WAGNER | An American Indian tribe in an area of southeastern South Dakota where some people say the illegal drug methamphetamine has become rampant has not used a federal grant to hire a detective to combat meth use.

The Yankton Sioux Tribe received $157,252 for a detective in 2010 through the federal Justice Department's Community Oriented Policing Services program, better known as COPS, the Argus Leader newspaper reported (http://argusne.ws/MCD1mx ).

"I'm not exactly sure why they haven't hired one," said Mario Red Legs, special agent in charge for the Bureau of Indian Affairs' South Dakota office, which supervises the Yankton Sioux tribal police.

Tribal Chairman Thurman Cournoyer, who was elected last September in a hotly contested race against his cousin, said political squabbles have gotten in the way.

"When I got here, the meth program was really in limbo," he said. "There was a lot of finger-pointing, and it just kind of didn't go anywhere."

Tribal officials discussed the hiring of a meth officer on Wednesday but Cournoyer said little progress has been made in creating the position.

"We haven't even advertised for it," he said.

Some area residents have organized a group to combat what they believe is a meth epidemic that is being ignored by authorities. Last month, in response to the death of a 2-year-old girl in a rural Wagner housing development, several people protested what they say is lax enforcement of drug laws. On Monday, about 100 people gathered in Wagner for a walk in memory of the girl, who was under the care two adults authorities say were using meth and other drugs at the time she died. Wagner's police chief also stands accused of trying to cover up his girlfriend's meth use by hiding her used needles in his office.

"Dealers and users are arrogant about it," said Frances Zephier, a tribal member and protest group organizer who once was in charge of the tribe's defunct methamphetamine awareness program. "They have no shame in using or selling it."

Charles Mix County State's Attorney Pam Hein said she wants to see greater cooperation among the BIA, local law enforcement and federal agents.

A law enforcement partnership called the "Safe Trails Task Force" uses the combined resources of state, federal and tribal agents to investigate drug crimes on South Dakota's reservations. The task force's work has led to two major drug indictments in Indian County this year. However, no Yankton Sioux officer is a member of task force.

U.S. Attorney Brendan Johnson said such cooperative efforts are necessary to tackle endemic drug problems in impoverished reservation areas where state, city and tribal jurisdictions cross. Hein agrees, saying she hopes to see the partnership expand into Charles Mix County so those who fight drugs can work together more effectively.

"Law enforcement works together really well around here," Hein said. "Sometimes the powers that be over other issues don't work together as well."

I am the online editor at the Rapid City Journal.

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