Native Sun News: Inmates express concerns at prison pow wow

Shown is the Jameson Annex, built in 1881, of the South Dakota State Prison system in Sioux Falls.

Inmates express concerns at prison pow wow
By Richie Richards
Native Sun News Staff Writer

SIOUX FALLS –– The pow wow at the Jameson Annex in the South Dakota State Penitentiary in Sioux Falls returned to the gymnasium on Saturday, Oct. 17 after being banned by prison officials in recent years.

Scheduled Oct. 15-17, the Cultural Conference and Pow wow was a successful event this past weekend. There were several speakers and presenters including world-champion hoop dancer and Oglala Sioux Tribal Liaison, Dallas Chief Eagle.

On Thur. Oct. 15, the Cultural Conference began with discussions and information provided by Executive Director of Iron House Council (IHC), Jennifer Hudson.

The Iron House Council’s One Heart One Mind Interpretive Center is based near Charles Town, W.Va. IHC is a Native American advocacy and support group.

“Our vision is to see the next generations learn the history, culture and traditions of the Cannupa in order to walk the Red Road,” according to their website

Iron House is working diligently in the East Coast region with dozens of correctional facilities and hundreds of prisoners providing documentary screenings, classes and lectures, community support for those struggling with addiction recovery, and incarcerated individuals who want Native American spiritual practices in their lives.

Jennifer Hudson of IHC told inmates, “You (S.D. inmates) are setting a precedent for others around the country who want what you have here in Sioux Falls. So many other prisons do not allow inipi ceremonies (sweat lodge), or sage or tobacco for prayer.”

“You are the leaders for so many others,” Hudson told the Native American inmates in the Jameson Annex at the S.D. State Prison.

Opening up the Cultural Conference on Friday was a water ceremony conducted by Lisa Bellinger who did prayer and spoke to prisoners about the connection “between women, water and life. Water is life.” Inmates drank from the blessed water Bellinger passed around the circle.

Native Sun News was invited to speak and updated inmates regarding the race relations issues in Rapid City, justice reform through the MacArthur Grant’s Safety and Justice Committee formed through the Pennington County Sheriff’s Office and news from Indian Country.

The LDN Spiritual Group spokesman Robert Horse then introduced Dallas Chief Eagle who discussed with inmates the need to be led by the spiritual mind in life.

“Let go of all the drama in here. All the drama from your family outside and be led by the spiritual mind. Tune into that channel to guide you,” said Chief Eagle.

On the day of the pow wow, inmates and visitors were able to have a pipe ceremony in morning. The Iron House staff and volunteers Kat Bartlett, Anna Goist, and Kevin McGee assisted with the ceremony and inmates were able to use tobacco during prayer.

Pow wow Eyapaha (announcer), George Blue Bird told the pow wow attendees how much he enjoyed it.

“When I get out of here, I’m gonna move to Georgia, somewhere, and work on a tobacco farm so I can smoke all day, every day," Blue Bird said.

Everyone laughed when he made the gesture of being surrounded by tobacco leaves.

During the pow wow, Dallas Chief Eagle put on a hoop dancing performance which amazed everyone in the gymnasium. Chief Eagle is a tribal liaison for the Oglala Sioux Tribe.

He encouraged inmates and outside guests to participate and create the various animal spirits with hoops. Inmates could be seen smiling and laughing as they were floating around the gym floor like eagles. This symbol of freedom was touching as one visitor could be seen crying from joy.

Chief Eagle’s performance ended with him sitting in a sweat lodge made from his sacred hoops.

Various speakers were called up to speak during the pow wow, including Marlita Pacheco, whose nephew committed suicide while serving a sentence at Jameson Annex. Pacheco’s husband passed away this past year and she was honored by inmates and visitors for her inmate support and advocacy.

Inmate Wade Aikins read from a prepared statement during his speech. “I’m about to begin my 30th year of a life sentence. I’ve not been involved with any aspect of our cultural activities here in prison for a long time. A fear of reprisals against us for our involvement in any collective efforts in prison is also a strong deterrent from involvement,” said Aikins.

Hoop dancer Dallas Chief Eagle, shown here earlier this year at the University of Nebraska Kearney, performed at the powwow at the South Dakota State Penitentiary. Photo from Dallas Chief Eagle / Facebook

Continued Aikins, “Our human and civil rights are violated on a regular basis and policies and rules are being made up on the spot and enforced at the prisoners’ expense… if it comes to a prisoner who just becomes overwhelmed in here from some reason and reacts, we’ll see staff come out of the woodwork in order to get a piece of that guy, in order to inflict pain/punishment on the guy.”

Aikins went on to discuss concerns in Native American spiritual rights and practices. “Prisoners won back the right to use tobacco in the ceremonies… certain administrative ‘reps’ have been doing All kinds of petty things to get their ‘digs’ in at the Natives' activities,” claims Aikins.

The prison pow wow was highly shortened and certain guests were not allowed for reasons unbeknownst to inmate organizers, according to Aikins.

For whatever reasons, inmates feel they are being targeted and taking away their religious rights and spiritual practices are being used as an exchange tool for conformity and as a punishment tool.

As the pow wow continued, inmates were able to honor an inmate and three outside visitors with eagle feathers. The inmate honored was set to be released this week and has been running the sweat lodge ceremonies for inmates. Also honored were Native Sun News, Dallas Chief Eagle, and the tribal liaison for the Lower Brule Sioux Tribe.

LDN Spiritual Group spokesman, Robert Horse has received a paralegal degree while serving a sentence for the past 16 years. He told Native Sun News he would like to see more involvement and support from tribal leaders.

Horse has sent letters and made phone calls to many tribal representatives and groups. One of those phone calls did not go ignored. A. Gay Kingman, Great Plains Tribal Chairmen’s Association, answered a call from Robert Horse last week and has asked for information regarding inmate needs be presented at the next GPTCA meeting on Oct. 30.

For this story and more, visit the all new Native Sun News website

The inmates at the Jameson Annex are serving time for crimes against their families, their tribes, and their communities. Often times, these crimes are unforgiveable. But they feel they don’t deserve to be forgotten.

Many of them will be returning to the streets from which they were arrested. They have needs relevant to their addiction recovery, spirituality, and mental health and have asked that community leaders support their requests for services.

As George Blue Bird said during the pow wow, “I would like to see someone contact Neil Young and tell him to come put on a concert for us. Next time, I would like to see Neil Young sitting right there and playing music for us.”

This comment was made in jest as Indian humor, but the message was as authentic as a man serving a life sentence without the possibility of parole can be.

(Contact Richie Richards at Copyright permission Native Sun News

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