Melvin Martin: A taboo subject in Indian Country
I was quite surprised that there was so very little commentary coming from South Dakota's Indian community after the following article appeared on November 10, 2009, in the online version of the Rapid City Journal:
Peniska sentenced to 110 years for rape, child abuse

"A once well-known advocate for Native American children has been sentenced to 110 years in prison

Kevin Peniska pleaded guilty to two counts of second-degree rape and one count of aggravated child abuse in August, but he claimed he was mentally ill. Peniska, 44, will not be eligible for parole for 55 years."

This paragraph is the gist of the article. Please note that Mr. Peniska will only be 99 years old when he is eligible for parole.

Since May of 2009, I have been a featured op-ed columnist at My primary focus since then has been on the horrendous anti-Indian sentiment that exists in Rapid City, South Dakota, as well as in a few other places in America where there is a significant Indian presence. As Indian people in America, it is no secret that we have numerous enemies from "without," those dark forces outside of our community that hate us to the extent that if the Indian Wars of the 19th Century were somehow revived, they would actively and aggressively function as full-fledged combatants against us.

Not all that much is ever brought up in the Indian media, excluding, of course, about the enemies from within, those individuals and/or groups of people who are members of our communities who actually do greater harm to us than any of the Indian haters out there today. I am referring to Indian people who perpetrate the most heinous of crimes against their own.

Over the years, the Rapid City Journal has become mysteriously more objective in its reporting on the activities and affairs of the city's Indian population. For this gradual transformation to what now amounts to an unprecedented, unbiased presentation of this particular aspect of the news in that much hallowed town, I salute them. An important component of this reporting is the coverage of the federal court proceedings for western South Dakota that is published several times a month. I, for one, am absolutely horrified at the numbers of Indian people who are convicted in federal court for crimes related to the sexual and physical abuse of minors (that take place on the various reservations).

I am invariably forced to ask myself whenever I read of these repulsive deeds: what exactly is the problem here with crimes of this nature? I, for the life of me, simply do not know.

Mr. Peniska, according to the article is a "once well-known advocate for Native American children," who taught that Native American children were sacred, and who had also "worked as a consultant on issues involving Native American children." Notwithstanding the actuality of his crimes, Peniska could have been regarded as a warrior for his people given the level of his ostensible concern and commitment to Indian children. And I suppose that many in the various communities throughout Indian Country saw him in this manner. They saw him as a knowledgeable, trusted, effective and no doubt beloved leader, a leader mind you. A leader of his people in the continuous struggle for better lives for our children, for the "future generations," as this term is so widely used to describe what constitutes our very future as a unique ethnic group - our precious Indian children.

A reader of mine here at emailed me that Mr. Peniska always emphasized "tradition" in his many "wellness" presentations to tribes throughout the United States. The only tradition I see Peniska upholding is the all-too-tragic legacy of sexual and physical abuse by a motley coterie of strangely idolized, cult-directed personalities like David Koresh of the Branch Davidians; the upper leadership of the modern-day Mormon polygamist movement; and more recently, the infamous evangelist Tony Alamo who was sentenced last week to 175 years in prison, also for child sexual abuse.

I decided to write about Mr. Peniska only now, the 17th of November 2009, as I was waiting for more of a reaction from the Indian community, especially in the Northern Plains where Peniska held many of his conferences. When hardly a word was uttered about this sort of totally aberrant behavior that affects us all whether we acknowledge it or not, I had no choice but to comment. And I rarely comment here - only if the spirit moves me to do so.

I comment out of the deepest sense of love and concern for my Indian people; I comment on certain issues when no one else seems to even remotely care; and I comment so that we do not remain, in the eyes of way too many, an all-too-neglected and much-maligned segment of humanity.

Lastly, I wondered what Crazy Horse, the very symbol of our Lakota manhood, was feeling now from his place in the Spirit World about some of the people he sacrificed his life for?

Melvin Martin is an enrolled member of the Oglala Sioux Tribe of South Dakota. He can be contacted at

Related Stories:
Melvin Martin: Calling all anti-Semites and racists (11/2)
Melvin Martin: Social dysfunction in 'sweat lodge' (10/20)
Melvin Martin: Denial and racism in border towns (09/16)
Melvin Martin: My own encounter with an Aryan (08/24)
Martin: Diplomas and dog faces in Rapid City (8/10)
Melvin Martin: The Kansas City Roll in Rapid City (7/28)
Melvin Martin: Not much change in Rapid City (7/24)
Melvin Martin: Rapid City, you've done it again! (7/16)
Melvin Martin: So what else is new in Rapid City? (6/15)
Melvin Martin: Even more truths about race in Rapid City (5/19)
Melvin Martin: More truths about race in Rapid City (5/4)
Melvin Martin: The truth about race in Rapid City (3/31)