not be your authentic name.”

Lone Hill had to send in her photo ID, her library card, and a piece of mail in order to prove that Lone Hill was her real last name. A week later, her account was finally reactivated.

Many feel that Facebook should not have the power to deem what is an authentic-sounding last name. “Just seeing that over and over again: Your name wasn’t approved, your name wasn’t approved. … It just reflects on a white supremacist society,” says Shane Creepingbear, whose account was reported twice as being fake. After receiving these reports, Facebook sent Creepingbear a message stating that his last name “violates our name standards.”

Over 10,000 Native Americans signed a petition against Facebook asking them to allow Natives to use their real names. Lone Hill also wrote an article for Last Real Indians on how both she and her friend Lance Brown Eyes struggled to prove their identity to Facebook.

“There’s been a long history of Native erasure,” Creepingbear stated, “and while Facebook might not be enacting it with that intention, it’s still a part of that long history of people erasing native names. It’s part of the violence against native people in general.”

Facebook has stated that it plans to improve its name verification policy.

The Lakota People’s Law Project certainly hopes that Facebook changes its policy. The last names of Native Americans are a part of their culture, heritage, and identity, and these names should not be treated as “invalid.”