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The search for Susan Fast Eagle

Thirty-year-old Susan Fast Eagle left a detox program on May 3rd.  She was living in Rapid City, moving between locations. One day, she felt ill. Her husband went to buy her some food and when he returned, he says Susan Fast Eagle was gone. Her family officially reported her missing May 13th.  

Susan Shockey is Fast Eagle’s mother-in-law. She says the family got worried when Fast Eagle wasn’t returning calls.  

“It’s not fair that we have to live in fear, our women and our children—and there are men out there as well, our relatives—it isn’t fair that we have to live that way.”  

Federal studies show in parts of the country with large Native American populations Native women are killed at a rate 10 times higher than the national average. In 2020, the FBI reports that nearly 5300 Native American women were reported missing.   

The state attorney general’s office reports there are currently 36 indigenous women missing in South Dakota. Fast Eagle is one of the latest to disappear. Members of a number of Native American organizations continue to focus their search for her in Rapid City.  

Sunny Red Bear is the director of racial equity at NDN Collective. Red Bear is coordinating a timeline of the places Fast Eagle frequents. They are also checking several casinos and motels and getting information wherever they can.  

“Everybody has their own patterns that they follow every day,” Red Bear says. “You have your own pattern that you follow every day. That can be learned.”  

Red Bear says there is growing awareness of the challenge facing missing and murdered Indigenous people.  But she says, there’s a pivotal moment when education must become action.  

“Without action and without actually getting out there and doing the searches and demanding changes—the grass roots movement—nothing will change,” Red Bear says. “We will continue to have missing people. This is something that’s happened for hundreds of years.”  

Wayne Chief Eagle is Fast Eagle’s brother-in-law. He’s known Susan for 15 years and describes her as a kind, caring, soft-spoken person. Chief Eagle is a big fan of Susan’s cooking and says she always has a smile especially for her pre-teen daughter. He promises his niece he will not stop looking.  

“I’m going to do what I have to do to find your mom,” Chief Eagle says. “That’s why I’m out here because I have a heart. I love her as a sister. She’s been in our life so long. I’m praying we don’t find her along the creek, because if we do, that’s bad.”  

Crews searched for Fast Eagle last weekend. Local police continue to look for her.  

Captain James Johns is with the Criminal Investigation Division with the Rapid City Police Department. He says they’ve been searching for Fast Eagle for two weeks.   

“We have exhausted a lot of manpower, put a lot of effort into getting her located,” Johns says. “The goal is to find her. If she wants to come out and let us know that she is safe, that would be awesome. Obviously, the goal is to make sure that she is safe and that her needs are being met.”  

Johns says Fast Eagle is also known to travel to Red Shirt, a community on the western edge of the Pine Ridge Reservation.  

It can complicate a search when a missing person travels between jurisdictions. Lawmakers just approved a new state position—a missing indigenous person’s liaison. That person will coordinate tribal, federal and state resources to locate missing people.  

Democratic State Representative Peri Pourier wrote that bill. She says western South Dakota has such sparse population it can be easier to commit a crime like kidnapping.   

“We have gaps in jurisdictions,” Pourier says. “Perpetrators know. Anyone who makes that commute from Rapid City to Pine Ridge--knows the commute—anyone can pick up anybody and drive off. It is such a desolate, rural area.”  

Pourier says the epidemic of missing and murdered Indigenous women presents a perfect storm--the culmination of historical trauma and underfunded public health and safety programs.  

“It has to be improved on,” Pourier says. “Under public awareness and understanding of that—instead of a general sense of bewilderment of why things are the way they are.”  

As the searches for Susan Fast Eagle continue, her mother-in-law Susan Shockey remains optimistic.  

“I have hope that we will find her, and I want Susan to know—to come home,” Shockey says. “Give us a call. Don’t be afraid, don’t be ashamed. Come, call us.”  

Family members and friends say they will continue to look for Susan Fast Eagle. 

Lee Strubinger is SDPB’s Rapid City-based news and political reporter. A former reporter for Fort Lupton Press (CO) and Colorado Public Radio, Lee holds a master’s in public affairs reporting from the University of Illinois-Springfield.