PINE RIDGE (AP) — A longtime tennis coach in England has been offering free tennis classes on the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation.
Leigh Owen, 50, has been visiting Pine Ridge regularly since 1997 and has been enamored with the people and their culture since he was an 8-year-old boy, when he asked his mom to write to the U.S. Bureau of Indian Affairs, he told the Rapid City Journal.
“I don’t know exactly why,” Owen said by phone, “but I was interested in the Native-American culture since childhood.”
Owen began coaching at Red Cloud Indian School in February, spending one day a week at the school. Although Red Cloud does not have a formal tennis court, the school’s gym is perfect for what Owen calls “mini-tennis,” allowing his students to work on technique.
“The kids really liked it,” he said.
Patrick Welch, a physical education teacher at Red Cloud Elementary and assistant athletic director at the middle school, said Owen is doing an amazing job. Welch said kids on the reservation know basketball, football and cross country running, but tennis was foreign to them.
“Leigh got the kids interested; he grabbed their attention right off the bat,” Welch said.
Owen said the United States Tennis Association has been generous in providing equipment for the fledgling tennis players.
Tony Stingley, director of training and outreach for USTA’s northern district, estimated that the organization has donated more than $1,200 worth of equipment.
Owen said he is determined to turn the reservation he loves into a mecca for the sport he loves, and he and Welch are thinking big. They want to renovate some outdoor courts for what could become a tennis center.
Owen is back in Liverpool but will return to the United States in early September.
Rapid City is among the defendants that may be sued in federal court by the Native American students who were the targets of alleged beer-spilling and racial taunts at a January hockey game in the Rushmore Plaza Civic Center.
A Minneapolis lawyer, Robert R. Hopper, has filed in the U.S. District Court of South Dakota a “pre-suit notice” alleging “atrocious behaviors” by some of the defendants at the Jan. 24 Rapid City Rush game.
But the lawyer for one of the defendants responded that the notice is “little more than a shakedown for money.”
State law requires that to sue a “public entity,” such as the city, over some incident, written notice must be given within 180 days of the incident. Thus, the deadline for giving the city written notice occurs this week.
Named as prospective defendants in the yet-to-be-filed suit are the city of Rapid City, which operates the Rushmore Plaza Civic Center, in which the Rush play their games; Eagle Sales of the Black Hills, which leases the luxury box from which the beer-spilling and racial taunts reportedly came; Trace O’Connell, a Philip resident who has been charged with disorderly conduct in connection with the incident; and “other guests of Eagle Sales’ box suite” on the night of the game.
Rapid City Mayor Steve Allender on Saturday said he had “skimmed” the pre-suit notice and has scheduled an executive session at the Monday night Rapid City Council meeting for council members to discuss the possible lawsuit with legal counsel.
“I guess it wasn’t unexpected,” Allender said.
“It could very well be that the impact might be to elicit a settlement” from the defendants, he added. An attempt Saturday to reach an executive with Eagle Sales was unsuccessful.
O’Connell’s attorney in the disorderly conduct case, Michael J. Butler, responded in an email:
“The notice to bring a lawsuit against Rapid City, the Civic Center, Eagle Sales, my client, and others is little more than a shakedown for money, captioned as a lawsuit claiming racism. I am familiar with the investigation. This case is not about racism, but it is about a few who are advancing a personal agenda and using race to do it. The lawyer filing notice should take some time to inform himself of the investigation and do his homework. ”
The pre-suit notice lists as plaintiffs parents who are acting on behalf of the students. In a cover letter, Hopper refers to the plaintiffs as a “Putative Class of Native American Children.”
The pre-suit notice says the plaintiffs “and putative plaintiffs class (were) subjected to (1) an escalating series of racially derogatory comments; (2) foul language; (3) objects, including bottle caps and Frisbees, thrown at them; and (4) spitting, spraying and throwing of beer onto their clothing, in their hair, and on their faces.”
Some of those accusations are familiar, although the references to thrown bottle caps and Frisbees apparently are new.
The pre-suit notice said the “atrocious behaviors” were committed by “several adults … in a private suite … leased by the Civic Center to Eagle Sales of the Black Hills, Inc.”
Those actions, the notice says, “were allowed to perpetuate and were exasperated by the negligence of the Civic Center and its responsible agents and employees acting in their official capacity on behalf of the City.” In an email, Hopper said “exasperated” should have been “exacerbated,” and he explained that an auto-correct feature on his computer made the mistake.
The students, all from the American Horse School on the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation, were at the game as a reward for academic success. They were accompanied by adult chaperons. The group had 65 tickets to the game.
After a lengthy investigation, O’Connell was charged with disorderly conduct, a Class 2 misdemeanor. His trial is scheduled for Wednesday and Thursday this week in the Historic Theatre at Rapid City High School.
PINE RIDGE, S.D. — OUTSIDE the Oglala Lakota tribe’s child protection service office, staff members updated a police officer on the latest emergency: An 11-year old girl had texted her cousin that she wanted to kill herself and then had gone missing.
A damp breeze swirled smoke from the caseworkers’ cigarettes, and the sun flitted between mottled clouds, the advance guard of an approaching spring blizzard. The officer jotted down some specifics on the girl and the remote area where she was last seen, then pulled away from the curb. They didn’t want to lose another child.
Since December, nine people between the ages of 12 and 24 have committed suicide on the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation — home to Crazy Horse’s Oglala band of the Lakota — in southwestern South Dakota.
They come to Pine Ridge every few years, these suicide epidemics, with varying degrees of national media attention and local soul-searching. What the news media often misses though, and what tribal members understand but rarely discuss above a whisper, is that youth suicides here are inextricably linked to a multigenerational scourge of sexual abuse, with investigations into possible abuse now open in at least two of the nine recent suicides.
I’m a wasicu (Lakota for “white person”) from Massachusetts, but I’ve spent about half of the past decade living on the rez, working mostly as a teacher and archery coach. Within two weeks of starting my first job teaching high school English here, a veteran teacher told me something he thought was critical to understanding life on Pine Ridge: By the time they reach high school, most of the girls (and many boys, too) have been molested or raped.
His anecdotal observation seems to track with the available statistics. According to the United States Department of Justice, Native Americans are 2.5 times more likely to be sexually assaulted than other Americans, and the numbers on Pine Ridge, one of the largest, poorest reservations in the country, appear to be even greater. “We started two clinics for reproductive health in the largest high schools on the reservation,” said Terry Friend, a midwife who works at the year-and-a-half-old Four Directions Clinic, which specializes in sexual assault and domestic abuse. “When I take a sexual history of a patient, I ask, ‘Have you had sex against your will?’ At the high schools, girls answered yes more than no.”
Numbers are harder to come by for boys, but local medical professionals estimate that they are also high, and that such rates of abuse can translate to high rates of suicide. One recent study found that nationally, teenage boys who were sexually assaulted were about 10 times more likely to attempt suicide, girls more than three times more likely.
At some point, most local child sexual assault cases cross the tribal prosecutor’s desk. “Unfortunately, many of those same kids have suicidal ideations and attempts,” said the tribe’s attorney general, Tatewin Means. “I definitely think there’s a strong connection between sexual assault and suicide here on the reservation.”
THE BOY LOVED the sweat lodge. He was a troubled student but took solace in the traditional Lakota form of prayer, with steam hissing off big glowing rocks in the center of a small lodge made of bent saplings and canvas tarps. School and tribal officials said the boy showed up to school one day last spring when he was supposed to be on suspension, climbed a pine tree in the schoolyard and hanged himself from a thick branch. Teachers and students saw him, and he was quickly cut down. Struggling to breathe, he sprinted for the school’s sweat lodge, where he took refuge until the police and a relative calmed him down.
It wasn’t the first time he had attempted suicide in or around school grounds, administrators said. He’d been depressed, and behaving erratically, with signs that he was using drugs and “huffing” gasoline. There had also been signs of sexual abuse, involving not only him but also a younger brother and male cousins he lived with. Every time one of the boys showed new signs of abuse or talked about suicide, school officials said, they called the tribe’s child protection unit, and every time they were told the same thing: “It’s still under investigation.”
The child was not removed from the home. Then in December, two weeks after his 14th birthday, the boy hanged himself at home and became the first in the recent string of nine suicides.
His case was lost, it seems, in the web of tribal bureaucracies and federal oversight bodies that are long on backlogged cases and short on funding. The tribal child protection unit, for instance, currently has two investigators for the entire reservation, which the federal census puts at more than 18,000 total residents (though tribal officials say is closer to 40,000). The two investigators are responsible for handling upward of 40 new cases a month, and hundreds more in the long-term case management system.
About a month after the boy died, a 14-year old cheerleader killed herself. Soon after, rumors of an all-too-familiar detail started to spread: Before her death, the girl told friends that her stepfather, a longtime teacher and coach at her school, was sexually abusing her. What followed broke the usual mold, though: Her friends came forward to tell school officials. Charles Roessel, a member of the Navajo Nation and director of the federal Bureau of Indian Education, which oversees the school, said administrators acted quickly to suspend the accused teacher and refer the case to federal investigators. No charges have been brought.
Shortly after his suspension from the federal school, the cheerleader’s stepfather was brought on, according to school officials, as an unpaid intern by the reservation’s Shannon County school system, which is overseen by the state. His job was to shadow one of the system’s principals so that he could learn to be a school administrator. The stepfather did not respond to requests for comment.
TRIBAL LEADERS and experts are struggling to understand the recent suicide epidemic (specifics on many of the cases aren’t widely known), but there’s general agreement on one underlying cause: the legacy of federally funded boarding schools that forcibly removed generations of Native American children from their homes. Former students and scholars of the institutions say that the isolation and lack of oversight at the mostly church-run schools allowed physical and sexual abuse to run rampant.
“My grandmother used to tell me that she didn’t think she was pretty,” said an E.M.T. friend of mine who responds to a suicide attempt every week or so, “because when the priests used to sneak into her dorm and take a little girl for the night, they never picked her.”
Left untreated, such sexual abuse can lead to elevated rates of drug and alcohol abuse and suicide, said Dr. Steven Berkowitz, director of a center on youth trauma at the University of Pennsylvania.
One sad irony of the recent suicides is that they come in the middle of new initiatives to address sexual assault. The Four Directions Clinic is treating young abuse victims who were previously sent to distant hospitals off the reservation. Tribal and federal law enforcement officials now confer regularly to better coordinate investigations. High school students recently petitioned the Pine Ridge school board to create health classes for vulnerable middle school students, and the board unanimously voted to find necessary funding.
Still, the challenges are enormous. Six days after the 11-year-old girl went missing, protection services still hadn’t located her, though a caseworker says the hope is that the girl and her mother have gone to a domestic violence shelter somewhere — the reservation doesn’t have its own.
Shortly before the 14-year-old boy committed suicide, a school administrator tried to counsel him. Lakota tradition, she told him, teaches that a spirit set free by suicide is doomed to wander the earth in lonely darkness. “You don’t want that, do you?” she asked. He looked her in the eye, a minor taboo for Lakota children to do with their elders, and said, “Anything’s better than here.”
James Pine has his heart set on empowering the Oglala Lakota, both young and old.
And Pine, 23, of Rapid City, has been awarded a $10,000 grant to take his desire and run with it. He is one of 10 recipients of the Dreamstarter grant program, which is administered by Running Strong, an American Indian youth nonprofit based in Alexandria, Va.
Each of the 10 awardees received $10,000 to start youth camps promoting health and wellness across the nation. Each will work with a mentoring nonprofit to help implement their startup camps.
Pine, who works at Dakota Business Center delivering office supplies and installing office furniture, will be working with Dustin Martin, program director for Wings of America in Santa Fe, N.M.
Born and raised on the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation, Pine knows firsthand the problems that people there deal with daily.
“There’s not much to do,” he said last week in a phone interview while he was at the Dreamstarter Academy in Washington, D.C. “There are a lot of bad habits. There’s a lot of suicide. There are a lot of drugs and alcohol, and there’s not much to turn to. On a daily basis, a lot of people are bored, and they want to hang out with their friends, and they do bad things.”
An avid runner, Pine said, “I just want to bring my people up. I just want to help them out. I want to be a mentor and a coach. I just want to help the youth, and not even just the youth. I want to help everybody, elders, too, old people, tall, small — anybody.”
This summer, Pine said, he will be starting a series of two-day youth camps, dubbed Lakota Forever Running and Fitness, in eight communities across the reservation. He hopes to start the camps in June, continuing through August.
Pine is a former state-qualifying cross-country and track runner for Pine Ridge High School.
“Running has helped me in a major way, and I don’t even know if I can put it into words, but it was just an awesome thing because when I was younger, growing up on the Pine Ridge Reservation, I went through the hardships, just like everyone else,” he said.
Running Strong was co-founded by 1964 Olympic champion Billy Mills, an Oglala Lakota from the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation, who to date is the only American to win a gold medal in the Olympic 10,000-meter run.
“Billy Mills, he played an important role in my life,” Pine said. “He was kind of like a hero, just someone to look up to. He was like the glimmer of hope. You know, you see all these NBA stars and these people on TV, and none of them are Native American. Some people get it in their head: ‘Oh, I can never be that,’ but then you look at Billy Mills. He’s a national idol.”
Pine applied to the Dreamstarter Program with friend and colleague Martin. The duo met last summer at a Wings of America program that trained Pine and others to facilitate youth running and fitness camps.
“Immediately, James stepped into a leadership role and was a leader for those facilitators that came down from Pine Ridge,” Martin said. “It was obvious to me that they looked up to him, and they respected his guidance when he gave it. So when we had this opportunity to apply for this grant, it was a no-brainer for me.”
Pine’s father, Dale, has been a long-time supporter of Wings of America running and fitness programs, Martin said. Dale Pine has coached at Pine Ridge High School for more than 25 years.
He is a leading force of Team One Spirit, which facilitates running programs and raises funds for youth on the reservation. The team sent James Pine to run with four other Oglala Lakota runners in the New York City Marathon. The group is collectively called the Lakota Five. Pine finished the 26-mile, 385-yard race with a time of 3:52:31.
Partnering with Pine to start running camps at the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation is a natural transition from an already strong partnership, Martin said.
“Dale Pine has been a longtime advocate and helper of Wings of America, and I sort of see myself as the next generation of Wings,” he said. “In a lot of ways, I see James as the continuation of that legacy, you know, and myself included, so together, he and I can continue that legacy of Wings working in South Dakota, and particularly in Pine Ridge.”
Pine said Wings of America has granted him an additional $9,000 to start the Pine Ridge running camps, which he said will incorporate games, mentorship and wellness education, all the while promoting the sport of running.
“Everything is going to revolve around running and being healthy and living a good, natural life,” he said. “If you make a game out of it, it’s very interesting and fun to them, even though they will be running the whole time.”
Pine said he will coordinate with schools on the reservation to see what gym space is available for his camps, though there’s always the option of holding them outdoors. He said he will also be seeking sponsorships from local businesses.
Running “took me a lot of places, and it brought me to where I am now,” said Pine, who lives in Rapid City with his girlfriend and 1-year-old daughter. “I’m a dad now. I just changed my life around … I just feel obligated to help my people and give back to the community.”
ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. (AP) — Janay Jumping Eagle is on a mission to curb teen suicide in her hometown on South Dakota’s Pine Ridge Indian Reservation.
Dahkota Brown of the Wilton Band of Miwok Indians in California wants to keep American Indian and Alaska Native students on track toward graduation.
The teenagers are at the heart of Generation Indigenous, or Gen-I, a White House initiative that kicked off this week with a brainstorming session that happened to coincide with tens of thousands of indigenous people gathering in New Mexico for the Gathering of Nations, North America’s largest powwow.
The Generation Indigenous program stems from a visit last year by President Barack Obama to the Standing Rock Sioux Reservation in North Dakota. Meetings followed, the president called for his cabinet members to conduct listening tours, tribal youth were chosen as ambassadors and a national network was formed.
The goal is to remove barriers that stand in the way of tribal youth reaching their potential, said Lillian Sparks Robinson, a member of the Rosebud Sioux and an organizer of Thursday’s Gen-I meeting.
“This is a community-based, community-driven initiative. It is not something that’s coming from the top down. It’s organic,” she said.
The teens are coming up with their own ideas to combat problems in their respective communities.
For example, a string of seven suicides by teenagers in recent months has shaken Pine Ridge, and close to 1,000 suicide attempts were recorded on the reservation over a nearly 10-year period. Jumping Eagle, a high school sophomore, said her older cousin was one of them.
“That was really devastating. I just wanted to at least try to stop it from happening and I’m still trying,” she said, noting that a recent basketball tournament she organized as part of her Gen-I challenge to bring awareness and share resources with schoolmates was a success.
Brown, 16, said he sees Gen-I as a tool to “shine a light on the positive things that are happening in Indian country rather than all the other bad statistics that go along with being a Native teen.”
From New Mexico’s pueblos to tribal communities in the Midwest and beyond, federal statistics show nearly one-third of Native youth live in poverty, they have the highest suicide rates of any ethnicity in the U.S., and they have the lowest high school graduation rate of students across all schools. And for American Indians and Alaska Natives overall, alcoholism mortality is more than 500 percent higher than the general population.
Federal agencies are working with the Center for Native American Youth at the Aspen Institute to pull off Generation Indigenous, and the White House is planning a tribal youth gathering in July in Washington, D.C.
In one of her last tasks before passing on the Miss Indian World crown, Taylor Thomas spoke to Gen-I participants Thursday. She shared with them her tribe’s creation story, which centers on the idea that every animal, plant and person has a purpose. She encouraged the teens to be leaders.
“No matter the difficulties we have in our communities, we have so many bright lights shining from all over Indian country. And when I say that I’m talking about all of you,” she told the crowd of about 300.
Julian Juan was only 13 when he noticed the scars. A high school freshman on the Tohono O’Odham Reservation, about an hour and a half southwest of Tucson, Arizona, Juan had a tight-knit group of seemingly gregarious friends. But even in southern Arizona’s desert heat, some of those friends wore long-sleeved shirts. Once, a friend’s sleeve rode up high enough to reveal scarred flesh.
“When I asked about it, they would say, ‘Oh, I cut myself doing yard work,’ or ‘I got caught in a fence,’ ” Juan remembered. He persistently pushed them for the truth. “They would say they were having these thoughts and would never fully explain,” he said. He could tell the people closest to him were suffering. And he wanted to do something about it.
Today, Juan is a 23-year-old junior at the University of New Mexico who serves as a youth cabinet member in the National Congress of American Indians, the largest advocacy organization for Native Americans in the country, where he’s worked with a broad coalition of young people to put mental health among tribal elders’ top concerns.
“This issue is really taboo for people in my community,” he said. “They don’t like to talk about it, and it does hurt to talk about, but it’s not going away.”
There’s a growing mental health crisis among Native American youths, and it’s being driven by poverty, violence, and lack of resources. It’s difficult to definitively assess how pervasive the problem is, partly because cultural stigma about mental illness makes it difficult for experts to access many Native American communities. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, suicide is the second leading cause of death among Native Americans between the ages of 15 and 34—a rate that’s two and a half times higher than the national average for that age group. The crisis appears to be afflicting Native American communities across the country.
On the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation in South Dakota, nearly 1,000 suicide attempts were reported between 2004 and 2013. In roughly the same period, the local hospital has apparently treated more than 240 people under age 19 who planned or tried to commit suicide.
The crisis is getting national attention. Earlier this month, First Lady Michelle Obama touted the Generation Indigenous Native Youth Challenge, a White House–backed initiative with the U.S. Department of the Interior. The initiative has the lofty goal of “removing the barriers that stand between Native youth and their opportunity to succeed.”
The first lady outlined a “long history of systemic discrimination and abuse,” ranging from 19th-century laws that forcibly removed Native Americans from their land to the early-20th-century boarding schools that meticulously extinguished many tribes’ language and culture. Those injustices set the tone for the dire situation in many of today’s tribal communities. Here are the statistics, according to the American Psychiatric Association: Native Americans are more than twice as likely to live in poverty than the rest of the U.S. population. They’re also nearly twice as likely as to suffer psychological distress, usually in the form of depression or post-traumatic stress disorder.
“Given this history, we shouldn’t be surprised at the challenges that kids in Indian Country are facing today,” the first lady said. “And we should never forget that we played a role in this. Make no mistake about it—we own this.”
In November 2014, a U.S. Justice Department task force, led by retired Democratic U.S. Sen. Byron Dorgan of North Dakota, submitted a report to Attorney General Eric Holder outlining several actions that could help address the trauma experienced by Native American children. The task force recommended that a Native American Affairs Office be fully staffed within the White House Domestic Policy Council and more federal money be spent on funding tribal criminal and civil prosecutions.
People working in tribal communities are searching for answers. Sheri Lesansee is program manager of New Mexico’s Native American Suicide Prevention Clearinghouse. She says that understanding the diversity of 22 tribal communities is key to accessing their needs. “The outreach and technical assistance really does have to be tailored to meet the needs of that community,” Lesansee told TakePart, pointing to therapists who are well versed in the concepts of generational trauma and familiar with tribal family dynamics. At the same time, Lesanee said it’s important to focus on the tools tribal communities already possess, such as endurance. “We believe—as Native people—we are strong and resilient, and we emphasize that in prevention efforts,” she said.
Jennifer Nanez, a senior program therapist at the University of New Mexico’s Native American Behavioral Health Program, said overt racism continues to play an important role in kids’ lives. “A lot of times the mainstream perspective is that Natives can’t seem to get out of this rut—and that it’s just a characteristic of an American Indian when it’s not,” Nanez said, before echoing the first lady’s sentiments. “[This] is the result of hundreds of years of oppression, and our kids are dealing with it.”
As proof, Nanez pointed to an instance from January when a group of Native American children attending a minor-league hockey game in South Dakota were accosted by a group of white men in a skybox above their seats. The men allegedly dumped beer and yelled racial slurs at the kids, and the story eventually made headlines. “They were getting drunk, and around the third quarter they were talking crap to our kids and throwing beer down on some of them, including our staff and students…telling our students to go back to the rez,” one chaperone wrote on Facebook.
New Mexico is one of a handful of states that have tried to address the problem through legislation. In 2011, the state legislature passed a bill that, in part, created the Native American Suicide Prevention Clearinghouse, which does outreach and consultation for various tribal communities.
Even Native Americans who don’t live in tribal communities feel the impact of the problem. Christian Redbird, 22, was born and raised in Albuquerque, New Mexico, and has struggled with mental illness while attending community college. Members of her family suffered from undiagnosed mental illness. No one in her family had ever gone to therapy, and instead self-medicated with alcohol, she said. Redbird, the first person in her family to go to college, realized she didn’t have the familial and social networks to help her thrive.
“I work as a server in a restaurant and make more money than anyone in my family does,” she said. “It’s hard for me to know what steps to take when I don’t know what they are.”
Despite complaints from four Native Americans, South Dakota Secretary of State Jason Gant has asserted that all Jackson County residents have the same access to voter registration and absentee voting as every South Dakotan.
“We are 100 percent equal across the state,” Gant said Thursday. “Every South Dakota county has at least one location within their county borders where people can absentee vote face-to-face.”
Four Lakota residents of Wanblee, a Jackson County community on the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation, have filed a federal lawsuit claiming the county is discriminating against Native Americans by not providing their community a satellite office for voter registration and absentee voting.
The Oglala Sioux Tribe’s Vice President Thomas Poor Bear is one of the plaintiffs in the lawsuit.
The lawsuit claims that the Jackson County Commission does not have a legitimate reason to refuse their request. It also states that the county has access to Help America Vote Act (HAVA) funding to help offset the cost of the satellite office.
On Friday, the plaintiffs filed a motion asking U.S. District Judge Karen Schreier to issue a preliminary injunction ordering Jackson County to open a satellite office in Wanblee for the remainder of the time leading up to the election.
As of 5 p.m. MST Friday, there was no court record of a decision by Schreier.
Jackson County Auditor Vicki Wilson would not comment on the details of the lawsuit, which is being handled by the county’s insurance company.
Wilson did say that before the state’s voter-registration laws changed, she had traveled to Wanblee to register voters when a notary’s signature was required.
During that time, Wilson said, she rarely had requests for absentee ballots.
Residents can now request a voter-registration form at the courthouse or go online and mail it to the county auditor’s office. Monday, Oct. 20, is the last day to register to vote in the Nov. 4 election.
Absentee ballots can be requested up to 5 p.m. on Nov. 3. Absentee ballot requests are available online, but they must be notarized before they are mailed to the auditor. Completed ballots can be returned by mail.
“That’s the same as it is in every other county that has a county seat,” Gant said.
The lawsuit claims that Native American residents in Jackson County are required to travel twice as far as white residents to register in person or vote absentee. Wanblee is about 27 miles, or 32 minutes by car, from the county seat at Kadoka, according to the plaintiffs. They say making the trip is also a financial hardship on Native Americans.
According to court documents, Jackson County commissioners were asked in May 2013 to establish a satellite office, but they denied the request because they did not know if their available HAVA funds would cover the cost. Under the HAVA program, counties can be reimbursed for election expenses, but only up to the amount allocated by the state to each county.
Jackson County has until Wednesday, Oct. 15, to reply to the plaintiffs’ complaint.
PINE RIDGE, S.D. (AP) – An Oglala Sioux tribal committee has started a process that could allow a public vote on whether to legalize marijuana use on the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation.
The tribal council’s business development committee approved the measure last week, and the full tribal council soon could approve a public vote, councilman Kevin Yellow Bird Steele told the Rapid City Journal.
Council members say they are considering marijuana’s medical uses, and some argued that it could ease the dependency of tribal members on powerful prescription painkillers.
“It’s not something the council wants to make a decision on by themselves,” Yellow Bird Steele said. “It will be up to the people across the reservation.”
Just last August, reservation members narrowly voted to end prohibition and sell alcohol on the tribal land.
The alcohol ban had been in place for most of the reservation’s 124-year history, with supporters arguing that legalization would only exacerbate the impoverished tribe’s problems with domestic abuse, suicide, infant mortality, unemployment and violent crime. But opponents noted that liquor stores in Whiteclay, Neb., a speck of a town along the reservation’s border, were selling millions of cans a beer a year.
Under the law, the tribe will own and operate stores on the reservation, and profits will be used for education and detoxification and treatment centers, for which there is currently little to no funding.
If the marijuana vote passes, the Pine Ridge reservation would join a number of states that have begun to turn the tide on pot use.
Tribal Councilman James Cross recalled the tribe’s reaction when South Dakota voters in 2010 rejected a proposal to legalize medicinal marijuana. The statewide vote failed by a nearly 2-to-1 margin. But a majority of Shannon County voters, where part of the Pine Ridge reservation is located, supported it.
Cross, who said he smoked in 1990 to help ease pain in his lower back when prescription painkillers left him unable to function, emphasized the medicinal needs over recreational use.
“It was really looking at the medical part of it first,” Cross said. “We really didn’t discuss revenue.”
Robin Tapio, a tribal councilwoman representing the Pine Ridge district, said she hasn’t decided whether she supports the proposal.
Tapio used marijuana to recover from cancer treatments in the mid-1980s, but she also regularly smoked pot until she was 45 and now worries that it may be addictive or cause health problems.
PIERRE, S.D. (AP) — A federal judge on Tuesday dismissed a lawsuit that sought to ensure that residents of part of the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation have the same access to early voting as people in other South Dakota counties.
U.S. District Judge Karen Schreier dismissed the lawsuit after finding that state and local officials have agreed to provide an in-person absentee voting station in Shannon County for the 2014, 2016 and 2018 election cycles.
The judge said she couldn’t proceed to consider the case because no one knows whether election laws or other conditions will change after the 2018 election.
Shannon County, which is part of the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation, has no courthouse, and it contracts with nearby Fall River County for some services, including elections. Twenty-five residents of Shannon County filed a lawsuit in early 2012 seeking to get the same 46 days of early voting as residents of other counties. Without a voting station in Shannon County, county residents would have had to travel nearly an hour or more to cast in-person absentee ballots at the Fall River County courthouse.
After the lawsuit was filed, state and local officials set up an in-person absentee voting station in Pine Ridge village for last year’s primary and general election. Those officials later pledged to use federal voting assistance funds to operate an early voting station in Pine Ridge through the 2018 election.
Those who filed the lawsuit criticized the judge’s dismissal of their case, saying there is no guarantee that early voting will be offered in Pine Ridge after 2018. They sought a court order permanently ordering the state to provide early voting in Shannon County.
But Schreier noted that no one knows whether election laws will change by 2020, whether federal funding will continue to be available for the early voting station, or whether Shannon County will continue contracting with Fall River County for election services. In addition, there is no substantial proof of impending harm to Shannon County voters, she said.
“For the court to adjudicate this claim now would amount to an advisory opinion based on assumptions and speculation,” Schreier wrote.
Attorneys for the state and the Shannon County residents did not immediately return phone calls seeking comment.
The Oglala Sioux tribal council voted Tuesday night to allow the tribe’s members to decide whether to legalize alcohol on the tribe’s South Dakota reservation.
“Let’s hear the voice of the people,” said council member Robin Tapio during the council’s meeting in Oglala, S.D.
Tribal President Bryan Brewer said he doesn’t support legalizing alcohol on the reservation, at least until the tribe develops a plan to address the likely increase in crime that would occur after legalization.
“That alcohol that’s coming on the reservation is killing our children, killing our people,” he said.
The vote to allow the tribe’s members to decide whether to legalize alcohol is closely intertwined with efforts to stop the flow of beer from the Nebraska village of Whiteclay, which is about a mile south of Pine Ridge, the tribe’s largest village.
Last year, four beer stores in Whiteclay sold the equivalent of 3.9 million 12-ounce cans of beer, according to the Nebraska Liquor Control Commission.
The tribe’s reservation, about the size of Connecticut, has struggled with high alcoholism rates for generations, though alcohol has been banned there since 1832. The Pine Ridge Indian Reservation makes up all of Shannon County, S.D. — the third poorest county in America, according to the U.S. Census.
Pine Ridge legalized alcohol in 1970 but restored the ban two months later, and an attempt to allow it in 2004 died after a public outcry.
A date for the Oglala Sioux Tribe’s members to decide whether to end the alcohol ban hasn’t been decided.
On Friday night, the tribe also voted to create ports of entry at every entry point onto the reservation, starting with the entry from Whiteclay. The tribe hopes the ports of entry will allow it to stop alcohol importation onto the reservation.
Brewer said he is planning to visit Lincoln soon to talk to Gov. Dave Heineman and other state officials about ways the state of Nebraska can address alcohol sales in Whiteclay. On Tuesday, he told his tribe’s council that he plans to protest Whiteclay alcohol sales on Monday morning and invited council members to join him.
“If we close up Whiteclay, it’s not going to stop the liquor on our reservation,” he said. “But we’re going to send a message to our young people: We do not want this.”
Council member Larry Eagle Bull said he expects crime and substance abuse will spike if alcohol is legalized.
“It’s going to peak but then it’s going to come down once our people get educated about alcohol,” he said. “The people have to have a voice.”