Monthly Archives: April 2017

It’s Destroying Us

By Vi Waln

It’s destroying us.

Those words say a lot. It is what a health care provider at Rosebud Hospital told me. We were talking about the growing methamphetamine epidemic on the Rosebud Reservation.

Meth is taking over our people. There have been numerous homes burglarized on the Rosebud in the last several weeks. Meth users will do anything to get their drug, including breaking into homes and stealing what others have worked hard to provide for their family.

Every time you use meth, you are destroying your body. Our young people who are addicted to meth show up at the hospital with symptoms they shouldn’t have until they are elders. More and more of our young Lakota people are walking around without any teeth. Using meth robs you of your mind, body and spirit.

There are elders and children suffering greatly because of the meth addicts in their family. Elders are abused and left destitute because their adult children and grandchildren steal what little income they have. Small children are left alone in houses for days without supervision or food because the parents are on a meth binge.

Currently, there are many vacant houses on our reservation. The unofficial number of houses on Rosebud contaminated by meth users is at 400 or more. It’s not safe for people, especially our fragile children and elders, to live in a house filled with meth residual. The Rosebud Sioux Tribal Council does have a standing resolution for our local housing authority to evict residents when a house has a meth residual level of 2.0 or higher.

Kudos to the Rosebud Police Department. They have been working hard to get meth users and dealers off our streets. Many people have recently been charged in our Tribal Court with possession of narcotics. Some of those charges are for prescription pills, but the majority of the drug charges arraigned in Tribal Court are likely for meth.

The RPD usually informs tribal citizens through social media about arrests involving meth and other drugs. They don’t release names but SicanguScribe.com does publish the RST Criminal Court arraignments online so you can see who is arrested for drugs. It used to be that public shaming did a lot to deter crime on our homelands. Today, people are not at all ashamed when they go to jail for a crime involving meth.

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We are a spiritual people. Yet, our people addicted to drugs or alcohol don’t have a clear grasp of reality. Their brains are irreversibly damaged by heavy drinking or drug use. Their sense of what is real is clouded by the effects of the drug. By the way, alcohol is a drug.

Addicts, including those who drink, are likely to attract entities that can attach themselves to the user. Local people can attest to this as many have had experiences in their homes when someone was using meth heavily. Some may have brushed these strange occurrences off as something they’ve imagined, while others know the experiences are very real.

Highly intoxicated people often don’t remember doing things while they were drunk. It’s quite possible that an entity took over their body and helped them to commit heinous crimes. Yet, it’s impossible to blame an entity you cannot see. You alone are responsible for your choices.

Lakota people who are heavy meth users, prescription pill addicts, drug dealers, bootleggers and alcoholics are not good ancestors. Unfortunately, there isn’t much we can do for an individual who doesn’t want to get sober or stop selling poison. Still, dealers, bootleggers, addicts and alcoholics are our relatives.

They may be our relatives, but they are also the people abusing our children and elders. Meth users are ruining public housing units and causing entire families to be evicted. They are breaking into private homes to rob families of personal possessions they’ve worked hard for. We live in sad state. Our ancestors would be ashamed.

It’s destroying us.

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April is Sexual Assault Awareness Month

sexual assault

By Vi Waln

April is Sexual Assault Awareness Month. RAINN (Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network) reports someone is sexually assaulted every 98 seconds. Activities are planned to increase awareness to widespread sex crimes across this country. Many victims are children. Being sexually assaulted as a child affects one for life.

There are also many people who misunderstand the dynamics of sexual assault. They mistakenly believe it is the victim’s fault when rape occurs. Nothing could be further from the truth.

For instance, a local health professional spoke about sexual assault at a meeting held in Mission. She encouraged young women to be careful of how they dressed. She also went on to talk about how women put themselves in situations where they are asking to be sexually assaulted. It is hard to believe that we have health professionals who promote these misconceptions. Sexual assault is never the victim’s fault.

According to a recent story from KELOLAND TV, South Dakota is currently ranked second in the nation for the most sexual assaults or rapes. Residents quickly point to Indian Reservations as the source of this report. For sure, statistics from RAINN regarding the frequency of sexual crimes show that American Indian women are more than twice as likely to suffer rape, or other forms of sexual assault, in our lifetime.

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The status of federal criminal cases, including sex crimes, are provided online by the US Attorney for the District of South Dakota. Charges, convictions and sentences of rapists/sex offenders comprise a majority of cases in the federal system. For instance, there have been 26 sex crime cases since January 1. As of last week, criminal suspects were charged with several types of sex crimes which fall under federal jurisdiction.

Charges listed on the US Attorney’s site include: Abusive Sexual Contact with a Person Incapable of Consent, Sexual Contact with a Minor, Receipt of Child Pornography, Abusive Sexual Contact, Prostitution Transportation, Sexual Abuse of a Minor, Failure to Register as a Sex Offender, Aggravated Sexual Abuse, Sexual Abuse, Transfer of Obscene Matter and Attempted Trafficking in Involuntary Servitude and Forced Labor (Sex Trafficking).

Also, Aggravated Sexual Abuse of a Child, Sexual Contact, Sexual Contact with a Minor,
Possession of Child Pornography, Sexual Exploitation of Minors, Attempted Commercial Sex Trafficking, Attempted Illicit Sexual Conduct with a Minor, Aggravated Sexual Abuse by Force,
Aggravated Sexual Abuse of a Child, Abusive Sexual Contact of a Child, Sexual Abuse of a Child and Abusive Sexual Contact of a Minor.

There are 15 drug cases also listed on the site. Meth use continues to grow in this country and is often a factor in sexual assault. In addition, many young victims often suffer sexual abuse in their own home. We all must be vigilant of our children to protect them from sexual assault.

There is also the probability of a man camp being established near our homelands. The recent approval of a presidential permit will allow TransCanada to begin constructing the Keystone XL pipeline soon. The project will likely see man camps established along the proposed route.

In an interview conducted by Damon Buckley, Police Chief Grace Her Many Horses talked about her experience with man camps. Crime rates do increase in proximity to a man camp, sexual assaults are especially common. Again, we have the responsibility to be vigilant with our relatives, both male and female. (See Lakota Country Times, 05-22-2014)

Our bodies and spirits are sacred. We all have to do our part to reduce the prevalence of sexual assault on our homelands.

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Accreditation Authority Should Be Granted to Tribal Educators

By Vi Waln

The Commission for Oceti Sakowin Accreditation (COSA) is an organization of dedicated educators who have worked for several years to affect change in the school systems. The curriculum currently mandated by accreditation authorities for South Dakota has been failing us for decades. The educators behind COSA grew weary of watching tribal students fail in academic programs at the K-12, community college and university level.

So, instead of complaining about a system that obviously doesn’t work for us, this group of educators went to work on the issue. Indian educators are everyday people. Many were born and raised on the reservation. They are acutely aware of how difficult school can be for tribal students. Their intent is to put accreditation authority in the hands of our own people. The concept of having our own accreditation authority for tribal education, is also known as sovereignty.

Many Indian educators are also aware of the struggle our high school graduates face in attempting to pass freshman level college courses. For example, when I first enrolled in a university, the vocabulary level of my classmates was well over my head. I carried around a Merriman-Webster Dictionary during my first year of school. Without that dictionary, along with hours of remedial research, I certainly would have failed freshman English.

If you ask me what the worst thing about that first year at the university was, I’d have to admit it would be a toss-up between (1) the realization that you are academically unprepared for freshman English or (2) lugging around a heavy dictionary with the other required textbooks.

Consequently, tribal students attending reservation high schools are still not academically prepared to succeed in college. In fact, the majority of our tribal students enter higher education institutions only to spend time completing remedial courses that offer a curriculum similar to what they should have learned in high school.

So, COSA was formed with the intent to improve the tribal student experience and work for the authority to implement accreditation standards which would allow college freshmen to succeed. On March 6, 2017, South Dakota SB 125, which was written to “revise the list of organizations which may approve and accredit a nonpublic school,” was presented to the South Dakota House lawmakers to vote up or down. Unfortunately, SB 125 failed to pass by a vote of 31 ayes and 35 nays.

An opinion on SB 125 written by Elizabeth May of District 27, was confusing. She wrote:

Oceti Sakowin or COSA is seeking approval to be added to the accreditation list. Concerns surrounding Gear-Up and the $16.5 million in grant money that went through Mid Central in the last decade have some committee members concerned.

Oceti Sakowin Education Consortium was in charge of the program for six years and handled nearly $6 million in grant money. The American Institute for Indian Innovation took over five years ago with $10.7 million in grant money. It turns out both nonprofit foundations were started by Scott Westerhuis (Mid-Central) who accepted millions in GEAR UP money. The concerns surrounding grant money distributed by Mid Central going to OSEC or Oceti Sakowin Educational Consortium overlapped during the same time money was going to American Indian Institute for Innovation or AIII.

Absent the Auditor General’s long audit process to determine where the $62 million went under the shell corporations formed by Scott Westerhuis I doubt this legislation [South Dakota Senate Bill 125] will move forward.

As you can read, Ms. May provided some background about the Oceti Sakowin Educational Consortium (OSEC) and their ties to the 2015 SD GEAR-UP controversy. If I was a reader who didn’t know that COSA was a completely separate organization from OSEC, I would’ve believed it was OSEC working to obtain authorization to accredit nonpublic (tribal) schools. OSEC has no legal relation to COSA.

So, lawmakers who may have believed that OSEC had metamorphosed into COSA, were likely just as confused as Ms. May. Unfortunately, confusion seemed to be a determining factor in the defeat of SB 125. Now, COSA has to wait until the 2018 legislation session for a similar bill to be presented to determine who has accreditation authority over private, i.e. tribal, schools.

South Dakota legislators are elected to work at improving conditions for all people living in this state. It’s reasonable for citizens to believe legislators have some responsibility to do adequate research on the organizations affected by the proposed laws, voted up or down every year in Pierre. That is, doing the homework about organizations in our own state might result in less confusion when bills are put to a vote.

Thank you to our local legislators for their vote of confidence on SB 125. It’s unfortunate that other legislators, who know little about tribal education, voted the bill down.