Showing posts from November, 2011

A peek inside the Church's drawers: South Dakota sex abuse scandal

Originally published on the Huffington Post in April 2011. This article was part of a project funded by the George Polk Center for Investigative Reporting.
The letters are casual, even chatty, from officials of St. Francis Mission, on the Rosebud Sioux Reservation, in South Dakota, to Catholic Church superiors. The mission ran one of many boarding schools to which Native American parents were required to send their children from the late 1800s until the 1970s, when most of the institutions were closed down or transferred to tribal control.      “All goes along quietly out here,” one priest wrote in 1968 (letter shown at left), with “good religious and lay faculty” at the mission. There are troublesome staffers, though, including “Chappy,” who is “fooling around with little girls—he had them down the basement of our building in the dark, where we found a pair of panties torn.” Later that year, Brother Francis Chapman (in the photo below) was still abusing children, though by 1970, he was…

American Indian Film Festival honors "The Thick Dark Fog"

Published in Indian Country Today in November 2011. This article was part of a larger project funded by a grant from the George Polk Program for Investigative Reporting.

Director Randy Vasquez’s affecting movie about Walter Littlemoon’s traumatic childhood years in Pine Ridge Indian Reservation boarding schools has just won Best Documentary Feature at the 36th annual American Indian Film Festival, in San Francisco. “By making The Thick Dark Fog, we wanted to give the boarding-school discussion mainstream awareness,” said Vasquez. The film is his second feature; the first was the award-winning 2002 documentary Testimony: The Maria Guardado Story, about a Salvadorean human-rights advocate.
          The honor to The Thick Dark Fog was among many bestowed by the festival, which is produced by the American Indian Film Institute. Best Film went to Shouting Secrets, directed by Korinna Sehringer, while Andrew Okpeaha MacLean, Iñupiaq, won Best Director for On The Ice.
          Vasquez, Little…

Pre-Thanksgiving march will memorialize Iowa’s lost children

Published in Indian Country Today in November 2011. This article was funded in part by a grant from the George Polk Program for Investigative Reporting.

In the days before Thanksgiving, mourners and protesters will participate in the Ninth Annual Memorial March to Honor Our Lost Children. The pilgrimage takes walkers from South Sioux City, Nebraska, over the Missouri river and into Sioux City, Iowa, where Native children have for years been swept up by the child-welfare system and even died in its custody. The route evokes the passage of Nebraska tribes, including Poncas, Omahas, Santees and Winnebagos, who came to the city looking for jobs after World War II, as did Sioux people from South Dakota and others.
“They were seeking a better life,” said Frank LaMere, Winnebago Tribe of Nebraska and executive director of Four Directions Community Center, in Sioux City, which is organizing the march. “But it didn’t work out that way.” The consequences have been devastating for the Native child…

Post office closings threaten Native voting rights

A version of this article appeared in Indian Country Today in October 2011.

Indian reservation post offices are on the list of 3,600-plus branches the U.S. Postal Service wants to eliminate in order to help fix the agency’s multi-billion-dollar annual deficits. One office on the list is at the bottom of the Grand Canyon on the Havasupai Nation in Arizona, two more branches are on the Coeur D’Alene’s Idaho reservation, and three are in Standing Rock Sioux Tribe communities in South Dakota; these and numerous additional reservation branches nationwide may close their doors.

And that may close the door on the voting rights of tribal members who depend on them, says O.J. Semans, Sicangu Lakota, head of voting-rights group Four Directions. “Getting rid of post offices in Indian country would have a dramatic effect on access to voting,” he says. “In Nevada, for instance, about half of the 27 tribes rely heavily on the post office to register and to vote. Here in South Dakota, the state has Na…

Wounded Knee post office under siege

A version of this article appeared in Indian Country Today in October 2011.

Residents of Wounded Knee, South Dakota, on the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation, are facing the latest assault on their community with dread. Their local post office is on a list of branches the United States Postal Service wants to close to help erase the agency’s multi-billion-dollar annual deficits. The Wounded Knee outlet joins more than 3,600 others in the crosshairs, including other post offices on Indian reservations.

The mucilage that holds stamps onto envelopes may still be working, but USPS itself appears to be coming unglued. Will the many proposed closing even make a dent in the agency’s deficit? Senator Tim Johnson (D-S.D.), who opposes the idea, says a Postal Regulatory Commission study found that getting rid of all 3,600-some would save less than seven tenths of one percent of the USPS operating budget. For those in Wounded Knee, the consequences are clear. “Closing our branch may sound like a solu…