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Native Sun News: Tensions high in trial over fatal horse shootings

Filed Under: Law | National
More on: crime, faith spotted eagle, native sun news, south dakota, yankton sioux

The following story was written and reported by Brandon Ecoffey, Native Sun News Managing Editor. All content © Native Sun News.

Tensions high as horse shooting trial nears
By Brandon Ecoffey
Native Sun News
Managing Editor

LAKE ANDES — Both the prosecution and defense are prepared to enter in to arguments over the guilt of Ray Johanneson at a trial set to take place March 7, in Lake Andes. Johanneson stands accused of shooting 5 horses, killing 4, that were owned by two members of the Yankton Sioux Tribe.

The dispute that has been labeled by some as having racial undertones pits the interests of two tribal members living on the reservation against those of a non-member whose land borders the reservation.

The notion that the case is one driven by race was denied by Timothy Whalen attorney for the accused. In an interview reported by the Mitchell Republic Whalen says that the race issues were driven by an article written by Mary Annette-Pember posted on the Indian Country Today Media Network.

“Its author wanted to create racial tensions and that is not what this is about,” Whalen said. “It’s about five horses destroying crops for five years on a regular basis.”

In the article on Indian Country Media, Johanneson is quoted as admitting to shooting at the horses for escaping from their enclosures and blames his actions on the owners of the livestock. “I don’t know what she’s (the owner) crying about--she’s been warned for the past five years to keep those horses off my property,” Johanesson told ICTMN. “I didn’t shoot the horses. I shot at them. Guess I must have hit some of them,” he added.

When approached for comment by Native Sun News, Johanneson’s attorney Timothy Whalen denied to answer questions about the case.

“Absolutely not, the last time I spoke with a Native American newspaper (Indian Country Today) I was completely misquoted. I will never talk with a Native American newspaper again. Thank you. Have a nice day,” said Whalen before hanging up.

Racial tensions have been high in the area in the past as Charles-Mix county attorneys, where the case is located, once attempted to disestablish the Yankton reservation. In the early 1990’s the Yankton Sioux Tribe sought to exercise their sovereignty and block the creation of a solid waste dump near Lake Andes. The State of South Dakota and Charles Mix County fought the tribe’s attempt to halt the construction citing that the Yankton Sioux Reservation did not have established boundaries due to it being disestablished. In this landmark case attorneys for the State and Charles Mix County lost.

In a more recent dispute tension rose over the wording of signs that told drivers that they were entering the reservation. Some non-Native residents of the area felt the signs were not necessary and needed to be changed to feel more welcoming. Some of the signs were eventually vandalized.

When talking about the incident of the horse shooting Faith Spotted Eagle said that shooting at someone’s escaped livestock is not a common practice.

“In ranch and farm country, this often happens with animals and it is not an unheard of occurrence for livestock to get out. Unwritten rules of good neighbor policy dictate that you call the farmer or the police to let people know that animals are on the road and could be a danger to others and themselves. However in Charles Mix County, things are different,” said Spotted Eagle. “Charles Mix County is the home of the Commissioners who fought with the Yankton Sioux Tribe all the way to the Supreme Court to get the Ihanktonwan reservation disestablished. Thankfully that effort failed although our land was diminished,” she added.

Spotted Eagle was present the day that the horses were attempting to return to the corral for what she felt was care after being shot. In a horrific letter to Native Sun News she described in detail the macabre scene in which the horses were seen either wounded or dead.

“It is important that this crime NOT be marginalized or dismissed as a small thing. It is unacceptable violence against our horse relatives with racial overtones,” said Spotted Eagle.

(Contact Brandon Ecoffey at

Related Stories:
Faith Spotted Eagle: Slaughter of sunka wakan at Yankton Sioux (2/25)

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