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Peter Yucupicio, chairman of the Pascua Yapui Tribe in Tucson, Ariz., was one of many tribal leaders who spoke during a conference concerning domestic violence cases on reservations.The conference was sponsored by the United State's Attorney's Offices for the Districts of South Dakota, North Dakota and Nebraska and the University of South Dakota School of Law at the Rushmore Plaza Holiday Inn.

Sean Ryan, Journal staff

For Peter Yucupicio, domestic violence is all too personal.

As a 12-year-old growing up on a Native American reservation, he told a Rapid City conference on Tuesday, he was the only defense his mother had.

He spoke to tribal leaders from South Dakota, North Dakota and Nebraska who gathered at the Rushmore Plaza Holiday Inn to learn what is required to take charge of domestic violence cases on reservations.

"It's time for a change," said Yucupicio, chairman of the Pascua Yaqui Tribe of Tucson, Ariz.

Sponsored by the U.S. attorneys for South Dakota, North Dakota and Nebraska and by the University of South Dakota School of Law, the conference reviewed the steps Native American tribes will have to take to apply the federal Violence Against Women Act, which was reauthorized in 2013. 

But Kevin Washburn, assistant secretary for Indian Affairs with the Department of Interior, acknowledged the act isn't going to be easy to put into practice. Paying for the necessary legal system will be expensive because the act requires tribes to have courts with law-trained judges and attorneys.

Yucupicio urged tribal leaders to find the money by changing financial policies. Stop building capital projects and going on trips, he told them, and use the money saved to put an end to domestic violence on the reservation.

"There is no item bigger than taking care of women and children," Yucupicio said, adding that it will be worth the "sacrifice to implement this."

Roxanne Sazu, chairman of the Crow Creek Sioux Tribe, called domestic violence an international concern, and she appreciated "just knowing that we're not the only ones struggling with this."

"We all need to combat it together," she said. "We can't do it just tribally or through the state. We all need to work together and hold everybody accountable."

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In South Dakota, the Sisseton-Wahpeton Sioux Tribe is one of three tribes in the nation selected for a pilot project on the implementation, according to acting U.S. Attorney for South Dakota Randy Seiler. 

"Tribes are realizing this is an opportunity for them," Seiler said.

The 2013 act for the first time gives tribes jurisdiction to investigate and prosecute felony domestic violence offenses involving Native American and non-Native offenders on the reservation, according Washburn.

"Tribal governments should be out in front with federal support," Washburn told the conference audience.

Using his own life as an example, Yucupicio told of standing up to his father when he was 12-years-old to protect his mother. The beatings stopped that day, he said, but his father hated him. 

"Someone has to take a stand for women," he said. "Once a woman is threatened, you have to do something."

Contact Andrea J. Cook at 394-8423 or andrea.cook@rapidcityjournal.com

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