Lakota Country Times: Sen. Heitkamp takes on Pine Ridge crime

YouTube: Heitkamp Calls on FBI Director to Improve Protections in Indian Country

Crime on Pine Ridge Indian Reservation catches eye of Congress
By Brandon Ecoffey
LCT Editor

WASHINGTON— U.S. Senator Heidi Heitkamp (D-ND) and FBI director James Comey shared an exchange on the floor of a U.S. Senate Committee on Homeland Security & Governmental Affairs meeting that centered around the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation and law enforcement in Indian Country.

On October 8, the Democratic senator from North Dakota pressed FBI director James Comey on his experience in Indian Country last week.

“Have you ever been to Indian Country?” asked Sen. Heitkamp.

Comey would reply that he had been to a few reservations including the Navajo Reservation and several Pueblo communities. However, Sen. Heitkamp would follow up her initial question with a more focused one.

Sen. Heidi Heitkamp (D-North Dakota) hosted her 2nd Native American Veterans Summit on the Turtle Mountain Reservation in North Dakota on October 13, 2015. Photo from Facebook

“Have you ever been to a Great Plains reservation, Pine Ridge?” Heitkamp asked.

FBI Director Comey would reply, “I have not. My children go to Pine Ridge every summer,” said Comey. “My children just returned from Red Shirt Table and my two girls said to me, ‘You have got to do something. You wouldn’t believe what it is like.’”

Comey would go on to call places like Pine Ridge a “crime scene without representation,” because “no one speaks for these places."

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The exchange would continue for over six minutes as Sen. Heitkamp drove home her point that there needed to be more of a federal law enforcement presence across Indian Country.

“In my part of the world, the FBI is failing to meet the challenge of protecting Native American people. When I brought former White House Drug Czar to North Dakota to hear firsthand from Native American leaders about the challenges they face in dealing with the devastation of drug cartels, a Native American woman said to him, ‘we are an endangered species.’ So I am begging for help from the FBI to support Native communities,” said Sen. Heitkamp.

“There is no place in the United States where you have more responsibility than in Indian Country – where too often traffickers can go invisible and undetected, without fear of prosecution because jurisdictionally it’s no man’s land – and there is no cop on the beat,” she added.

Officers from the Oglala Sioux Tribe Department of Public Safety. Photo from Facebook

Comey would say that he has increased the FBI manpower in the Minnesota field office that he said was responsible for covering Heitkamp’s home state of North Dakota and that he was working to recruit more agents with the necessary skills needed to work cases in Indian Country.

A recent report from the DOJ indicated that a vast majority of violent crime that occurs across Indian Country happens in the Great Plains and in the Southwest regions. However, the same report indicated that prosecution rate of cases in Indian Country have increased every year since 2009.

Heitkamp had been successful in lobbying the FBI to create an office in Williston, ND, in response to the population boom and the accompanying spike in crime across the state and on the Mandan, Hidatsa and Arikara Nation and has continually lobbied the DOJ to increase the number federal officers being deployed to Indian Country.

(Contact Brandon Ecoffey at

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