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Native Sun News: BIA officer goes after bullying on reservations

The following story was written and reported by Katherine Saltzstein, Native Sun News Correspondent. All content © Native Sun News.

Luticia Mann

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. –– People talk about bullies in schools these days, but Luticia Mann is doing something about it.

She’s a School Resource Officer for the Bureau of Indian Affairs in New Mexico, visiting four Indian Pueblos to prevent bullying and educate people about it.

“I’m a counselor, a police officer, and a teacher. I do all three in my work,” said Mann who is a member of the Cheyenne River Sioux tribe and grew up in South Dakota.

Bullying is not a new problem, it’s just getting more publicity these days and there’s more awareness especially with the news about school shootings and teen suicides, she says. But bullying is more violent now, she thinks.

Dressed in a police uniform, Mann travels from her Albuquerque office to the pueblos of Zia, San Felipe, Santo Domingo and Cochiti, talking to students, teachers, principals, counselors and tribal officials at schools and community centers. She visits a pueblo each week, making presentations, and talking to people.

Conflict is inevitable in any relationship. Bullying involves an unequal conflict when one person is stronger than the other and the taunting or physical abuse occur on a regular basis.

“Bullying is power over another person,” said Mann. And, it can be serious.

Mann gets everyone involved. One advantage of working at a reservation is that she can get support from tribal officials. She develops a rapport with everyone from the teens to school officials and tribal governors.

In one recent incident, a dozen girls were bullying other girls. Mann went to the pueblo governor for help. He called a meeting with the girls and their parents.

“When the governor got involved, they knew it meant business," Mann said. "I took the girls to the governor. I wanted it settled. There was fighting and bullying. It was happening at school, on the bus and the community center. It was not being taken care of effectively. Letters were sent home. There were rumors. One girl was upset. She would not go to school. She was scared and not eating. Other girls were afraid too. Some were threatening."

"They said ‘I’m going to kill you.’ I went to the counseling department at the school. The governor talked to all of the girls. The girls talked, the parents talked," Mann said. "The governor said if this continues, the girls will be dealt with traditionally, they will also have community service and cannot go to the community center. If there is more of this, charges will be pressed. Powerful people got involved. Charges were filed. They were told that there would be traditional consequences if they don’t help take action.”

Some of the girls were suspended from school. The bullying stopped.

“I’m proactive. I don’t want to respond to a school shooting,” Mann said.

Sometimes, the bullying is a reflection of what’s going on in the community among the adults.

In the case with these girls, Mann said “the parents were already fighting amongst themselves anyway. It was spilling into the schools. Kids were already learning that. Family feuds spill out. It’s so widespread on reservations, this family stuff.”

These days, there’s also cyberbullying to add to the problem.

“Youngsters with I-pads, and cell phones are texting about fights and videotaping the fights. It’s on Youtube and Facebook. They have access even though they’re poor. There are rumors. There is teasing. It’s pretty much the same as in the general population. There’s nothing really specific to reservation bullying. (But) They’re more fearful of retaliation. The community is so small. In Albuquerque, the kids can go to a different school, not on the reservation.”

Also on many reservations “guns are everywhere. There are tribal hunts and access to weapons.”

Another problem on reservations is that some traditional people frown on western medicine, Mann said.

“I say try traditional methods. If they don’t work, medication can help. Look at traditional but also look at western help – medication or seeing a counselor.”

Another problem Mann pointed out is that many pueblos are small and don’t have the resources to hire psychiatrists and counselors. Albuquerque is forty miles away and many people can’t afford to get there. Kids who bully come from strict backgrounds or backgrounds that are not strict enough – both ends of the spectrum, she said.

Many bullies end up with criminal records when they’re older. Some of the school shooters who make the news were bullies or were bullied themselves.

In a binder on her desk, Mann keeps copies of notes from bullies. They show drawings of people being stabbed and there are threatening words to go with the sketches.

Mann visits school classrooms armed with workbooks about bullying. She gives presentations to students about bullying, drugs and suicide prevention through a program called Gang Resistance Education and Training (GREAT).

Some of those who are bullied have ADHD or are in special education classes. They’re fat or skinny, or their parent is a drunk, something to notice and make fun of. Sometimes, it’s skin color that youngsters are teased about, said Mann.

She urges parents who suspect that their child has been bullied to contact the teacher, the principal and law enforcement. If it’s happening on the school bus, go to the bus driver. Bullying is under-reported, she added. “If a kid says they’re going to kill another kid or kill themselves, take it seriously,” she warned. “Ask what action you’re taking to get the kid help.”

Some young people aren’t strong enough to stand up to the bully. She listed the signs that a child may be encountering bullies: they’re absent from school a lot, may be withdrawn and their writings and poems reflect the struggle.

Often on the reservation parents are working two jobs, or odd jobs and aren’t supervising their kids enough, Mann said.

She herself was bullied when she was young and it was considered a rite of passage – everyone was bullied and they’d get over it. In those days, a pocket knife was the weapon of choice. Now, some kids bring guns to school and hide them in their lockers.

She advises kids that if they’re bullied to be strong. Be as active as possible at school in sports or whatever is of interest.

“The more active you are the less you will concentrate on people and how they treat you. Stand up for yourselves. Say ‘stop. Leave me alone.’ And, you have to report it. We can’t help you if we don’t know about it.”

(Contact Katherine Saltzstein at

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