Law | National

Crime Report: Abuse and violence pervasive in Indian Country

"In Native American culture, a medicine man is revered as both a spiritual and physical healer. So when Karl Gillson, the District Attorney in New Mexico’s McKinley County, found himself prosecuting a Navajo healer for sexual abuse he recognized how much was at stake.

“(In our culture), the medicine man is at the top of the social hierarchy,” says Gillson, who is of Navajo descent.

“When healers breech the trust placed in them (and) prey on others wearing the cloak of health and harmony, it increases my passion to personally prosecute the case.”

Last month, Francis Nez, a 62-year-old medicine man from Gallup NM, was charged with two counts of sexually assaulting two girls in his family.

What troubled Gillson was that Nez hadn’t been the first. At least two similar cases have occurred in the vast Navajo reservation spanning four states in the U.S. Southwest—the country’s largest autonomous reservation—over the past decade.

Herbert Yazzie was convicted in 2007 of raping his pregnant daughter-in-law during a ceremony she requested in 2000. Five years earlier, in 2002, 68 year-old David Filfred was convicted of raping a 15-year-old girl, who became pregnant.

According to Gillson, the fact that some of the most revered people in the enigmatic Navajo culture have been accused of rape exacerbates the lawlessness—including disrespect for women—that pervades many Indian reservations across the country."

Get the Story:
Bad Medicine (The Crime Report 10/8)

Join the Conversation