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Indian Country Rallies Behind Vern Traversie

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UPDATED APRIL 30, 10:26 P.M.: WITH COMMENTS FROM VERN TRAVERSIE AND CHEYENNE RIVER SIOUX TRIBAL CHAIRMAN KEVIN KECKLER. On April 26, Indian Country Today Media Network shared a story about Vern Traversie, 69, a Lakota elder who was hospitalized for two weeks due to open-heart surgery only to be released with wounds on his stomach and back.

The wounds Traversie says occurred while under the care of those at Rapid City Regional Hospital between August 26, 2011 and September 8, 2011. Among the wounds were what appears to be three distinct letters – KKK.

Traversie had waited seven months before sharing his story through a YouTube video, to the guidance of his former attorney, who informed him not to speak at all. Since the video was released, Indian country has rallied behind Traversie seeking justice for those involved in what some online commenters called a “repulsive” act.

A Facebook page that was set up to raise awareness, “Justice For Vern Traversie,” has hit 4,025 likes and an online petition at that was seeking 1,500 signees now has 6,521 signees. Traversie’s video has also been viewed 33,163 times, almost doubling the total from our initial story. ICTMN’s initial story was shared by 2,068 people on Facebook, 32 on Twitter, 29 e-mailed it and 11 shares on Google+.

Traversie said he’s overwhelmed at the response to his story.

“It’s miraculous, what’s happening,” he marveled. “People are using their Internet connections to share the video, share the story… it’s wonderful that it’s touched so many hearts and minds. I’m so thankful for the compassion people have shown me, for their kindness.”

He said he’s been receiving calls from around the country, and he noted that support is coming from both Native and non-Native people.

“I want everyone to know that I don’t hate white people,” he said. “White people are wonderful. It’s only a small fraction that would do something like this. I love white people, all people.”

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Addressing rumors of possible activism related to his case, Traversie wants his supporters to know: Under no circumstances does he advocate violence.

“If people want to march for me, then I would appreciate a peaceful walk, a prayerful walk,” he said. “Traditional or Christian, it doesn’t matter… it’s the same God. But it must be peaceful and prayerful.”

Traversie said he’s been working closely with Cheyenne River Sioux Tribal Chairman Kevin Keckler and his District 5 representative, Robin LeBeau, to sort through the many incoming offers for legal counsel. He said their assistance is invaluable.

“I don’t know anything about this, and I don’t have the resources to do background checks,” he explained. “We’re getting calls from all over. I hope to have representation this week.”

Chairman Keckler confirmed that his office is working with Traversie to sort through the deluge of offers.

“We’re working on it, but that’s all I really can say right now,” he commented.

In the meantime, Traversie said he’s continuing to receive countless calls at his home from friends and supporters.

“I love to talk to people and tell my story,” he said. Voice trembling, he added, “This is all so overwhelming, and for that, I give my humble thanks to my God.”