Posted by on May 25, 2012 in Uncategorized

Hate Crimes and the KKK in South Dakota

By: Dana Lone Hill

I dedicate the following story to the memory of Robert Ghost Bear. I never knew him, but I hope he didn’t die in vain. I also dedicate it to all the other numerous unsolved deaths of Native brothers and sisters in South Dakota, and also to the Fight for Justice for Vern Traversie, our elder.

As Lakota people, wait-scratch that, as Indians, wait scratch that again…as human beings, all living together on this beautiful planet, you would think we should all have the same innate values, dreams, and hopes, i.e. help each other out, take care of each other, practice manners, hope our children do better than us, feed children and elders first, don’t kick your dog, etc. You would think- hope, that we didn’t need a book that rules half the planets thoughts to tell us that we should care for and take care of your elders. It should come from your heart and soul of how to treat others, especially elders.

Like Vern Traversie.

Mr. Traversie is someone’s Lala (Grandpa). I love how some Lakota tribes call their grandpas Lala. It is such an endearing term. My Grandpa Rusty was my Gaka, which is what we call our grandpas in Pine Ridge. He sang old standards rather than Indian songs, but that wasn’t to say that in the middle crooning a Roger Miller or Sinatra classic, he couldn’t belt out the Inkpata song, making us kids sing along. He was a Hunkpapa from Ft. Yates, who moved to Pine Ridge as a BIA cop, and met and married my Grandma. He was not my mother’s father but he was my Grandpa. I loved my Grandpa.

He would make me “pannycakes, eggs, and bacon,” all the while singing and telling me and my brother stories. The biggest insult in my life back in those days was when someone would say “Well, he is not really your Grandpa.” I would get so mad, that I would stomp right up to him with my hand on my hip, telling him what I just heard. I was always on the defense because in my heart he was my Grandpa. He would just shush me, hug me, and confirm, yes he is and always will be my Grandpa. I would have back then, and I still will defend my Gramps.

So I am not surprised to see so many people unite in honor of and to demand justice for Mr. Traversie. What I do have a problem with is how many people are taking it as if it is being served with a grain of salt- especially local law enforcement, the FBI, and across the world wide web. Why are people so willing to believe that it is not the truth this elder Lakota man speaks? Why are they so readily able to believe that open heart surgery somehow will cause scars in the form of 3 letter K’s? I did an image search on Google on open heart surgery scars and saw nothing like what Vern endured. In my eyes, law enforcement, the Rapid City Regional Hospital, and ignorant people are quick to not listen to and discredit an elder who only wants people to know he was done wrong. He didn’t even know it had happened to him at first. He heard it from an anonymous worker and had it confirmed by a home healthcare worker.

It IS a hate crime, but it is not being taken seriously as one.

Yet the local police dept, who probably houses more Native American than all other races combined, will not continue the investigation, nor charge anyone with filing a false report charge because either they don’t want to know, or because they do know, it does get that ugly in South Dakota.

In fact, when I decided to research hate crimes in South Dakota, I had to call into the state DCI office since online the last investigation only proved that there were no investigations since 2003. I found stats from 1998 to 2003. The lady at the state DCI office gave me a sort of virtual map of how to get to the hate crimes section of the South Dakota state crimes. After 2003 they were now called “Bias Motivation,” and that was the reason I could not find them. Hey, that’s pretty cool now, you know- to make it sound all fancy and not so “hateful?” Before I could find the state stats I found national stats, like the following.

The first thing I discovered was a study/chart from 2006 from data.gov which showed South Dakota’s hate crime levels per 100k only getting beat out by New Jersey. Isn’t it really odd that this state of not even a million people would beat out New York and Washington, D.C. for hate crimes per 100k people? See chart here.

At findthedata.org in 2009 South Dakota reported a total of 42 incidents by hate crime submitted by 11 out of 113 participating agencies. Now for a population of 724,778 that is 5.79 incidents per 100,000 people. This put South Dakota in 4th place after New Jersey, District of Columbia, and Minnesota. Connecticut claims 5th.

This was basically all I could find on the national level. I could not find who the hate crimes were committed upon or who committed them so I went back, at first to the original website and chart I found. Here is a chart from the state 2003 Hate Crime Summary Results. At the bottom of this chart is a graph that goes back to 1998. If you notice the numbers on the page from 2003, most “hate crimes” were committed by Native Americans as suspects on other races. Few were committed against Native Americans?

Being an Indian, Lakota, or even a girl, yes I did say girl from a rez in South Dakota, I wonder how that can be? How can the most hate crimes here mostly be committed by Native Americans? This is clearly not the same South Dakota, right? The same South Dakota where just one tribe, my tribe, requested the FBI to reopen 75 unsolved death cases on Native Americans that occurred on or near the reservation, and they were denied by the FBI? People that died never making the national spotlight like a blond high school girl vacationing in Aruba who disappears without a trace would- but nonetheless, people that had family that loved them.

These were unsolved cases all of us Lakota should remember, from the unsolved murders that happened outside of Whiteclay, Nebraska to the several deaths that occurred along Rapid Creek amongst the homeless Lakota in the late 90’s. According to the Rapid City Journal,

“One person listed in the 2000 report was killed with an ax. According to the report, a suspect was identified but was not prosecuted because of impairment caused by a mental condition. In another instance, a man was fatally stabbed through the neck and right side of the face. The autopsy report showed the death was deemed a suicide, and the FBI did not investigate.”

According to the Rapid City Journal ,Oglala Sioux Tribe Vice President Tom Poor Bear, ““When they come down to arrest us, they come down in full force. But when one of our people are murdered, they don’t respond as they should,” he said. “If they did thorough investigations then some of these cases would have been solved.”

Like when Robert Ghost Bear was found dead on same railroad tracks in North Rapid that I, myself, walked my two oldest sons over to go to first grade, from an apparent blow to the head. Did the media ever look further into anything other thing an always stating that Mr. Ghost Bear had a criminal record and was due in court? Did they ever mention if he had children or what his hobbies were like they would have if he had not been Native?

Am I looking for racism, as I have been accused of before, even though I have friends of all colors? Am I looking too hard for the 3 K’s on Vern’s abdomen? After all, according to comments on all the websites, the KKK is a thing of the past right? The whole story on the History Channel about the KKK being a strong presence and strong influence in South Dakota was/is always dismissed by South Dakotans as folklore and a creation for drama’s sake. When in fact, anyone with a computer can look up exactly how much of a stronghold South Dakota has been for the Klu Klux Klan with numerous Klaverns reported in the past ever since 1921.

I contacted the Cultural Heritage Center in Pierre regarding an exhibit in 2005 called The Changing Times of South Dakota. This exhibit was somewhat controversial because it included a robe from the KKK. I had found numerous articles online including one in The Bismarck Tribune titled “Blacks add to rich history of S.D.” The article is about a book by a Huron, South Dakota native, Betti VanEpps-Taylor that discusses the role black people played in the state of South Dakota. She also does not leave out the role the KKK had in South Dakota’s history.

She also makes the excuse for the KKK that although they first appeared in South Dakota in 1921, they were only and mainly against Catholics and eastern and southern European immigrants. Calling themselves WASPs, (White Anglo Saxon Protestants), I also heard this same story from spokesperson Jeff Mammenga of the Cultural Heritage Center in Pierre, South Dakota.

That makes me wonder. Even though the Klan was noted to have cross burnings and parades in the largest city of South Dakota-Sioux Falls, it is almost like the whole state is either brushing it under the rug, making excuses, or totally ignoring the fact that such a terrorist organization once ran rampant here- to the point where they were rumored to have hidden treasures of gold in old mine shafts in the Black Hills. A bank robber by the name of Jesse James supposedly funded them through his conquests, and a famous sculptor that led the carving of four of the most racist Presidents in the United States towards Indians carved them on sacred, stolen land.

Folklore, they call it. Although I find it hard to believe the KKK would be friendly with everyone except Catholics in this state. I doubt I could join them for a picnic, nor would I want to. After all, you never hear the scream “Protestant Power” with a Hitler-like fist in the air, right?

Folklore they call it. Well, the one KKK robe that caused controversy in the exhibit in Pierre, South Dakota, although the workers at the Cultural Heritage Center did not electronically have it available and I do not have a fax machine, they confirmed the story I had found on the internet. The robe was found in the attic of a house in Rapid city in 1971 by a couple who had just purchased the house. big deal, right? Could have been a Halloween costume. Wrong. It was one of over 60 robes found in that attic in 1971.

That was 41 years ago, so the KKK is no longer here after that, right?

Then read this article that was never made a big deal of. The Rapid City Journal states that in November of 2011 a group of five 20 to 30 year old men distributed hundreds of white supremacy literature into Walmart, Scheels and Best Buy (three months after Vern Traversie had his abdomen carved with K’s). Maybe the same people who have been slipping the anti-Lakota literature around South Dakota as written about by Ruth Hopkins on the Last Real Indians website, here are the same ones. Who knows. What I do know is that the KKK came to South Dakota in 1921 and I highly doubt they are gone.

These flyers were not distributed by teenagers or kids playing a prank, but by young men who may be your neighbor, your cashier, your banker, your surgeon, surgical tech, or whomever carved three Ks into our elder.

Our elder Vern, whom we have to fight for justice for and all the other kolas who did not die in vain.

South Dakota, just because you don’t report, look into, investigate, follow up, or solve hate crimes against our people does not mean they do not happen or exist. It simply means you do not care.