OST Tribal Council rejects BIA Law enforcement

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PINE RIDGE, S.D. - In the wake of a bomb threat and on a 5 to7 vote, the Oglala Sioux Tribal Council rejected a resolution to return operation of the tribe's Criminal Investigation Division to the Bureau of Indian Affairs (BIA).

Prairie Wind Casino, site of the March 29 council meeting, received a bomb threat at 12:45, 15 minutes before the meeting was scheduled to begin. Casino Manager Shawn Bordeaux, along with tribal public safety officials, confirmed that the call was traced to a telephone inside one of the tribe's offices.

Tribal council officials say a criminal referral will be made by OST Attorney General Richard Erie to U.S. Attorney Ted McBride.

As a result of the threat, the main building in the tribal casino complex was evacuated for 30 minutes while public safety officials searched the site. Bordeaux said he was thankful a number of officers were already on the grounds to attend the meeting.

In voting down the resolution to turn over some of official law enforcement duties on the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation, the council may have avoided deeper conflict. Oglala District councilman Floyd Brings Plenty, after voting against the resolution, said local control of law enforcement has long been a sensitive issue with tribal members.

Before the vote, Oyate spokesman Dale Looks Twice charged that retroceding control of any portion of the tribe's public safety operations would return the tribe to the early '70s, a period of sustained conflict. Looks Twice claimed that during that period when area law enforcement was under BIA control, there were 63 unsolved murders on reservation.

Supporters of the resolution to give the BIA control of the criminal investigation arm of the tribe's Public Safety Department say they were trying to de-politicize their police force. BIA head Kevin Gover, in a recent letter, stated that some officials in the department, along with tribal President Harold Salway, could be liable for potential criminal violations of individual tribal member's civil rights. Salway is alleged to have ordered the arrest of a worker in the tribal treasurer's office. The suspended president has also been accused of ordering deportation of Erie in early March.

In a related action, the council voted 8 to 4 to rescind the Public Safety Department's charter. The move returns oversight responsibilities for law enforcement to the council's judiciary committee. Citing recent actions by members of the board of directors, Councilman Brings Plenty said suspending the charter was necessary. "When Bill Lone Hill (president of the public safety board of directors) accused us of trying to hide something because we wanted to return to the Red Cloud Building, they showed they lost their objectivity.

"I voted to remove them (the board of directors) because I thought it would be good for the tribe as a whole."

The council also voted unanimously to fire President Salway's top three political appointees, including Public Relations Director Eileen Janis and Executive Director Wendell Yellow Bull.

Immediately following the meeting, Councilman Gerald "Jump" Big Crow announced that an effort to find a peaceful way to end the Red Cloud Building occupation was scheduled April 1 in the Porcupine District CAP office. Big Crow said the purpose of the meeting was to have council representatives meet with leaders of the Grass Roots Oyate.

Big Crow said he hoped people from the Oglala Lakota College near Kyle, and Sinte Gleska College on the Rosebud Reservation could help moderate the discussions in the future.

The councilman from Pine Ridge District was part of a delegation that met with Assistant Secretary of the Interior Kevin Gover in mid-March to discuss the tribe's precarious financial status with its numerous 638 contracts. Referring to those meetings, the councilman underlined the tribe's need to resume normal operations in its Red Cloud Building offices.

Big Crow said the tribal government has a $3.5 million computer system in the building which networks with the tribe's eight district governments and is the center of the tribe's financial operations.