As residents of the Pine Ridge Reservation try to come to terms with the recent death of a young Lakota girl, community elders are gathering to discuss the repercussions from her passing. The decision by Oglala Sioux tribal officials to unilaterally round up and destroy dogs considered strays as a safeguard against possible attacks on children is considered an overreaction by many and counter to Lakota cultural traditions.
In the week since 8-year old Jayla Rodriguez was found dead of…as yet…undetermined causes while she was sledding, the reaction by the Oglala Sioux Public Safety Department has been to point the finger of blame at dogs that run loose on the reservation.
As a result, two actions have been initiated. The first involved hiring a private contractor to round up any dogs considered strays, destroy them and dump their bodies at a reservation landfill. That happened last week.
The second action begins on November 29 when “any and all stray unlicensed animals considered a threat” are to be rounded up and immediately destroyed.
Frankee White Dress is a friend of Jayla’s family. White Dress is concerned about what she calls the tribe’s overreaction by killing dogs in a situation where the animals haven’t been proven to be the problem.
“It was a sleigh-riding accident,” White Dress remarks. “She went off a steep bank and hit some trees. It sends an awful message to our children. It’s a dehumanizing solution.”
White Dress adds that the tribal leaders aren’t listening to the elders’ choices for a humane solution for what everyone admits is a dog overpopulation problem on the reservation.
Virginia Ravndal is founder of the Lakota Animal Care Project. The non-profit group has spent the last 7 years providing veterinary care, spay and neuter clinics for dogs and cats on the 2-million acre Pine Ridge Reservation.
“The elders are gathering to pray that the traditional Lakota relationship with the dog…the Sunka...be remembered,” Ravndal explains. “And be reflected in our practices.”
Ravndal notes the elder’s message is also directed toward tribal leadership. She adds that considering the history of the 19th century buffalo slaughters, tribal officials should be careful about indiscriminately killing “man’s best friend”.