RAPID CITY, S.D.-There is a crisis in law enforcement and tribal judicial
systems in Indian country and nobody is denying that fact.
More funding will help the problem. More officers, judges, clerks and
support staff are required, and it all comes down to funding. It is the
federal government that is at fault, most tribal officials and government
officials agreed, but nobody has offered a solution.
"There is a crisis in law enforcement in Indian country. The needs are
brought up to Congress and I can't be more supportive," said Dave Anderson,
assistant secretary for Indian Affairs.
"I am as concerned about it as you are. I found this whole process to be
frustrating. I will advocate to make it better," Anderson told a group of
tribal leaders and members recently.
Cora Whiting, a member of the Oglala Sioux Tribe Judiciary Committee said
the reservation is funded for 29 officers to police some 50,000 people and
if it weren't for the COPS program they wouldn't have that many officers.
Pine Ridge has an agreement with the BIA to manage the law enforcement on
For the past six years, Whiting said, the federal budget allocated $6
million for law enforcement on Pine Ridge - there has been no increase. The
reservation did receive a detox facility, but it has not been funded. Also
a new jail built by the BIA was given to the tribe but the BIA will not
contribute maintenance funds for the facility. Whiting said the BIA reneged
on a promise.
"They said they won't maintain the building if we own it. They want the
Advocates for better law enforcement, judicial improvements and youth
programs are fundraising. But, Tully Estes, suicide counselor for the IHS
on the Crow Creek Reservation said if grants were on a merit basis he would
receive more funding for his programs. There are 500 youth on Crow Creek
that need monitoring and counseling. Buffalo County, S.D., where Crow Creek
is located, has the highest rate of suicide among youths than any other in
the country. It is also the poorest county in the nation.
"We were in a critical crisis. We are 370 times above the national average
for suicides," Estes said.
He said the police do not hold kids because of liability issues. He said
police let two kids go that were intoxicated and who had threatened to kill
Estes said poverty is a major contributing factor to youth problems and
suicides. Another problem is that some youths return to a dysfunctional
family that is not equipped to help a person succeed.
"Five hundred kids through the court system are too many for a small
tribe," Estes said.
One program that is working for Estes is a peer mentoring program. Grant
funding organizations do not recognize that as a viable alternative, but on
the Crow Creek Reservation it does work, he said. He has young people
meeting with their peers and more youths are joining the program regularly,
but there is little funding for it.
The South Dakota Coalition for youth awarded each tribe $20,000. Donita
Loudner, tribal member, youth advocate and Buffalo County commissioner said
they tried to hire a probation officer; however there was not enough money.
The tribe is also working on a new juvenile justice code.
Her son was picked up for curfew violations and sent to Kyle, on the Pine
Ridge Reservation for a weekend stay since there was no holding facility on
Crow Creek. She said the South Dakota Coalition helped to train people on
Crow Creek and since there was a facility available there, youths who are
picked up are now held on Crow Creek.
Sen. Tim Johnson, D-S.D., and Rep. Stephanie Herseth, D-S.D., both support
any effort to improve the law enforcement and judicial situations on all
Johnson said it was a most critical issue that is seldom discussed.
Housing, health care and economic development usually top the list and he
wanted a conference held that just deals with law enforcement.
Estes said he relies on data. The liability issue needs to be addressed, he
said, so that law enforcement can pick up and hold youths with suicidal
He said there will be an attempt to access funding from the county, which
has not been available to tribal programs before. The tribal council is not
the answer for funding because the tribe is in a financial crisis itself.
Buffalo County has only 200 non-Indian residents, and until this past
election has been controlled by the non-Indian community.
A PLAN FOR SUCCESS
The Rosebud Reservation will open a new youth facility in the spring of
2005. Patricia Broken Nose Brill, the facility manager, said the emphasis
will not be on detention, but on rehabilitation and individual growth. The
facility and the programs are funded in part by foundation grants, IHS and
the federal government.
The program is a new approach to youth detention with the emphasis taken
away from detention without rehabilitation.
Brill said there were many cracks in the old system of youth treatment. "We
were aware that jail was not an answer for everything. Children are sacred
and we needed to act that way," she said.
Karie Azure-Elliot, Turtle Mountain, Northern Plains Judicial Institute
director, said funding was abysmal. She said American Indians were likely
to suffer violence at the hands of someone from a different race, but the
tribal courts have no jurisdiction over the non-Indian.
Law enforcement and tribal court funding is less than 1 percent of the
federal budget, and although there have been increases it still lags
The needs for tribal judiciary programs are funding, training and
technology, Azure-Elliot said.
A tribal justice act at Turtle Mountain provided funding of $5 million per
year, but only $5 million has been received since 1993.
More drug and wellness courts, better cooperation with states to accept
tribal court orders and trained judges are crucial needs and concerns.
The drug and wellness courts are working and more tribes are looking at
them as a viable solution to the drug and alcohol problems facing the
Azure-Elliott said that lay judges were good, because they were not always
thinking about how law school taught them. Lay judges are the most common
defense mechanism on many reservations.
Viola Burnette, Rosebud tribal judge, said the drug courts are designed to
help change the family lifestyle to help heal families so the youth can
return to a stable environment.
"We do what we can with the families, but it is not enough. Drugs and
alcohol are destroying them. Until we call it what it is it will not go
away. We wouldn't have half the work we do without drugs and alcohol,"
Rosebud needs a new justice center. Sometimes court is held in the judge's
chambers or in the jury room, she said. "There are people waiting to have
cases heard, people waiting for hours. Kids that are in trouble need
"The saddest thing I've had to tell a child is that if he wants to change
his life he has to do it himself. What can a 15-year old do?"