Vi Waln: Tackling violent crime rate on Rosebud Reservation

South Dakota’s United States Attorney Brendan Johnson visited the Rosebud Reservation last week. He seems well informed about what happens on our rez. I also believe he occasionally accompanies tribal police officers to witness firsthand the violence we are subject to here on Rosebud.

Johnson has an extensive website. One feature is a list of the latest federal court indictments, plea bargains, convictions and sentences. Since the beginning of this year there have been 63 people from Rosebud who have been indicted, convicted or sentenced in Federal Court. They ranged anywhere from 18 to 61 years old.

The length of sentences imposed ran from a few years of probation all the way up to more than ten (10) years of imprisonment. People from Rosebud have been charged with numerous offenses. They include crimes of violence, such as, assault, assault with a dangerous weapon, assaulting a federal officer, arson, kidnapping, interstate domestic violence, and involuntary or voluntary manslaughter.

Violence committed largely against women and children include: sexual abuse, sexual abuse of a minor, abusive sexual contact, production of child pornography, sexual abuse of children, sexual contact with a child, aggravated sexual abuse, failing to register as a sex offender and driving under the influence of alcohol with minors present in the vehicle.

Crimes involving theft are: first degree burglary, larceny, possession of a stolen firearm, structuring currency transactions, robbery, bank embezzlement, bank fraud, false bank entry and interstate transportation of a stolen vehicle.

Drug crimes listed were: distribution of marijuana, possession of a controlled substance, possession of a controlled substance with the intent to distribute, conspiracy to distribute a controlled substance and conspiracy to distribute methamphetamine.

Other crimes included: illegal trafficking in eagle & migratory bird remains, aiding & abetting and tampering with evidence. People indicted are innocent until proven guilty. Many people enter into plea bargains at some point in the process to receive a reduced sentence.

A local newspaper devotes an entire page to tribal arrests, most of which are alcohol related. Obviously, the crime rate in our homelands is very high despite the fact that many people deny it. Even our tribal leaders are in denial. Still, there is no denying the fact that both Rosebud and Pine Ridge are building new adult detention facilities.

Last week US Attorney Johnson told the tribal council that Rosebud was making great strides in combating crime. I then heard a RST council representative tell Johnson to not be so negative when referring to Rosebud. But I doubt that the US Attorney will sugarcoat the amount of violent crime which occurs on my rez.

Eighteen months ago there were two attorneys in the RST Prosecutor’s office. Today there are seven licensed attorneys prosecuting violent tribal offenders. In fact, the Rosebud Reservation now has the third largest prosecutor’s office in the state of South Dakota. We also have the first ever tribal Special Assistant to the US Attorney (SAUSA). He has already prosecuted two assault cases in federal court involving non-Indians who committed crimes on my rez.

Rosebud was also chosen for a demonstration grant under the Defending Childhood Initiative which was created to address children’s exposure to violence. Our children witness violence at an alarming rate. There were eight demonstration sites selected for this initiative and Rosebud was one of only two tribal communities chosen to receive initial funding for this project.

If our reservations were free of violence I would not be writing on this topic. I would not need to list the number of tribal members indicted and incarcerated within the federal system. We would not need to construct new jails. We would not be receiving federal funding to help our children cope with the violent acts they suffer or witness.

However, the fact is our people are violent. Their violent nature is most often flamed when they are under the influence of alcohol or drugs and they commit a crime which usually results in their arrest. Being under the influence of alcohol or drugs is no excuse. No one can make you drink or do drugs. It is your own personal choice.

There are also dysfunctional families choosing to pool all their money to bond an offender out of jail. The children are told that basic necessities and utilities cannot be paid because the money is being saved to bail out dad/mom/brother/sister/aunt/uncle/etc. Thus, a child goes without while the tribal court receives a $1,000 cash bond.

Many of you will say we need jobs more than we need new jails. I agree. But until our people sober up and stop committing violent acts we will have to build jails to house them because they will not behave on their own. Those of you who live in cluster housing areas know the level of violence that occurs. How many rez fights are now being viewed on YouTube?

In addition, we have tribal members hiding out on our reservations because they are wanted for committing violent crimes elsewhere. Some of them move home after living in the city for many years. Oftentimes they are here to dodge an active warrant they may have off the rez or in another state.

Rosebud is also in the final stages of amending our Law & Order Code. An excerpt from Chapter 42 of the Rosebud Sioux Tribe’s new Sex Offender Registration Code reads: “Violent crime in Indian Country is more than twice the national average. The Rosebud Sioux Tribe is disproportionately affected by violent crime and sex offenses in particular from both Indian and non-Indian perpetrators. Moreover, sexual violence has multi-generational effects that imperil the future well-being of the Rosebud Sioux Tribe. Consequently, the conduct and presence of convicted sex offenders within the Rosebud Sioux community threatens the political integrity, economic security, health and welfare of the Tribe.”

Violence does not come out of nowhere. Your thoughts determine your reality. Violent thought will eventually produce a raging maniac. Change your thoughts and you will change your life.

Vi Waln is Sicangu Lakota and an enrolled member of the Rosebud Sioux Tribe. Her columns were awarded first place in the South Dakota Newspaper Association 2010 contest. She is Editor of the Lakota Country Times and can be reached through email at vi@lakotacountrytimes.com.

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