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Oglala claim treaty right to federal police funding

Oglala Sioux Tribal President Frank Star (left) and Oglala Sioux Tribal Police Chief Algin Young (right)
Victoria Wicks
Oglala Sioux Tribal President Frank Star Comes Out (left) and Oglala Sioux Tribal Police Chief Algin Young (right)

The Oglala Sioux Tribe is suing the U.S. Department of Interior and its agencies for violating treaty obligations to fund law enforcement on the Pine Ridge Reservation.

Parties spent the day on Wednesday in federal court in Rapid City, the first of a two-day evidentiary hearing in front of Federal Judge Roberto Lange.

Algin Young is the current chief of the Oglala Sioux Tribal Police. He spent most of Wednesday afternoon on the stand, telling of an overwhelming number of calls for assistance handled by 33 federally-funded police officers and eight investigators.

Chief Young told of the situation that is also outlined in the complaint filed with the court: these few officers patrol 5,400 square miles holding 40,000 people living or conducting business on the reservation.

A former chief of police, Ron Dubray, also testified. He said at one time, the Oglala tribal police had 113 officers, funded through government grants and programs. But as those programs died out, so did the level of law enforcement. And then crime rates went up, involving drugs, guns, violence, and murder, even before the advent of heroin and fentanyl.

After the first day’s testimony, Oglala Sioux Tribal President Frank Star Comes Out spoke about the lawsuit.

“For decades and decades and decades we’ve been ignored, put on the back burner,” he said. “Today we’re taking that stand, not only as a tribe but as a nation, and speaking for Indian Country that we need to be heard.”

The lawsuit alleges that the United States has an obligation to provide protection and law enforcement under treaties, including the Fort Laramie Treaty of 1868. The tribe says in briefs that the treaties are still alive, having been reaffirmed by Congress, federal statutes, and legal precedent.

The tribe is asking for a preliminary injunction to stop federal agencies from using outdated statistics as a basis for funding, and to immediately give the tribe the resources to address the ongoing public safety crisis.

The government says it does not have the obligation to provide the level of funding the tribe seeks, and has asked Judge Lange to dismiss the case.

Rapid City freelancer Victoria L. Wicks has been producing news for SDPB since August 2007. She Retired from this position in March 2023.