Tim Giago: The mysterious deaths at Wind River
Who are Ohetica Win Elyxis Gardner, 13; Alexandria White Plume, 14; and Winter Rose Thomas, 15? If you don’t know you are not alone. Millions of people may never know about these three young ladies because for all intent and purpose, the national media has seen fit not to cover their unsolved deaths on the Wind River Indian Reservation in Wyoming.

The people of Wind River have not forgotten them. Jake Bell, the grandfather of Ohetica, is still mourning her death and he is still trying to find out how and why she died in a rental home in the Beaver Creek housing development on the Wind River Reservation on June 6, 2008.

Winter Rose had just graduated from the eighth grade. She was learning the Arapaho language and was respectful of her grandmother, who had raised her since she was a baby. Friends say she was outgoing, attractive, took pride in her health and appearance and she sang beautifully.

All three girls were members of the Northern Arapaho Tribe of Wyoming. It now seems they have become statistics and their families and friends will never find closure, but will continue to mourn until someone can lets them know how these children died.

Winter Rose Thomas was the daughter of Julianne Standing Elk but was raised by Lloyd and Debra Jenkins of Arapahoe, Wyoming. Ohetica Win Gardner was the granddaughter of Rachel and Oscar Hollow Horn of Wounded Knee, S. D. on the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation. Rachel, now deceased, was one of the descendants of the Survivors of Wounded Knee. Alexandria is the daughter of Alex White Plume from Manderson on the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation.

The Beaver Creek housing development, where the bodies of the three girls were discovered, sits on a nearly treeless, windswept hill. The Tribes’ new Wind River Casino, sits directly across the road from the housing. Several of the rental homes have their windows boarded up and the yard and areas around the homes is strewn with cardboard cups, wrappers and broken glass, according to a report in the Casper Tribune.

In a twist of irony, while many members of the Tribe celebrated the grand opening of their new casino, across the street cars filled with family members and others filled with friends, pulled into the Beaver Creek housing where the bodies of the girls were found the night before.

The Wind River Reservation is like many of the Indian reservation scattered across the Northern Plains; out of sight and out of mind to the majority of Americans. Many of these reservations have been infiltrated by drug dealers mostly from Mexico and they have managed to find willing accomplices among tribal members to sell and distribute the illegal drugs, particularly crack-cocaine, that is devastating the lives of so many Indian youngsters.

While the national media can fill nearly every news spot with seemingly endless and mindless stories about the “Balloon Boy” and can give 24-hour coverage to the disappearance of one, young white girl, the mysterious deaths of three Arapaho teenagers goes unnoticed.

Hispanics and African Americans have been complaining for years that they have been witnesses to many kidnappings and murders of their young people also, but these happening are either never reported upon by the national news media, or are printed so far on the inside pages of the major newspapers as to be virtually invisible. The same can be said of the 24/7 television news stations like CNN and MSNBC. They fill their broadcasts with so many idiotic, nonsensical stories that they have become irrelevant to the news hungry minorities just dying to see something pertinent to their very existence. But Hispanics and African Americans do get 1,000 times the coverage as Native Americans.

If you have never heard of the deaths of these three young Arapaho girls I hope you now know why. It usually follows that unseemly deaths like this are followed by rumors, but in this case, where many residents believe nothing is forthcoming because of the bungling and inadequacy of the local law enforcement agencies, there needs to be honest answers made available.

To keep an entire Indian reservation in darkness while its people continue to wonder and mourn the deaths of these young girls; who were daughters, nieces, cousins and friends to many at Wind River, is a perpetuation of their deaths. If justice cannot be served, at least give the people some honest answers.

Tim Giago, an Oglala Lakota, is the publisher of Native Sun News. He was the founder and first president of the Native American Journalists Association, the 1985 recipient of the H. L. Mencken Award, and a Nieman Fellow at Harvard with the Class of 1991. Giago was inducted into the South Dakota Newspaper Hall of Fame in 2008. He can be reached at editor@nsweekly.com.

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