Levi Rickert, editor-in-chief in Native Condition. Discussion »
The persistence of the Oglala Sioux Tribe has paid off.
Tribal leaders on the Oglala Sioux Tribe have persuaded US Attorney Brendan V. Johnson of the South Dakota District to reopen or reinvestigate 39 unsolved cold case murders that happened either on the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation or to tribal citizens of the Tribe.
The review of the 39 cold case murder files
is a step toward justice.
Soon after the conclusion of the 71 day siege of Wounded Knee, people began to disappear and were never seen again. Many were discovered murdered. Low estimates of those murdered number in around 60; other maintain there were hundreds of Indians murdered.
The 39 cold cases to be reviewed occurred during a violent time on the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation. They occurred between March 1, 1973, and March 1, 1976. Back then the murder rate on the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation was 170 per 100,000. In comparison, the national average, 9.7 per 100,000.
The murders happened during a historic time called the "Reign of Terror."
For decades, American Indians have asked for justice.
In May 2000, the FBI released a report that maintained it had done its job in the unsolved murders after a community forum was held in Rapid City, South Dakota to discuss how the federal government deals with law enforcement and justice issues on the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation.
Back then the number of murders in question was 57. The report stated in part: "We reviewed our records of these deaths and found that most had been solved either through conviction or finding that the death had not been a murder according to the law."
Not satisfied even twelve years later, in March of this year, the Oglala Sioux Tribe leadership still wanted answers.
In a letter dated March 16, Tom Poor Bear, vice president of the Oglala Sioux Tribe, and James Toby Big Boy, chairman of the Judiciary Committee of the Oglala Sioux Tribe, wrote a letter to US Attorney Johnson asking him to "demand the FBI and BIA Division of Law Enforcement to reopen and (re)investigate the unsolved and largely uninvestigated murders" that occurred on the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation.
A subsequent letter from Vice President Poor Bear and Judiciary Committee Chairman Big Boy was sent May 23 to US Attorney Johnson with 39 names.
US Attorney Johnson has requested the files of these 39 murders from the investigating law enforcement agency that initially handled the each case.
US Attorney Johnson has also agreed to meet with tribal officials and family members of the victims on Wednesday, June 13 in Pine Ridge, South Dakota to discuss the process his office will engage in reviewing the cases.
This is welcome gesture because families deserve closure in these murder cases. However, caution must be exercised because of the age of these cases. Without new evidence, it will be difficult to prosecute the individual(s) responsible decades later. Individuals with information should come forward.
Whether or not there will ever be prosecutions, families still deserve answers even if the answer is nothing more can be done unless relevant solid evidence is forthcoming.
No one person or group of people can undo past injustices, but we certainly can take it upon ourselves to move forward in a positive manner.
The current Oglala Sioux Tribe leadership, specifically Vice President Poor Bear and Judiciary Committee Chairman Big Boy, should be commended for being persistent in the pursuit of justice.
Further, US Attorney Johnson deserves praise for reacting in a positive manner. For far too long, American Indians have been ignored when dealing with federal authorities.
The review of the 39 cold case murder files is a step toward justice.
posted June 4, 2012 9:50 am edt