Human Trafficking is Closer than you Think

By Vi Waln

Last month, President Barack Obama issued an Executive Proclamation stating “Whether through violence, deceit, or the promises of a better life, some of the most vulnerable populations among us — including migrants and refugees fleeing conflict or disaster, homeless LGBT youth, Alaska Native and American Indian women and girls, and children in poverty — are preyed upon by human traffickers.

President Obama’s Executive Order designates January 2017 as National Slavery and Human Trafficking Prevention Month. In addition, February 1st will be observed as National Freedom Day. It’s our right to be free from slavery and human trafficking. The crimes of human trafficking may seem far removed from the Rez. Yet, many of our own people fall victim to human trafficking.

We are all at risk for slavery and human trafficking. Today, there are many pictures circulating on social media of American Indian men, women and children who are missing. It’s likely that many of these people are victims of human trafficking and/or slavery.

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We must educate ourselves and our children on what constitutes human trafficking—especially sex trafficking. Our female relatives, as well as our children and teenagers, could be at risk of being exploited by sex predators. Pimp is just another word for predator.

Pimps are sex offenders. They are predators, always watching for people whom they can exploit for profit. We have to work together to protect our men, women and children from these unscrupulous monsters. Some of the most heinous crimes prosecuted in South Dakota have involved human trafficking.

In 2014, then US Attorney Brendan Johnson spoke at a Tribal consultation on the Violence Against Women Act. He talked about women from Rosebud who were exploited for profit by a sex predator. This man took advantage of at risk females by luring them to his apartment where he kept them drunk or stoned. He physically assaulted them. They were forced to have sex with strangers for profit.

He was soon caught and convicted by a federal jury of Conspiracy to Commit Sex Trafficking of a Minor, Sex Trafficking of a Minor by Force, Fraud or Coercion, as well as Sex Trafficking by Force, Fraud or Coercion. Some of his victims were only 14 years old. He is now serving 4 life sentences for his crimes, which were all committed in Sioux Falls—a city where many of our Lakota people migrate to in order to find housing and jobs.

In addition, a famous activity in South Dakota where women and children are at risk of being sexually exploited, is at the annual motorcycle rally in Sturgis. In 2013, nine men who were seeking to have sex with teenagers were prosecuted and convicted of Commercial Sex Trafficking after they were caught by undercover agents.

The details of these crimes are outlined in the 2013 Annual Report published by Johnson. In all, there are fourteen criminal sex trafficking cases highlighted in the 2013 Annual Report. The report also includes other criminal cases from Indian Reservations and can be accessed online.

Our people also travel to oil boom areas, such as the Bakken oil fields in North Dakota, to find work. Young people run the risk of being trapped in a man camp as a sex slave. In 2014, Damon Buckley, a Rosebud tribal citizen, did an in-depth interview with Grace Her Many Horses, Rosebud’s former Chief of Police, about the atrocities suffered by young people and children at the hands of workers living in man camps.

In October 2016, Jonathan Cohen, a Sioux Falls physician, was arrested for Soliciting a Minor, Sexual Exploitation of a Minor and Engaging in Prostitution. Law enforcement has dubbed the case one of human trafficking as the Cohen paid for the girl to travel from Georgia. One news headline about this story reads Sioux Falls Doctor Arrested For Human Trafficking of Native American Women.

It’s up to all of us to educate our relatives about the risks of migrating to an area where they may have no access to resources. Human trafficking and slavery are crimes. Please protect yourself from dangerous predators who wouldn’t think twice of selling you for sex.

 

Our People are Addicted to Commercial Tobacco

By Vi Waln

According to the American Indian Cancer Foundation, lung cancer is the leading cause of cancer deaths among American Indians. You will greatly reduce your chances of getting cancer if you are a non-smoker. Unfortunately, American Indians probably have the highest rates of tobacco use in the world.

Contrary to what you may believe, commercial tobacco is not ceremonial. Ceremonial tobacco is a plant grown organically, without the additives found in the commercial tobacco we all can buy in local stores. The cigarettes, loose tobacco and chewing tobacco you purchase at grocery or convenience stores are all loaded with carcinogens. A carcinogen is a substance which is known to cause cancer.

Today, there are countless social events in Indian Country where a lot of people are smoking too many cigarettes or stuffing their mouths with that nasty chewing tobacco. Pow-wows, meetings, conferences, high school sporting events, tribal program offices and even ceremonies are all marked by our people huddled in a designated smoking area, puffing on those killer cigarettes. Those of you who smoke cigarettes or chew tobacco are role modeling a deadly behavior.

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Commercial tobacco users are showing our young people that it’s okay to use a deadly substance that will inevitably cause serious illness. Tobacco use greatly contributes to failing health and even death. Today, many of people have found the strength to quit using tobacco. They are enjoying a healthier life.

Nicotine is a drug and is highly addictive. Cigarette smoking and chewing tobacco are addictions. Babies and children can die from a nicotine overdose. People who stop using nicotine may report intense withdrawals. The withdrawal experience from cigarette smoking may be just as intense as that of a heroin addict. Still, it is possible to completely stop smoking cigarettes or chewing tobacco.

Non-smokers are adversely affected by the second-hand smoke exhaled from cigarette smokers. Employees who work in many Indian casinos where cigarette smoking is allowed, have eventually developed respiratory or other health problems due to breathing in the toxic cigarette smoke permeating their workplace. It’s not fair to subject non-smokers to the second-hand smoke that fills the Rosebud Casino today. Many people do not patronize Indian Casinos because of the cigarette smoke.

Cigarette smoke also leaves behind a residual known as third hand smoke. This is the brownish or yellowish film that gets on everything in a room where a person smokes cigarettes. If you smoke inside your car, this residual can be wiped off of your inner car windows. Just think, this brownish/yellowish residual also gets on everyone who is riding in the car with you when you are smoking that cigarette. Your children don’t deserve this kind of contamination.

This week marks my ninth year of a smoke free life. Before that, I lived most of my life as a cigarette smoker. Still, I found the strength and courage to quit smoking cigarettes. My youngest Takoja have never seen me with a lit cigarette in my mouth. They are the reason why I chose to stop role modeling the deadly behavior of cigarette smoking.

If I can quit, so can you.

Solstice Prayers are Important

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By Vi Waln

Many of us living on today’s reservations grew up in homes that practiced some form of Christianity. This is largely due to our ancestors being forced to adapt to the Christian way of worship after being confined to the homelands we now live on. The boarding school experience also conditioned many of our grandparents and parents to worship as Catholic or Episcopal.

 

On Rosebud, there are still many faithful attendees of Midnight Mass on Christmas Eve. St. Charles Church in St. Francis always had an elaborate Christmas display. Christmas Mass is a time to greet relatives and other people by shaking hands and wishing one another well.

 

With the ongoing renaissance of Lakota ceremony, many of our people have stopped following Christianity. Regular attendance at our local churches has dropped dramatically. For instance, St. Francis Mission once had an entire community of priests, brothers and nuns who helped spread Catholic teachings to the Lakota people. Many of the priests lived in the outlying communities on the Rosebud. They served the people in the community by providing a regular weekly mass, as well as other religious activities.

 

Today, there are just few Catholic and Episcopal church leaders living on the Rosebud Reservation. Every week they spread themselves thin conducting mass in several of the 20 communities on the Rosebud. They no longer assist our people with certain events as there is just not enough of them to go around anymore.

 

Even though our people have embraced Lakota ceremony and may no longer attend Christian mass, many still observe Christmas by giving gifts and hosting holiday dinners for their families. However, some of our people view others as being colonized because of this practice. We are all entitled to our own belief system. Some Lakota people view the sharing of food and gifts during the Christmas season as simply another way for us to demonstrate our generous nature. Some Lakota do not observe Christmas at all.

 

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Many Lakota people also observe the change of seasons by offering special prayers during both the solstice and equinox times. Today many Lakota people are observing the solstice, which marks the beginning of winter. Some of our people will travel to sacred sites in the He Sapa to offer prayers this week. Some will go pray at Inikaga or Lowanpi. Others will be attending Christmas Mass this weekend to offer their prayers there.

 

Many of us believe it’s okay to keep what practices are good and shed the ones that no longer work for us. Life is forever evolving. Even though some behavior may appear to be colonized, what really matters are the daily prayers we offer. As Lakota, many people in the world look to us to see how to behave. We have to show our children to be accepting of each other. This means we have to avoid judging our fellow tribal citizens on the choices they make regarding family customs during holiday seasons.

 

The experiences our ancestors lived through greatly influenced our contemporary worldview. I often wonder what our lives would be like if all our ceremonies had disappeared. I appreciate my Lakota ancestors who risked their lives when they resisted total colonization by moving our ceremonial ways underground. They are the reason some of us still pray to Tunkasila on a daily basis.

 

We can make Christmas a better time for our children by not judging one another’s holiday practices, as well as living the virtue of generosity. This is a time to heal ourselves from lateral oppression. If you are fortunate to share with other families outside of your own, please do so. Our ancestors included everyone when it was time to celebrate.

 

We are here today because our ancestors always put prayer first. It’s up to every one of us to help our children understand the importance of prayer. Behave in such a way so your family knows it that it doesn’t matter if you pray in a church or in the Inikaga; what matters is that we are carrying on the prayerful ways of our ancestors. It’s called being a good relative.

 

I wish all of you healthy and happy holiday season.

 

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Oceti Sakowin Tribes Hold Meetings, Provide Testimony on Dakota Access Pipeline in D.C.

 

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For Immediate Release
Tue., Dec. 13, 2016

Chairman Robert Flying Hawk | robertflyinghawk@gmail.com |
Jennifer Baker | jbaker@ndnlaw.com | 303-673-9600

 

WASHINGTON, D.C. — The surreal meeting on Friday, December 9, 2016 in Washington, D.C. was a direct result of frontline water protectors, tribal leaders, spiritual leaders and elders, the camps at Standing Rock, and allies all across the world praying and participating in non-violent direct actions for the successful denial of the Dakota Access Pipeline easement and the repeated tribal requests for an Environmental Impact Statement (“EIS”).

At a meeting coordinated by the Great Plains Tribal Chairmen’s Association, tribal representatives from the leadership of the Cheyenne River, Oglala, Standing Rock, and Yankton Sioux Tribes met at the Department of the Interior with the Department of Justice, the U.S. Army Corps, and the Department of Interior to discuss next steps for agency review of the Dakota Access easement request.  Lowry Crook, Deputy Assistant of the Army for Civil Works, explained to the group that a scoping meeting for the EIS would be held with interested tribes shortly and that a notice for the EIS would appear in the Federal Register, mandating its completion.  Crook told the tribal representatives that the Army is working “expeditiously” on the next steps in the process under the National Environmental Policy Act, “which will include opportunities for tribal input.”  The tribes present strongly asserted the need for the EIS to assess the entire pipeline, rather than just a small portion of the route.

Tribal representatives expressed a strong desire to hold the scoping meeting in the Dakotas. Whether that will happen remains to be seen and will continue to be pursued. The Yankton Sioux Tribe requested to be a “cooperating agency” to oversee and participate in the development of the EIS.  Tribes are also requesting consultation on the reissuance of Nationwide Permit 12.

Extended heated discussion dwelled on the need to remove the oppressive law enforcement presence surrounding the Standing Rock camps, which have proven to be a flashpoint for violence. Officials present stated that they will strive to meet that request. Tribal officials continued to press for an investigation into the extreme violence inflicted on water protectors over the past several months.  Federal officials may visit the site in a few days if it is feasible, as time is short for the end of their political appointments.

Following the meeting, a Corps official confirmed that the Corps is not raising the water level at Lake Oahe, stating that “we are dropping reservoir levels by 1.5 feet between now and March 1st to create additional flood storage capacity for spring runoff as part of normal winter reservoir operations.”  This issue was raised in order to address fears voiced at the Standing Rock camps that the water was being raised.

Earlier that day, individuals representing the Yankton, Standing Rock, Cheyenne River, and Oglala Sioux Tribes testified before the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (“IACHR”) at a thematic hearing.  While the hearing was of a general nature, testimony focused primarily on the Dakota Access Pipeline and the human rights violations that have occurred in conjunction with both approval of the pipeline and related law enforcement actions.

The United States was also represented at the IACHR hearing, providing testimony through six federal officials including Director Tracy Toulou, Office of Tribal Justice; Chip Smith, Office of the Assistant Secretary of the Army; and Valerie Hauser, Advisory Council on Historic Preservation.  U.S. testimony acknowledged inadequacies in federal government consultation with tribes regarding infrastructure projects, and focused largely on assertions that the agencies are working on complying with the law and with the requirement of free, prior and informed consent.  Little or no substantive information was provided to show if and how this is actually happening.

The IACHR Commissioners were receptive to the tribes’ pleas and concerns, encouraging tribal leaders to continue their pursuit of justice for the alleged human rights violations.

Following the IACHR hearing, the tribal delegation visited the office of Bernie Sanders.  Senator Sanders met with the group and asked for input and recommendations to address challenges faced by Native communities.  The Senator said they would be working with another Congressional Representative to further study the 1851 Fort Laramie Treaty Territory and rights under that treaty.  Tribal officials invited him to make a visit to the Dakotas on an information gathering visit with the tribes.

 

 

 

 

Tribal Citizens Want Change

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Native Nation Rebuilders of Cohort 7 pause for a photo at Spearfish Canyon Lodge in April 2016. Courtesy Photo

By Vi Waln

The Native Nation Rebuilder Program seeks to inspire, equip and connect citizens from 23 tribal nations who want to strengthen tribal governance. The Native Governance Center and the Native Nations Institute offer a curriculum to assist tribal citizens in improving their leadership skills. This month, 18 more Native Nation Rebuilders reached the halfway point of a 2-year commitment.

Last summer, I tried to get people from my tribe to apply for the Rebuilder program. Unfortunately, many brushed it off because they were under the impression that it was limited to people seeking to run for tribal council or other elected positions. It’s true the Rebuilders Program will help you bring a fresh approach to tribal government.

Yet, an important aspect of the Rebuilders Program is learning how to become a better leader. Leadership is lacking in Indian Country. Our people would do well to participate in a process like the Rebuilders Program. It’s an excellent way to build leadership skills.

Rebuilders also refine their teamwork skills. Tribal nations are composed of a group of people who claim citizenship in their tribe. It only makes sense that we would do better working as a group toward the common goal of improving the life experience for our people.

Today, many of our people are disillusioned with tribal government. The Rebuilders program encouraged me to look forward and think about ways to strengthen tribal governance. Our young people need us to encourage them to get involved in tribal government. Getting involved in your tribal government doesn’t have to be a bad experience.

Our young people will soon be the new blood seeking election as tribal officers or tribal council representatives. As it stands today, we do nothing to prepare them for this phase of tribal life. There are only a few tribal government classes offered to students attending high schools and colleges on our reservations. This has to change if we are serious about improving tribal government.

We have to take steps to see that tribal governance courses are offered as a regular part of the curriculum in our tribal and public school systems operating in Indian Country. Many of our elementary school students will recognize George Washington’s name, but they have no idea who the first tribal president on their own reservation was. Furthermore, many tribal high school and college students don’t know who their sitting tribal president is.

Tribal citizens who have completed the Rebuilders program have the responsibility to share their teachings publicly. It is up to this small army of Rebuilders who reside in the Great Plains area to find innovative ways to share their knowledge with others. Rebuilders who work in local schools and colleges must find ways to educate the students they work with, about their own tribal government.

Today, our tribal governments are being operated in such a state that our young people lack the burning desire to get involved. They don’t want to be a part of the dysfunctional, and often corrupt system, we currently call our tribal government. I don’t blame them at all.

As adults and tribal leaders, we all have to work to empower our young people with skills to affect change in the systems currently in place at our tribal headquarters. We’ve all witnessed what the standard approach has done to our tribal governance systems. The Rebuilder approach is a new way to work on improving how tribal government operates.

Tribal citizens want change. This change will happen when we empower our young people by providing them with the skills to improve their own tribal government. Change is slow. Still, we have to get the wheels of change rolling today if we want our future leaders to lead governing systems that work for all our people.

We have to start somewhere. One way to introduce the importance of tribal governance to our young people is to create an activity or project they would be interested in participating in. The Lakota Nation Invitational is one annual event where a tribal governance track could be introduced. There are enough Rebuilders out there to make this happen.

It’s up to all of us to find a way!

 

Remain Vigilant, Keep Praying

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Arvol Looking Horse and Shiye Bidziil check out video captured by drones near the Oceti Sakowin Camp. Photo courtesy of Jennifer Veilleux Photography.

By Vi Waln

The drama and sensationalism drummed up by major news sources continues to cloud the real issue of why there is a huge gathering of human beings in North Dakota. The Sacred Stone, Oceti Sakowin and Rosebud Camps were formed to show support for the Missouri River and all her tributaries. The human need for clean water to live should not be turned into a political issue.

There’s really nothing political about our need for clean water. You either want clean water or you want an oil pipeline, that will eventually leak, buried under the Missouri River. Please don’t get sidetracked by all the irresponsible news reports skewing the real issue behind the stand against the Dakota Access pipeline (DAPL).

For example, take those ridiculous press conferences hosted by the DAPL protectors working in the Morton County Sheriff’s Department. Water Protectors cringe when they see those press conferences go live on social media from the news outlets in Bismarck, North Dakota. That is, the video footage shared by Indigenous media sources working from within the Water Protector camps has debunked a lot of the public statements made in those press conferences.

The Morton County Sheriff’s Department recently had to take down their Facebook page. Since a lawsuit based on their use of “excessive force” was recently filed against the department, they had to scrub information posted on Facebook that wasn’t completely accurate. So, they had to rush to remove pictures and posts about their encounters with Water Protectors. It’s called covering your ass.

Still, the social media manager for their Facebook page must have forgot that the internet remembers everything. Thus, a skilled hacker could easily find and repost all the “deleted” information removed during the Morton County Sheriff’s Department Facebook hiatus. In any case, screen shots of the “deleted” material taken by devout NoDAPL Facebook users might soon appear as part of the Court record in favor of the Plaintiffs.

This week’s visit by thousands of veterans in support of the Water Protectors has also drawn fire from media outlets. In the rush to provided “balanced” coverage, many newspapers ran stories about veterans who were not in support of their comrades showing up at the Water Protector camps. Veterans were quoted as not wanting to get involved in politics.

Yet, when one joins the military, they must take an oath which includes the following statement: “I do solemnly swear that I will support and defend the Constitution of the United States against all enemies, foreign and domestic…” There’s really nothing political about defending your people against enemies. You either fight the enemy or you don’t.

The First Amendment of the Constitution of the United States guarantees all of us the right to peaceably assemble anywhere in this country. The Constitution does not give law enforcement the right to abuse people who are peaceably assembled. Maybe if Morton County’s army wasn’t so violent, the veterans would not have had to travel to North Dakota.

The video footage taken by Indigenous journalists, who are providing continuous coverage of what is going on near the Water Protector camps, are the main reason why our veterans felt the need to travel to North Dakota. The violent actions by the militarized police force at the Backwater Bridge were all caught on video. Their actions are those of an enemy. Soldiers swear to defend “against all enemies, foreign and domestic.” Tribal and non-tribal veterans grew tired of seeing their unarmed relatives violently attacked by the police, National Guard and DAPL mercenaries.

There have also been attempts to quash the video coverage released by Indigenous journalists. In fact, one drone was hacked and stolen by the police. In addition, video footage shows members of the militarized police force in North Dakota shooting at drones operated by Indigenous journalists. They obviously don’t want to see anymore drone footage showing the world their propensity to engage in violent acts against unarmed citizens.

Indigenous journalists are growing in numbers. Yet, there will always be someone out there wanting to silence the real voices we represent. We have to stand strong. We are here to offer the perspective our ancestors didn’t get to voice during the bloody wars fought on our homelands in the 18th and 19th centuries.

We are tired of reading the one-sided stories written and filmed about us by those living outside of our world. I encourage my fellow Indigenous journalists to continue documenting our living history reports from Standing Rock. The world needs to read our stories. The world needs to watch our video.

We have to get the truth out there for everyone to see. It’s no fun covering controversy, but if we don’t do it, the non-native journalists will. We are weary of seeing their sensationalized news coverage.

Wopila to all Indigenous journalists for providing a service that is often thankless and always dangerous. Don’t let the fools who want to kill the messenger stop you from reporting the truth of what is really happening in Indian Country.

I also want to say Wopila to all the Water Protectors who sacrificed much in the NoDAPL fight. The announcement from Tribal Leaders on December 4, 2016 regarding the Army Corp of Engineers’ (ACE) intent to deny the easement for DAPL was welcomed by many humans across the globe. Apparently, an environmental impact study will be done and other routes considered.

Still, considering a different route doesn’t mean the pipeline is dead. The ACE announcement can only be viewed as a small victory in the ongoing war against big corporations who think nothing of raping Mother Earth. Remain vigilant relatives. Keep praying.

 

Woman Harasses Students Near Campus

By Vi Waln

MISSION – A self-proclaimed street minister upset many parents when she shouted inappropriately at several students waiting at the bus stop at the Todd County High School campus last week.

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Angela Cummings carried a video camera to tape her harassment of students last week. Photo from Facebook.

Angela Cummings carried a camera to video-tape her visit to the high school campus. She posted what she said was an edited video of the encounter she had on YouTube. Any Internet user can view the YouTube video by searching for “Mission South Dakota High School Revival or Riot.”

“Your God is dead; my God is alive!” Cummings yelled at students waiting to board the bus. “You are miserable, you would rather go to the medicine man than God the father, God the son and God the holy ghost, your medicine man cannot save you. For God so loved the world that he gave his only begotten son, that whosoever believes in him, not the medicine man loser. The medicine man are losers. Your medicine man does not love you!”

The woman also allegedly called a local medicine man 57 times with the intent of harassing him. The man had to report her to police to stop the harassing phone calls.

She is also seen on her video hollering at teens, yelling “Justin Bieber wannabe” and challenging a parent to “Come on, hit me.”

Students on the video could be heard yelling “Go home!”

“Today, I went to the only high school here on the Indian reservation and begin to preach against sin,” Cummings wrote in a November 21 error-filled post on Facebook. “Presented the gospel and 3 police showed up. One drove by and didn’t bother stopping. The other 2 did nothing and asked about free speech laws. He did not even know. I told him my legal right and not once did he attempt to stop me. A mom threatened to get out and come hit me. I said ‘Come on’.”

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Photo from Facebook.

“However, when I left another mom came after me with 2 teens and got so mad, that she parked car and followed me with camera in my face,” she wrote. “I walked to post office for safety and a Lutheran pastor was there placed by God.”

A video of this encounter also appears on YouTube, titled “Native American stalks Woman Street Preacher in Mission, South Dakota.”

Another Facebook post from Johnny Wade read “I’m the Pastor of All Nations church, we are appalled at what we have seen and heard from Angela [Cummings] on the sidewalk at Todd County High School. We could not believe she would say such things to students and other people. She completely and totally crossed the line in regards to any and everything we represent. We would never endorse such behavior towards students and against any other person in this community or anywhere else.”

“On behalf of our church, we apologize to all who were insulted out there by [Angela Cumming’s] very hard and careless words,” wrote Pastor Wade. “I know we weren’t out there but I feel compelled because our church name was used out there and if a person is going to use our church they must represent our views and values and this totally goes against what we believe and who we are as a church so on behalf of All Nations Church I ask forgiveness for what Angela [Cummings] said to our students-it was unacceptable.”

Several subsequent social media posts by parents of Todd County students appeared to advocate for the iron fence to remain around the high school following the incident. The school board had previously approved an action to take the fence down.