Intrepid reader Larry Kurtz does yours truly and all my readers a service by reminding us from time to time of the situation on the reservations. To my post on Martin Luther King Day, Larry made this comment:
Nice post, Doc. And just a few miles down the road apartheid represses the descendants of Si Tanka in another failed red state.
I can't agree that the situation of Native Americans is an example of apartheid, but I admire the clever construction "failed red state". That wraps a lot of central threads into one flamboyant metaphor.
I haven't ignored the plight of South Dakota's tribes. A little over a year ago I posted this on a British Guardian article about Pine Ridge Reservation.
Today I read a piece by Kathy Dobie in the January 19th issue of Harper's. Dobie's article, "Tiny Little Laws", describes vividly and in appalling detail the "plague of sexual violence persists in Indian Country." She focuses mostly on the Standing Rock Sioux Reservation. Unfortunately, the article is not available online. You can read the opening paragraphs here. It's worth your while to pop into a library and read the whole thing.
As Dobie tells it, Native American women (and not a few young men) suffer from an epidemic of sexual assault and other forms of violence. This plague of sexual violence is largely enabled by
inadequate police protection, and an ineffectual legal system that allows rapists and child molesters to go unpunished, free to commit the same crimes again and again.
A Native American woman who has been raped and/or beaten by her husband, or boyfriend, or nephew, cannot count on the police to arrive and protect her, let alone punish the abuser. Part of the problem, as she tells it, is the Byzantine web of tribal, state, and federal authorities. The bigger problem is a lethargy that is endemic to the law enforcement regime on the reservations. There are too few cops, not enough rape kits or persons trained to use them. The people in charge feel helpless or, much worse, just don't care very much.
There is nothing that state or federal authorities can do to fundamentally change the economic and social conditions on the reservations. That doesn't mean that the former can do nothing to help the helpless.
In the summer of 2009, where there thirteen officers patrolling Standing Rock, South Dakota Senator John Thune urged the BIA to increase the force to twenty-five, reminding them that the lack of law enforcement had contributed to a crime rate that was "six times higher than the national average." By October, the force had, instead, been reduced to eleven officers responsible for the protection of almost 9,000 people.
Senator Thune had the right idea, but as seems to happen over and over in this tale, after all is said and done, a lot is said and nothing is done.
This is something we ought to care about. Very little happens on this dangerous planet that is more terrible than rape and child abuse. Federal and state budgets are tight, but surely when a woman living on the Standing Rock Reservation calls the police, we can afford to have a patrol car show up at her door.