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Oglala Sioux Tribe declares emergency as it seeks federal support

Oglala Sioux Tribe Police Department patrol vehicle (file)
Oglala Sioux Tribe Department of Public Safety
Oglala Sioux Tribal Police are forced to navigate long distances on a short staff

The Oglala Sioux Tribe has announced a state of emergency due to increasing crime. Now, tribal government alleges the federal government isn’t doing enough to support reservation safety.

The declaration was made by Oglala Sioux Tribal government representatives in Rapid City as a result of concerning crime trends over the last few years.

Among the most pressing issues are a murder rate over twice the national average and suicide rates among Native youth well over two-and-a-half-times the average in the rest of the nation. While the tribe has entered into a mutual aid agreement with regional law enforcement, tribal leaders say the federal government needs to do more.

OST President Frank Star Comes Out said the US government is in violation of the 1868 Fort Laramie Treaty and the Black Hills Act of 1877.

“We don’t live in Indian County, we survive," Star Comes Out said. "This needs to change. It’s time to bring awareness to the world that the government has a responsibility to uphold – and that is treaty obligations.”

In multiple treaties dating as far back as 1825, the United States Government is named as a responsible entity in protecting the Oglala Sioux Tribe and its people from “bad men.” Further, the 1877 Black Hills act formalized the existence of the Pine Ridge Reservation and the cede of the Black Hills to the American government. That treaty was signed after the “sell or starve” rider cut off all rations to the Sioux people.

Those treaty interpretations led to a lawsuit last year that continues to move through the court system.

This May, a federal judge ruled the federal government does have a treaty obligation to fund tribal law enforcement. Further, the tribe argues the lack of funding comes from a lack of Bureau of Indian Affairs advocacy in Congress. President Star Comes Out said that inaction directly contributes to inflated crime rates on the reservation.

OST Council member Anna Halverson said she's seen the effects of the rise in crime.

“I feel like a long time ago we maybe dealt with one homicide, maybe once a month or once a year, and now it’s every day," Halverson said. "It’s getting to be very horrendous crimes that are being committed.”

Oglala representatives will send the proclamation to lawmakers in DC to agitate for additional support for reservations. Additionally, President Star Comes Out said he hopes to speak directly with President Joe Biden soon on the matter.

C.J. Keene is a Rapid City-based journalist covering the legal system, education, and culture