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Group asks to try Oglala man traditionally

RAPID CITY, S.D. - A traditional form of government with the appropriate justice system will better suit American Indians accused of crimes with a healing process rather than punitive punishment, says traditional treaty chief Richard Grass, Oglala.

Under Grass' leadership, a group has asked that Gary Rowland, an Oglala who has been held in the Pennington County Jail for more than two years on charges of possession of a controlled substance and conspiracy among other offenses, be released into the custody of the traditional tribal leaders for trial and judgment.

Leading a group called the Traditional Elders and Justice Council of the Oglala Band of the Tetuwan Lakota, Grass filed a motion with U.S. District Judge Richard H. Battey asking for transfer of jurisdiction of Rowland. The motion states that the Oglala Sioux Tribe exercises original, exclusive and personal jurisdiction over its citizens and it has jurisdiction over all incidents taking place on tribal lands. As of press time Judge Battey had not ruled on the motion.

The federal government also claims jurisdiction on lands that make up reservations because of the trust responsibility the government has toward the tribe. Therefore most all crimes committed on a reservation are considered federal.

Grass claims the federal government has no jurisdiction over issues relating to the Oglala Sioux Nation and no jurisdiction over citizens of the nation. The motion states that Rowland is a headsman of the Fire Lightning Tiospaye, a war chief, a great-great grandson of Chief Red Cloud and claims to be a "direct lineal descendant of Crazy Horse."

The motion stated that Rowland's incarceration is alleged to be part of a "disturbing pattern of intimidation of members of (the American Indian Movement) and Warrior societies and racial profiling on the part of the non-Indigenous citizenry of South Dakota and federal law enforcement officers, agents and assigns.

"It is part of a pattern of racially disproportionate imprisonment of Indian men."

The traditional court would have Rowland placed into the hands of the Tokala or traditional police force and held until which time the traditional court would convene to hear Rowland's case.

Grass said, however, that possessing marijuana may not be an offense according to traditional Lakota beliefs.

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The traditional court normally would impose a sentence concerned with healing the offender rather than a focus on punishment, Grass said.

The traditional chiefs said Rowland was removed from the reservation illegally, as have many other prisoners. Traditional laws, they claim make the Oglala Nation completely sovereign and not a dependent sovereign as believed by the federal government. Jurisdiction lies with the traditional court under the ancient laws of the Oglala Nation, Grass said.

But, if Rowland is released or is tried by the traditional court, who in fact are the people involved? Grass said traditional people know who represents the court. He added that most of the traditional people are in exile and still suffering from the oppressed treatment at the hands of boarding schools.

"Young men who are heads of families are in prison putting the nation in a crisis, which is a form of "population control," said Antoinette Red Woman, member of the United Native Nations.

"People thrown into the federal system makes a hardship on families."

The traditional court would not remove the person from family responsibility, which would allow the family to remain intact during the healing process, representatives said.

A traditional family unit would teach a person how to behave toward other people. If the offender does not believe according to the traditional tribal laws, the traditional court would take that under consideration when imposing a sentence. It would hold the person accountable to the family and the nation, they said.

Rehabilitation would be the focus of any sentence from a traditional judge, Grass said. That would be Rowland's fate, traditional members said.

The movement of the traditional people on the reservations is to "free the people and govern ourselves," Grass said.

There are plans to use the current Oglala Sioux tribal court building as a traditional court facility and to assert and validate the rights of the traditional court work with the United State Department of State, Grass said.