Oglala Sioux Tribe pushes for FBI investigation of deaths

2012-04-20T05:30:00Z Oglala Sioux Tribe pushes for FBI investigation of deathsRuth Moon Journal staff Rapid City Journal
April 20, 2012 5:30 am  • 

Pine Ridge Indian Reservation officials hope to spur investigations into what they say are unsolved murders of 75 Native Americans over 30 years by presenting evidence to the U.S. attorney’s office.

The meeting, which will take place in mid May while U.S. Attorney Brendan Johnson is visiting the reservation, follows an exchange of letters between Oglala Sioux Tribe officials and the attorney. The Oglala Sioux Tribe’s vice president and judiciary committee chairman presented a letter to Johnson on March 16 asking that the FBI investigate 75 deaths that have occurred since 1973 on the reservation.

“Time does not heal all wounds, especially those left undoctored,” the letter says. “Although many of our people lost their lives years ago, justice must still be served.”

Many of the deaths referred to in the letter are on a list of deaths allegedly related to divisions between the American Indian Movement and Guardians of the Oglala Nation, or GOONs, primarily in the 1970s. The FBI investigated those deaths in early 2000 and determined many of them were not homicides, according to the FBI.

One person listed in the 2000 report was killed with an ax. According to the report, a suspect was identified but was not prosecuted because of impairment caused by a mental condition. In another instance, a man was fatally stabbed through the neck and right side of the face. The autopsy report showed the death was deemed a suicide, and the FBI did not investigate.

The letter to Johnson also refers to more recent deaths, including several Native Americans found dead along Rapid Creek in the late 1990s, said James “Toby” Big Boy, chairman of the tribe’s judiciary committee.

Oglala Sioux Tribe Vice President Tom Poor Bear said he has been asking the FBI to investigate the cases for several years and finally decided to deliver a letter to Johnson after he got support from Big Boy and knew Johnson to be supportive of the tribe.

“I figured we’d just as well do it now,” he said. “Maybe it was time, after all these years, that the tribe take a position on this issue.”

The FBI did not investigate the cases as thoroughly as they should have, Poor Bear said.

“When they come down to arrest us, they come down in full force. But when one of our people are murdered, they don’t respond as they should,” he said. “If they did thorough investigations then some of these cases would have been solved.”

If evidence is produced that the FBI can use to investigate deaths as homicides it will do so, even if the deaths are decades old, Johnson said Thursday.

“Whenever new information becomes available we can absolutely take a look at that,” he said.

In his letter responding to Poor Bear and Big Boy, Johnson cited the recent prosecution of John Graham and Fritz Arlo Looking Cloud in the 1975 death of American Indian Movement activist Annie Mae Aquash as a sign that state and federal officials are dedicated to prosecuting cases with enough information -- even decades later.

Aquash's death had gone unsolved until Looking Cloud was convicted of first-degree murder in 2004 in federal court. Graham was convicted in state court in 2010.

Big Boy said he had calls from family members Thursday offering to present photos and other information that could be used as evidence in the cases.

“The time has come to take a positive approach in this and look toward the FBI to meet us halfway,” Big Boy said. “The bottom line is that the Oglala Sioux tribe is determined to seek justice for these families.”

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

Contact Ruth Moon at 394-8415 or ruth.moon@rapidcityjournal.com.

Copyright 2015 Rapid City Journal. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

(7) Comments

  1. DumbfoundedinSD
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    DumbfoundedinSD - April 25, 2012 3:07 am
    Indigenous said: . Even today, the Tribe is still fighting for what it owns, including the Black Hills and surrounding 98 Million Acres of Land, Timber, Gold, Uranium, Natural Resources, and Coal. The State of SD was founded on theft of these resources, yet carries an attitude like they owned it all along.... "
    And what makes your tribe entitled to this 98 million acres as opposed to one of the tribes forced out by your people? How can one tribe have any viable claim to land they stole from another? The Black Hills were never owned by your tribe anymore than any other that came before them. There is a history of conflict and tribal warfare in the region. To pretend one tribe has lived there since the dawn of man until the white man came and took it is a false idea with no basis in reality. Yes, the Hills were taken from your people, I do not argue. However, your people took control from others, who took control from others before that. The history of conflict in the Black Hills didn't start nor end with the arrival of the White man.
  2. Native Thoughts
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    Native Thoughts - April 20, 2012 2:17 pm
    Alcohol and Drugs will never go away in this nation. Have to remember that these two things are nation wide. People want to think that it only happens on the reservation. But it happens in every town in every state in this nation. These crimes whether they be from alcohol and drugs, depression, anger, etc...Need to be investigated properly. The police here on our reservation need to be taught to preserve the crime scene a lot better. But the United States government needs to do a better job on sending people that actually care about human beings rather than race, or why it happened. Our police department needs to take responsibility for what they do wrong rather than blame it on the victims. Its not about when they happen whether they happen in the 70s or in the 2000's they deserve the right to be investigated PERIOD!
  3. badhand
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    badhand - April 20, 2012 1:27 pm
    Most of these deaths are directly related to Drug and Alcohol abuse on a dry reservation. The problem will never go away until its source has been fixed.
  4. Indigenous
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    Indigenous - April 20, 2012 9:21 am
    It amazes me how there are sooo many idiots who attempt to make comments about these issues and haven't a clue. First of all, what happened at Wounded Knee in the 1970's was a direct violation of the Ft Laramie Treaty of 1868 which states: Anytime there is an Indian on Indian problem, the Gov't, meaning the Fed's and the State are to assist as mediator ONLY...What occured was the Gov't stepping in and taking a side by giving the 'Recognized Authorty' (Tribal Gov't/GOON), armour piercing bullets and a 'license to kill'. Then followed through with the Nt'l Guard. The Attorney General of the State is tasked with protection the Indian Nation "against the commission of all Depredation's, by the people of the United States". None of this so called "Protection" was provided to the members of the Tribe known as AIM. The Gov't created a Civil War amongst the Oglala Lakota Nation, then turned a blind eye to their responsibility for creating it. Even today, the Tribe is still fighting for what it owns, including the Black Hills and surrounding 98 Million Acres of Land, Timber, Gold, Uranium, Natural Resources, and Coal. The State of SD was founded on theft of these resources, yet carries an attitude like they owned it all along....
  5. Native Thoughts
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    Native Thoughts - April 20, 2012 9:12 am
    When a felony happens on the reservation. The crime is turned over to the BIA OR FBI because it is a federal offense. It has nothing to do with waiting for the right time. Its the Feds who say if the crime needs further investigation. I think we need all these crimes solved all of them are solve-able. I know of a few people from this decade alone who have been murdered and the crime still is unsolved. I know for a fact that when it's native and caucasian the case stays open for years. But I've notice when it happens on reservations the crimes hardly get solved. This would be something to pursue for all the people on the reservation if they have proper evidence. Would be one thing to convict the guilty, but another thing to prosecute innocent people. Hope they solve half of these cases for the people that really need it. The tribe is finally doing something to help the people. Bout time!
  6. conan
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    conan - April 20, 2012 8:17 am
    Geez thats all we need down here is another AIM & GOON uprise.
  7. antelope
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    antelope - April 20, 2012 7:03 am
    you have 75 unsolved murders and never reported them because you were waiting for the right time,do you really care or you need the headlines,people please stand up for yourselves
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