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Spirit Lake Nation In North Dakota: A True Story of Injustice
A statement by Ms. Holt of the Bureau of Indian Affairs
Another abuse and injustice
- Problems At Leech Lake Indian Reservation
A look at some disturbing allegations about Leech Lake Indian Reservation in Minnesota.
“In looking at this information, it is important to view violence against Native American women as a continuum of crime…crime experienced from birth through death. Babies hear the domestic violence in the home, and are assaulted or abused; children are molested, beaten, neglected and abused; teens suffer date rape or date violence; young women are raped, abused or assaulted; married women suffer all forms of domestic violence and sexual assault; and seniors face elder abuse and financial fraud.”
Ms. Roi Holt, Victim Assistance Coordinator, U.S. Department of the Interior, Indian Affairs.
A TRUE STORY
North Dakota is considered by many to be the third safest state in the nation with regards to violent crime. It is also, because of the Bakken Formation, rapidly becoming one of the go-to places in the United States for employment. A place of safety….a place of prosperity….this is North Dakota in 2012.
The Spirit Lake Tribe reservation was established by a treaty between the United States Government and the Sisseton Wahpeton Sioux Bands in 1867. The reservation lies in East Central North Dakota and comprises a total of 245,141 acres of which 26,283 acres are tribally owned.
This is Northern Plains country, flat terrain and rolling hills, with wooded areas sprinkled across the vast landscape. Devils Lake provides an oasis in this windswept region and the Sheyenne River flows along the southern boundary of the Reservation for fifty miles on its way to the Red River and ultimately Manitoba, Canada. Slightly less than 7,000 people live on the Reservation today, many of whom are descendants of the proud Sioux tribes of the 18th and 19th centuries. The Sioux tribes of yesteryear were proud people, fierce warriors, and people of compassion and wisdom. They were respected by friends and foe alike for their bravery, intelligence and strong sense of community. Sadly the same cannot be said today.
THE STORY UNFOLDS
On the afternoon of May 21, 2011, Spirit Lake Tribe’s child case worker,Betty Jo Krenz, was called by Tribal authorities and asked to report to a home on the Reservation. She quickly responded and at approximately four p.m. she entered a home in the town of St. Michael, where police and ambulance crews were already on the scene. I will let the words of Betty Jo speak for themselves:
“At 4:00 p.m. I entered the home where I was told there was a three-year old survivor, a dead nine-year old girl and a dead six-year old boy. The young boy came running out of a back room. The boy was covered in blood. The smell was something I will never forget. Rotting flesh, dried blood, old garbage all rolled into one. I turned around to see a room full of bloody handprints about two feet off of the floor with scratch marks to the floor. Both children had been stabbed repeatedly; they had been dead for some time as the bodies had started to decay. The little girl and boy had been violated. The boy had cigarette burns all over his broken body. The little child that survived told me he hid in the cupboard while the bald man cut baby Travis and Destiny.”
The home where the children were found is in a housing development where there are neighbors twenty feet away. The murder scene was in no way isolated. Surely someone must have seen or heard something the day of the murders. Surely someone in this once proud nation, this once compassionate and caring nation, must have questioned why these three children were home alone, why their parents had left them, why no one was there to protect them from this vicious attack.
THE QUESTIONS MOUNT RAPIDLY
Dead were nine-year old Destiny DuBois and her brother, six-year old Travis DuBois Jr. They had been reported missing several days earlier by their father, Travis DeBois. The nightmare for the children had ended. The nightmare for the community had just begun.
Spirit Lake is an autonomous nation within the United States, and as such is a breeding ground for jurisdictional problems. The ruling body of the Spirit Lake Nation is the Tribal Council, led by Tribal Chairman Roger Yankton. The majority of crimes on the Reservation are investigated and handled by the Tribal Police, but felonies are handled by the FBI. The murders of these two children became a political and jurisdictional football, kicked around by the Tribal Police, the FBI, the BIA (Bureau of Indian Affairs) and the IHS (Indian Health Services).
While the football was being kicked around questions mounted. Why were the children alone in the house? Where was the father? Where was the mother? Why had no neighbors heard anything?
On the same day that the children were discovered, the father was arrested and taken into custody. He pleaded guilty to public intoxication and reckless endangerment, and would remain in jail on those charges a full year after the murders.
The mother, Mena Shaw, was not living with the children at the time of their murder. She had been recently separated from her husband and she herself had misdemeanor convictions for possession of a controlled substance and drug paraphernalia.
FOURTEEN MONTHS THEN PASS
On Monday, July 23, 2012, U.S. Attorney Timothy Purdon announced that Valentino James Bagola, age 19, had been arrested in the slayings of the DuBois children. He is being held on four counts of first-degree murder and his tentative trial date is September 24th.
Purdon issued this statement following the arrest: “This investigation included the thorough examination of a great deal of forensic evidence and law enforcement interviews of many, many individuals.”
On the surface, a happy ending to a horrific event; the community can finally breathe a sigh of relief!
Or can they?
THERE IS SOMETHING ROTTEN IN DENMARK
Fourteen months! Talk to people on the reservation and they will tell you that very little was done in the way of investigating. Canvassing of the neighborhood where the children were killed, a fairly common police practice, did not occur in this case.
The man eventually arrested, Mr. Bagola, has a full head of hair and can in no way be mistaken for bald.
A registered sex offender who lives on the reservation, oneRobert Herman Jr.. (who is bald) was never questioned. It is worth noting that Mr. Herman is the nephew of the Tribal Chairman.
While on the subject of the Tribal Chairman, those living on the reservation have told this author that the Chairman rules the reservation like a dictator and his corruption is widely known. Those who speak out against him have lost their jobs and in some instances had their homes burned to the ground.
THE STORY CONTINUES TO DETERIORATE
The United States Indian Health Services state that alcohol dependency is six times greater for Indians than for the rest of the population in this country. Alcohol related deaths comprise 11.7% of all Indian deaths compared to 3.3% for the rest of the citizens of this country. Drug abuse is on the rise, abuse, parental neglect and rape are at epidemic proportions, and the true nightmare of this story is that there is no solution in sight.
Betty Jo Krenz, the Spirit Lake case worker who was called to the murder scene, went to the FBI and BIA with accusations against the Tribe for misuse of Federal funds and for seriously negligible practicesregarding the safety of children. She was fired the next day by the Tribe. She has since received death threats and been forced off of the road several times while driving her car.
The Tribe psychologist, Dr. Tillus, was transferred to another area after he wrote a letter of concern about child and family safety on the Reservation.
On July 11, 2012, a 2-month old child died from neglect on the Reservation. Deborah Anderson died shortly after her family was denied help from Social Services. Federal officials say other family members reported child neglect to Tribal Social Services; the child’s mother, Rainey Anderson, had also been reported for suspected drug us and allegations of neglect of her other children.
On June 14th Thomas Sullivan, regional administrator for the U.S. Administration for Children and Families, called for a state of emergency at Spirit Lake. In his letter to state and federal officials, he stated: “The children of the Spirit Lake Reservation are being subjected to actual abuse or the threat of such abuse due to the actions and inactions of adults who have responsibility to protect them from such abuse.” He added, in a condemnation of Tribal Chairman Roger Yankton, “They have hung signs at the borders of the Spirit Lake Nation, ‘Pedophiles Welcome,’ They have made these signs operational by firing professional, qualified staff, directing their replacements to ignore reports of abuse and neglect, refusing to prosecute the most egregious cases of abuse, even the murder of children, by demonizing those who speak out on behalf of these children.” He went on to call for charges to be brought against Yankton for felony child abuse and endangerment.
Chairman Yankton has cited staff turnover and inadequate federal funding for the tribe’s problems.
The North Dakota Department of Human Services states that they have limited jurisdiction and has acted where it can.
North Dakota Governor Jack Dalrymple has stated that where the state can act it has acted.
U.S. Attorney Timothy Purdon says he is proud of his office’s record in prosecuting criminal child abuse and neglect at Spirit Lake.
CLEARLY THERE IS A DISREGARD FOR HUMAN RIGHTS
So those are the facts. Nothing printed in this article is supposition and all facts are verifiable and a matter of record.
Which leaves us with the inevitable question WHY?
Why were those two murdered children alone in that house that fateful day?
Why was the investigation into their deaths so sophomoric in scope?
Why are those who speak out against the Tribal Council either threatened, fired, or harmed?
Why were two children murdered in a neighborhood and no one heard or saw anything?
Why have abuse and neglect become the norm at Spirit Lake?
Why have the people, sworn to protect children and women, failed at their jobs?
Why was a known sex offender, with a history of violence, not looked at by authorities? Nepotism?
Why has the Federal Government allowed a weak and ineffectual Tribal Council to continue on?
I have no obvious vested interest in Spirit Lake Nation. I do not live there. However, I am a human being, and as such I believe my interest in Spirit Lake should be the interest of anyone who claims to be compassionate. As a nation that has led the charge for human rights around the world, and in fact gone to war because of human rights issues, I have to ask why human rights violations are ignored in our own country? How can we spend hundreds of millions in Africa and Haiti and not spend a little bit of time policing North Dakota?
One resident of Spirit Lake summed it up beautifully: “In the middle of one of the safest states in the United States, one of the wealthiest states whose reputation is one of good old-fashioned morals and ethics, is a sovereign nation where women and children are a commodity. These children live in a constant state of fear. Hunger is a constant issue; rape is as common among children and women as the flu. It’s not a matter of if you will be raped but rather when it will happen and how many times.”
How is this all possible? For one, lack of information is a crucial factor. What goes on in an Indian reservation in North Dakota is not common knowledge. It is a small sampling of a small state, and as such it is not big news. Awareness will increase as more and more people speak out against it.
For another, complacency is a factor. We have become a society that cares only about our own lives and our own comforts. We have forgotten how to stand up for others because we are too busy building our own protective fortress and taking care of our own needs. This has to stop! What happens to our weakest happens to us.
Then there is fear! Fear has a grip on the people of Spirit Lake, and it is understandable for sure. When your life is threatened, when your livelihood is threatened, then the natural reaction is to stay silent. However, fear has no grip on those of us who do not live in Spirit Lake Nation, and it appears that it is up to us to help those who live in fear. The Tribal Council at Spirit Lake has no hold on me, and in a free society I have the ability to speak out against injustice. I am calling out the thugs for what they are….thugs no better than any other gang hierarchy who prey on the weak for their own gratification and benefit. These are bullies plain and simple, and as such they need to be called out and exposed for what they are, and like all bullies throughout history, they will slink back to the hole from which they came when they are confronted.
I call on the United States Government to step in and protect those people you have sworn to protect.
I call on the good people of Spirit Lake to protect the innocent and not allow them to become prey.
I call on anyone with a conscience to share this article and spread the word about injustice.
In the time it took to read this article, another child has been abused at Spirit Lake Nation. How many more need to suffer? How many more need to die?
The Sioux people of years gone by were a proud people, a compassionate people, a people honored and respected by their peers. How would the revered chiefs of old feel about the Tribal Council of today? Are the traditions of the past being upheld today, or are those honorable traditions being re-written by those who are only concerned with the advancement of their own greed, power and evil?
I mourn for the children of Spirit Lake Nation! My greatest fear is that Travis and Destiny died, and life at Spirit Lake will go on like nothing happened.
The public defenders office has contacted me and others, preparing for the trial of Mr. Bagola. The state and Federal officials have convened several times on the Reservation, and changes have been made in the Social Service Dept. as of 9/29/2012. This story is ongoing, but improvements in the care for foster children have been made. Stay tuned for further updates as they happen.
2012 William D. Holland (aka billybuc)