Darla Black, then serving as vice president of the Oglala Sioux Tribe addresses a rally for the Violence Against Women Act at the U.S. Capitol in Washington, D.C., on September 11, 2019. Photo by Indianz.Com (CC BY-NC-SA 4.0)

'Nobody deserves this kind of treatment': Native women speak out against Oglala Sioux leader

Tribal council removes Darla Black from office
Employees complain of repeated harassment

Duwana Two Bulls had spent much of her career working off her reservation.

In November 2017, a longtime customer whom she had gotten to know over the years approached her with a job offer. Darla Black, vice president of the Oglala Sioux Tribe, offered to hire Two Bulls as her administrative assistant.

Two Bulls agreed to return home and serve her people.

At first, Black was very professional with her, but Two Bulls could tell that Black acted differently around her other employees. Eventually, after about a month or so, Black began showing her true personality to Two Bulls.

Black asked her to pick up her dry cleaning, take her grandchildren home from school and open a bank account in her own name to use to collect donations. Black explained to Two Bulls that she didn’t want anything to be traceable to her.

“I enjoyed the theory of what the job was supposed to be, but what it ended up feeling like was that we were her slaves and we needed to jump on command,” Two Bulls said.

OST COUNCIL IMPEACHES BLACK On Monday, November 25, 2019 at the Prairie Wind Casino, the Oglala Sioux Tribal council...

Posted by KILI Radio 90.1 FM on Monday, November 25, 2019

On Monday, Two Bulls shared her story with leaders of the tribe. Later that day, the council voted to impeach Black for malfeasance.

The tribal council voted to have Tom Poor Bear, a former councilman, finish Black’s second term.

It isn’t the first time the tribal council has impeached one of its members. In 2000, the council impeached then President Harold Salway, and in 2006, it impeached then President Cecelia Fire Thunder.

At a public hearing at the Prairie Wind Casino and Hotel that lasted several hours Monday, three women who once worked for Black shared stories of sexual harassment and corruption on the part of the two-term vice president. Black’s first two-year term began in December 2016, and her second term began in December 2018.

The former employees of Black’s who spoke Monday were Two Bulls, Santana Young Man Afraid Of His Horses and Louise Desersa.

Davidica Little Spotted Horse, who is the mother of Young Man Afraid Of His Horses, also spoke Monday. She told Indianz.Com that she first learned about Black’s behavior when her daughter came to ask for advice about how to deal with Black.

“She was very verbally abusive and physically intimidating toward the workers,” Little Spotted Horse said. “It just kept escalating. It just kept getting worse.”

After being suspended by fellow leaders of the Oglala Sioux Tribe, Darla Black shared documents on social media detailing the complaints against her. She has since deleted all of the posts.

Her daughter had tried to resolve her issues with Black through the tribe’s employee assistance program, but she was told that program couldn’t do anything to address Black’s behavior and suggested she submit a complaint directly to the tribal council, Little Spotted Horse said.

Other current and former employees of Black’s began telling Little Spotted Horse similar stories of harassment and abusive behavior.

With little other recourse for holding a political appointee accountable, Little Spotted Horse convinced several of the women to file a complaint against Black and submit it to the tribal council.

Among the concerns they raised about Black’s work and behavior included:

· Late night calls and Facebook message that Black made to several of her former employees. One employee said Black during one of these calls complained to her about not having a girlfriend.

· Angry outbursts Black directed toward her employees, including allegations made in public that her employees weren’t performing their duties properly.

· Donations that Black received that she failed to disclose to the tribe and that she used to benefit herself and her family.

· An unwillingness to provide men who visited her offices in search of services and items, including free diapers and free rides on the tribe’s transit system.

· Accusing employees of lying when they asked for time off for sick leave, funerals or sick relatives.

· Soliciting donations, including money to pay for free transit rides for constituents. Several tribal councilmembers criticized Black for failing to inform them about collecting donations and for failing to pay the transit department more than $2,700 that she owed for the free rides.

"This toxic environment was incredibly difficult to work in" -- An excerpt from one of the written complaints Darla Black, former vice president of the Oglala Sioux.

In her own defense, Black said she believed the complaints against her were filed as retaliation by employees who failed to perform their duties adequately and resigned because they knew they were facing termination.

She criticized the complainants for failing to take their concerns to the tribe’s human resources department or to the tribe’s attorney general. She said Desersa never expressed any allegations of workplace abuse in her October 18th resignation letter.

“It doesn’t point out sexual harassment,” Black said. “It doesn’t point out workplace violence. It doesn’t point anything in here, and it was voluntary. I didn’t ask her to resign.”

Several times Monday, Black blamed her former employees for failing to perform their duties as reasons for their resignations, rather than her own behavior.

Judge Paula Langworthy, who served as the presiding officer at the tribe’s impeachment hearing, attempted to redirect Black’s comments about why her former employees resigned, saying Black should focus instead on responding to their complaints about her own behavior.

In a deleted social media post, Darla Black shared the letter sent by the Oglala Sioux Tribe informing her of her suspension -- with pay -- as vice president. She was impeached by the tribal council on November 25, 2019.

Black said she never sent any inappropriate Facebook messages or texts to her former employees, and she denied ever sexually harassing anyone, despite being shown screenshots of late-night Facebook conversations between her and her employees.

“As the vice president, I have done nothing,” Black said. “I have not committed any offenses to come before to be impeached.”

One councilwoman, Lydia Bear Killer, asked Black how many employees she had terminated since being elected in 2016.

Black said she thought she had fired three people during her first term and four in her second term.

However, Langworthy added later that the tribe’s human resources department had notified the council that Black had fired three employees in 2018 and nine in 2019.

Black admitted she had asked an employee to pick up her grandchildren twice and had paid them gas money to do so, even though they were working at the time. But she denied asking any employees to pick up her dry cleaning.

Councilman Richard Greenwald criticized Black for publicly berating other council members and their staff, including President Julian Bear Runner’s staff. He asked Black if she had been de-briefed after serving as a soldier, to which she responded that she had.

“I don’t have aggression in me at all,” she said, adding that she attends weekly sweat lodges and takes daily walks to relieve her stress.

Young Man Afraid Of His Horses, a former Miss Oglala Lakota Nation powwow princess, said Black accused of her of lying when she told her that her aunt had died, and Black berated her and Desersa, saying they had failed to attend a walk with high school students even though they had attended the walk.

Darla Black, then working for the Oglala Sioux Tribe Department of Public Safety, appears in a University of Nebraska Lincoln College of Journalism and Mass Communication video singing and translating a traditional Lakota song. The accompanying story -- titled "Darla Black epitomizes fearlessness in career, home life" -- highlights Black's U.S. military service and the domestic violence she overcame, and documents her repeated clashes with the tribal police department.

It was after that event that Desersa decided to quit, handing her resignation letter to Young Man Afraid Of His Horses on her way out.

Young Man Afraid Of His Horses said Black treated her employees inhumanely.

“She didn’t care what would happen to me after she let me go,” she said. “To her, we were disposable.”

Two Bulls said the Oglala Sioux Tribe needs to change its regulations to ensure that abusive political appointees can be held accountable and that employees who serve those appointees have a means of having their grievances addressed.

“Now all we can do is submit it to council and it blows up into a big meeting,” she said.

She said she felt justice had finally been served by the council’s decision Monday.

“Nobody deserves this kind of treatment,” Two Bulls said. “It has to stop. We’re disposable, and that’s why she went through so many employees.”

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