Native Issues in the Halls of Government


Sexual predators

My February 2011 column concerned a "plague of sexual violence" on the Standing Rock Sioux Reservation (South Dakota). My writing followed up on a story by Kathy Dobie in Harper’s Magazine, which examined the epidemic of rape and sexual molestation on the sprawling reservation, and the grossly ineffectual response to these crimes by both tribal and federal authorities.

This deplorable situation in Indian Country continues to fester. In late September, a front-page story in the New York Times, "A Tribe’s Epidemic of Child Sex Abuse, Minimized for Years," reported horrific accounts of the sexual molestation and rape of children on the Spirit Lake Indian Reservation (North Dakota).

"Federal officials are now moving to take over the tribe’s social service programs, according to members of the tribe, government officials and documents," the Times reported. "The action comes after years of failure by government and tribal law enforcement officials to conduct proper investigations of dozens of cases of child sexual abuse, including rape."

The article noted that these "crimes are rarely prosecuted, few arrests are made, and people say that because of safety fears and law enforcement’s lack of interest, they no longer report even the most sadistic violence against children. In May 2011, a 9-year-old girl and her 6-year-old brother were killed on the reservation after being raped and sodomized."

While the U.S. government apparently is now taking action at Spirit Lake, Timothy Williams, the Times reporter, wrote that federal agencies "have sought to minimize the extent of the problem, including disciplining employees who have spoken publicly about sexual abuse and questioning the competence of others, according to federal and tribal officials."

Poverty and alcoholism are cited as factors behind the high incidence of sexual abuse and rape on these reservations. In any case, more resources clearly are needed to deal with this dire situation on the rez, a blight on the future of Indian life on the land.

Suing to stop the wolf hunt

In my May and June columns, I wrote about Minnesota’s wolf hunting and trapping season, which is set to begin Nov. 3, the opening day of the firearms deer season. The Minnesota Department of Natural Resources (DNR) is issuing permits to kill 400 wolves, from the estimated 3,000 wolves in northern Minnesota.

In September, two groups, the Center for Biological Diversity and Howling for Wolves, filed a lawsuit to stop the wolf hunt. In the press release, the groups contend that the DNR failed "to provide a formal opportunity for public comment on recently approved rules establishing wolf hunting and trapping."

"The state rushed to issue wolf hunting and trapping rules without giving people a real chance to voice their opinions," said Collette Adkins Giese, a Minneapolis-based attorney with the Center for Biological Diversity. "Especially considering the tremendous controversy around hunting and trapping of Minnesota’s wolves, state officials should have followed the law carefully to make sure they fully understood how the public felt about their decision."

The press release also quoted Maureen Hackett, founder and president of Howling for Wolves, which describes itself as "a voice for wild wolves". The press release states, "Wolves already die at high rates from many causes, including human intolerance and persecution. Minnesotans benefit economically, culturally and ecologically by having wolves in the wild. As a state, we have so much to gain by keeping wolves undisturbed."

In a telephone conversation, Collette Adkins Giese told me that the "briefing" by the plaintiffs and the DNR should be completed in early October, then the Minnesota Court of Appeals will make a decision on whether or not to issue an injunction to stop the scheduled wolf hunt.

Adkins Giese explained that the Center for Biological Diversity, a national group based in Tucson, Arizona, which is dedicated to the protection of endangered species, has been involved in wolf litigation across the country. She mentioned a case challenging the removal of wolves from federal protection in Wyoming, and "we have law students in Oregon trying to stop the killing of wolves there." She added that her group has been involved "in the Great Lakes, in the previous litigation" to keep the wolf listed in the Endangered Species Act and under federal protection.

Indian bands and other Minnesota residents have expressed opposition to the DNR-sanctioned wolf season. "The DNR should have carefully followed the law before opening up wolf hunting," Adkins Giese reiterated, "and what that required here was involving the public in the process, and it doesn’t appear to us that they followed the legal requirements before opening up this season."