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Shooting incident creating ripples across the plains

EAGLE BUTTE, S.D.? The Cheyenne River Sioux Tribe joined a growing list of tribal councils which have passed resolutions or voiced support in connection with a firearm incident directed against members of the Crow Creek girls basketball team in early November.

Councilmen briefly discussed the incident during a special session late last month saying they wanted to express their support of the Crow Creek officials and students.

During a recent regional BIA-tribal meeting in Bismarck, N.D., attended by representatives of all tribal councils in the three-state region, the issue was on the agenda with councilmen expressing outrage over the shooting incident.

Crow Creek Tribal Chairman Roxanne Sazue and tribal school officials have made every effort to assist authorities in bringing a pair of unidentified Hand County teens to justice.

'All of Indian country is watching this case and a lot of non-Indian folks are looking at it as well. All the chairmen were there. All the BIA superintendents were there,'' Sisseton-Wahpeton Sioux Tribe Vice Chairman Jake Thompson said.

'People are angry. We're all waiting to see what's going to happen. They have to be sent a message.''

The girls, traveling home from the ballgame, weren't physically hurt in the Nov. 1 incident in which a semiautomatic 12-gauge shotgun was fired at a pickup truck, but the event frightened them. Two young white males from Miller were charged in juvenile court, but Hand County States Attorney James Jones has said he will try to get the case moved to adult court.

The action of one girl tossing an ice cream drink at a car in retaliation after the a pair of white teen-age boys shouted obscenities, racial slurs and made crude hand gestures toward the girls, set off a three-car chase with one car passing the pickup carrying the girls. The driver of the car hit the brakes and the passenger pulled out a shotgun firing as many four times, the girls and their parents said.

Some tribal leaders and Indian groups say the teen-agers should be prosecuted for more serious crimes and that there were delays in the arrests and prosecution.

Further upsetting tribal members is the failure of the South Dakota High School Activities Association to investigate claims fans were shouting racial slurs at Crow Creek players during a district competition. Some have speculated the actions may have been the prelude for the events that happened to the 20-year-old driver with five Crow Creek student passengers.

The Lady Chieftains girls basketball team played a game against Wessington Springs in Miller hours before the shooting.

Tribes have written letters to the U.S. Attorney's Office calling for an investigation into the incident. On Nov. 20, five days after the regional tribal-BIA meeting, the Sisseton-Wahpeton Tribal Council issued a letter to U.S. Attorney Michelle Tapken, expressing outrage and asking for federal intervention:

'In response to the described incident, we request that the District of South Dakota United States Attorney's Office initiate an investigation and determine whether there has been a violation of the laws enacted by Congress that provides criminal and civil remedies to victims of bias-motivated crimes.'

Thompson said all the tribes have children attending Crow Creek High School, which operates as a boarding school. 'That's why it's so important to us.'

The Oglala Sioux Tribe decided it needs more information about the shooting before deciding upon a course of action and is conducting its own investigation. At least one of the tribe's enrolled members was in the pickup that night.

Tom Iron, vice chairman of the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe, said a different approach beyond the courts might be in order and suggested bringing a federal mediation team to the area to work with tribal and non-tribal people in the area.

He said the shotgun incident was reminiscent of racial tensions that followed the occupation of Wounded Knee in the 1970s.

'We live in a society where there's so much tension.'

The Standing Rock Sioux Tribe and the city of Mobridge went through increased racial tension following the death of Robert Many Horses, who died in 1999 after being stuffed into a garbage can by four white youths following a night of drinking.

After Many Horses' death, the Department of Justice sent two community relations specialists to the area to mediate problems between tribal members and the town.

'They did an excellent job. We had a lot of racial issues. We stood up and worked together. That could work here,' he said.

The 16- and 17-year-old boys will appear in court in Miller Dec. 3. Each faces six counts of aggravated assault, a class three felony, in connection with the incident. Jones said the charges carry a maximum penalty of 15 years in prison and a $15,000 fine for each count if they are prosecuted as adults and convicted.