A South Dakota tribe sued the US for the crime

(AP) – Holly Wilson was on her way to make soda for lunch for her nine grandchildren last May when shots were fired at her home on South Dakota’s largest Native American reservation.

His 6-year-old grandson, Logan Warrior Goings, jumped from the family’s favorite couch, ran across the room toward his grandfather, and was shot in the head. It took at least 15 minutes for a tribal law enforcement officer to arrive, but by then the shooters were gone and Logan — a “kind and gentle” boy who loved his Xbox and his Siamese cat Simon — was dead. .

“He was the sweetest little boy,” said Wilson, 62. He was my best friend.”

A few months later, a father and son living near Wilson on the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation, home to the Oglala Sioux Tribe, were shot to death by a trespasser and their bodies were not found for six days, he said. Just a few nights ago, Wilson’s oldest son was held at gunpoint in his home.

These types of crimes have become more common in the 5,400 square kilometer area. Tribal officials said just 33 officers and eight criminal investigators are responsible for more than 100,000 emergency calls each year across the reservation, which is roughly the size of the state of Connecticut. The officers and investigators are all federally funded, and the tribe says that just isn’t enough.

The tribe sued the Bureau of Indian Affairs and other top officials in July, alleging that the U.S. breached its treaty obligations and breached its fiduciary duty by failing to provide appropriate law enforcement agencies to address the “public safety crisis” in the clause. The federal government countered in court documents that the tribe could not prove that the agreements oblige the US to provide the tribe with a “superior level of personnel or funding for law enforcement.” After two days of court proceedings this week, the judge said he would take the case under advisement.

“We need change. Everyone is tired of the same old saying. It’s all talk, talk, talk every year, and our people have suffered for decades,” Oglala Sioux Tribal President Frank Starr told The Associated Press. “We believe now is the time to take that stand.”

Robert Miller, a law professor at Arizona State University and registered citizen of the East, said the federal government owes a fiduciary duty to Native nations and has made promises to tribes under treaty agreements that must be read liberally and in favor of Native tribes. Shawnee tribe in Oklahoma.

“If federal law enforcement is too weak, which it is by most accounts, it is failing to fulfill its role as the guardian and protector of Indian nations,” he said.

Indigenous nations have successfully defended treaty rights in the courtroom, including hunting, fishing and education. In 2020, the US Supreme Court handed down the landmark McGirt decision, ruling that a large portion of eastern Oklahoma that was promised in treaties to the Muskogee (Creek) Nation remains a reservation.

In court documents in the case, the Oglala Sioux tribe points to agreements such as the Fort Laramie Treaty of 1868, which states that if someone commits a crime against Native Americans, the U.S. will “proceed immediately to arrest and apprehend the offender.” shall be punished according to the laws of the United States, and shall also compensate the injured party for the damage caused.”

Star Comes Out said it hopes the Oglala Sioux’s lawsuit, filed just days after the Northern Cheyenne tribe in Montana, will serve as a model for other tribes on the Great Plains and beyond that face similar situations. will do.

The South Dakota site, about 80 miles southeast of Rapid City, lies between the Nebraska border and the Bakken oil fields.

The location made it convenient for both human and drug trafficking, explained Patricia Marks, the tribe’s attorney, while the lack of police meant it was known as a “no-go zone.”

“We’ve had a radical increase in guns and gun violence,” he said. “We have completely increased the supply of hard drugs. This is heroin. This is fentanyl. This meth. These are life threatening things. “

Oglala Sioux officials said between January and June 2022, tribal law enforcement received 285 reports of missing persons, 308 calls involving weapons and 49 reports of assault. Marks said there are typically only five tribal officers on any given shift, and response times to gun-related calls can range from 40 minutes to an hour.

In 2020, there were 155 more violent crimes reported by Oglala Sioux tribal law enforcement than in 2017, according to the Bureau of Justice Statistics.

Criminal jurisdiction in Indian Country is complex and depends on whether the suspect, victim, or both are Native American and where the crime occurs.

The federal government, tribes and provinces have tried to bolster public safety on the reservations — where, in some places, Native women are killed at a rate more than 10 times the national average — with approaches that include interagency agreements and expansion. include sentencing powers. tribes and programs that allow tribal prosecutors to try cases in federal court.

For example, the landmark Tribal Law and Order Act of 2010 expanded the sentencing authority of tribal courts in certain circumstances.

The Justice Department has also worked to increase funding to tribes to fight crime, including last year when officials announced it would allocate more than $246 million in grants to local communities to improve public safety and help victims of crime.

But none of that was enough, the tribe says.

On the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation, the FBI has jurisdiction over a number of major crimes. But its closest office is in Rapid City, so it takes more than two hours for agents to arrive, Marks explained.

“For all practical purposes, regardless of the type of crime, tribal police are the first responders,” he said. “They’re the ones who have to go out there and answer the call.”

According to court documents, the tribe needs more than 140 more police officers to deal with rampant crime.

JoAnn Sierra, 79, a member of the Oglala Sioux tribe, said her two sons and two grandsons were killed on or near the reservation. The most recent case, she said, was her grandson Justin Little Hawk, 40, who was ambushed by a man she did not know in November 2020 while driving Sierra’s two teenage grandchildren.

The man got into the back seat of Sierra’s car and shot little Hawk after the other grandchildren ran out. He died shortly before Christmas, and the person responsible has never been convicted, Sierra said.

“It just makes me feel like I’m lost… Why does this have to happen here?” Serra asked. “Why didn’t I move?”

After the death of Logan, who was given the Lakota name Peta Zee Hoxila, meaning son of the yellow fire, Wilson filled the reservation with signs such as “Justice for Logan” and “Who Killed His Grandmother’s Child?” in hopes of drawing attention to his death.

He said that after Logan’s shooting, he waited months to hear from the FBI, and when he tried to talk to tribal law enforcement, they limited what they could say because of jurisdictional issues.

Wilson said she believes her grandson’s case could have been solved if law enforcement had responded sooner.

“It’s unfortunate that we have to take these steps as a tribe to get the help that should be out there,” she said through tears. “According to the contracts, it should be there. And yet we all have to live like this. loss of people; loss of loved ones”.


Associated Press writer Felicia Fonseca in Flagstaff, Arizona contributed.

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