PINE RIDGE, S.D. (KELO) – These past two weeks, KELOLAND News has told you multiple stories of murders and crimes against Indigenous people going unsolved. And part of the problem might come down to a lack of resources on the reservations.
At the end of July, the Oglala Sioux Tribe filed a lawsuit against the Bureau of Indian Affairs and Department of Interior, saying the government has failed to uphold its obligations to provide adequate law enforcement as outlined by laws and treaties.
“I know our public safety department is trying their hardest, we’re like lacking officers, you know. We need more help,” Holly Wilson, a Pine Ridge grandmother who lost two grandsons, said.
According to a lawsuit filed by the Oglala Sioux Tribe, more than 400,000 people rely on BIA funded law enforcement. However, the Tribe notes the BIA currently only provides funding for 33 police officers and 8 criminal investigators.
Jurisdiction rights are also an issue.
“Indian on Indian within a reservation, tribal cops can take care of that. So seriously some of the first questions that are asked if we don’t know the person, ‘are you Indian or not,’ because if they are, we have jurisdiction. If they’re not, then we have to call the sheriff or we have to call the FBI depending on the severity,’ Tanya Krietlow with the SD Network Against Family Violence and Sexual Assault said.
Under the Seven Major Crimes Act, the FBI has jurisdiction over certain crimes committed by a Native American on a reservation. Those crimes include murder, manslaughter, rape, assault with intent to kill, arson, burglary and larceny.
“But they’re not stationed there so they still have to come from Rapid City down to Pine Ridge or Pierre down to Rosebud,” Krietlow said. “So that lag time too, often gives perpetrators the chance to hide or flee.”
Krietlow says jurisdiction confusion is a ‘nightmare’ when handling human trafficking cases.
“Oftentimes, because of the services that are on reservations, or lack thereof, so to speak, victims are removed from the reservation, not necessarily against their will,” Krietlow said. “Then the crime happens here and then they go home to the reservation, so then it becomes, who do we call then. Do we report it to the local law enforcement, do we report it to where it happened, is it FBI if it crosses state lines?”
The size of reservations causes issues as well.
“The town of Pine Ridge, for example, has communities way out away from the main town where the grocery store, the hospital and the police department are,” Krietlow said. “They’re not stationed out there, they’re stationed in Pine Ridge. So the drive to get from here to there is also difficult when it comes to responding to crime.”
Violent crime rates on reservations are more than double the national average… making policing even more challenging.
“There’s all this law stuff that comes into play that is confusing even for the best law enforcement officer,” Krietlow said.
In the last couple of years, there have been efforts in Washington to help break down jurisdictional barriers, but many cases remain unsolved.
KELOLAND News tried reaching out to the Oglala Sioux Tribe to talk about these issues and the lawsuit they filed, but have not heard back.