The Latest from Standing Rock Sioux Reservation

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Today I was out around different areas of the Reservation visiting various Aunties and other women elders who participated in the Maze of Injustice report research almost three years ago now. I’m disappointed because we are not able to visit everyone. There is so much flooding and flooding warnings as a result of 12 foot high snow drifts that some areas of the Reservation are inaccessible. The whole Tribal Nation of Standing Rock has been identified as a disaster zone. Many officers from Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) have been visiting throughout the week and going on tours of flood damage with various members of Tribal Council–it has been an unfortunate distraction to the Maze of Injustice work this week.

Here are some pictures of the high water levels and the remains of areas where flood waters have left behind terrible destruction and debris.

Flooding that has taken over an entire field of farmland on Standing Rock

Flooding that has taken over an entire field of farmland on Standing Rock

The impacts of the flooding have destroyed bridges, washed out roads, and left farmers with little to work with for Spring and Summer planting.

The impacts of the flooding have destroyed bridges, washed out roads, and left farmers with little to work with for Spring and Summer planting.

As you can tell from these pictures, Standing Rock is a very rural Reservation with little access to regular amenities you find in big cities–including fast food, department stores, and even health care! Some women have to travel eight hours in either direction to get to the nearest Indian Health Service (IHS) facility. Even then, the facility isn’t always able to perform an examination because there aren’t enough trained Sexual Assault Nurse Examiner’s (SANE’s). Often women are transported to other facilities off the Reservation, forcing them to find and pay for their own way back home.  The lack of adequate access to health care facilities continues to be a road block to justice for the women of Standing Rock. One can only imagine the number of women who will not be able to get to health facilities to be examined as a result of this flooding.

Fortunately, the winding road to Pretty Bird Woman House is still open, so I’ll be traveling there next to check in with shelter staff! Stay tuned….

Visit to Standing Rock Sioux Reservation Tribal Offices

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It’s been a long time since I’ve had access to the internet.  As it turns out, internet, let alone wireless internet, and even regular cell services are minimal when you’re working in a rural area like Standing Rock Sioux Nation.  Signals come in as you reach the tips of the buttes, but fade away as you continue driving.

The other day we were traveling along a stretch of highway in route to Fort Yates, North Dakota, where the tribal offices are located.  This building stands majestically atop a hill and looks out over a large body of water.  We came across a mated pair of bald eagles, just some of the wildlife who call Standing Rock home.  In Native culture, the sighting of a bald eagle is a sign of good fortune and things to come.  It couldn’t have been a better indicator of the meeting I was about to have at the Tribal office.

Standing Rock Reservation Tribal Office

Standing Rock Reservation Tribal Office

The Tribal building is artistic and authentic in its design.  It is one of few buildings on the Reservation that looks this nice and has been preserved over the years.  Inside the Tribal offices, you’ll find many similarities to our US state capitol buildings.  This is the place where Tribal leaders have offices and where the Tribal Council meets every 2nd and 4th Tuesday of the month. 

I was able to examine up close the operations of the Judiciary side of Tribal government.  Recently, there was a new judge appointed to service Standing Rock Tribal Courts.  As highlighted in the Amnesty International Maze of Injustice report, this is one area where we felt there could be significant improvement.  After meeting new Chief Associate Judge El Marie Conklin, I am happy to report that forward progress is being made in this area.

In the short time she has been here, the domestic violence code has gone under review.  The paperwork required to apply for protection orders of any kind has been standardized and updated.  She is a strong Native woman with clear expectations and uses direct communication to get the job done.  It’s clear that as long as she continues to hold this position (she’s up for re-election in September 2009), that the Judicial side of Tribal government will continue to make large steps towards addressing the high levels of sexual violence occurring on Standing Rock Reservation.

Stopping Violence against Women in Standing Rock Sioux Reservation

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Welcome to Standing Rock Sioux Reservation--a sign on one of the border points that indicates you're now on tribal land in North Dakota.

Welcome to Standing Rock Sioux Reservation. This is a sign on one of the border points that indicates you are entering tribal land in North Dakota.

That sign says it all.  As you cross this bridge entering tribal land and tribal jurisdiction, this is the only indication you’ll have.  While it may seem insignificant to the regular driver cruising U.S. highway 1806, this sign along with many other border points along the Reservation is where the maze of injustice begins for the women of the Standing Rock Sioux Nation.

For the last three years, I’ve been the Amnesty International organizer working in this community in partnership with local Native women to accomplish our Maze of Injustice report goals.  As I travel around the Reservation over the next week having meetings and participating in traditional ceremonies, I hope to provide you with a glimpse into the everyday lives of the many survivors, local advocates and tribal leaders who have been instrumental in beginning to stop this cycle of violence against women living here.

Standing Rock Sioux Reservation was one of three Reservations that were examined in the 2006 Amnesty International report “Maze of Injustice: the Failure to Protect Indigenous Women from Sexual Violence in the USA.” According to the report, Native women are 2.5 times more likely to raped or sexually assaulted than any other woman in the USA. Of the women of Standing Rock that I’ve worked with, I haven’t met one who could think of a woman in their community who hadn’t experienced this violence. This is a direct result of a tangled mess of jurisdictional issues, insufficient levels of law enforcement, lack of protocols for handling cases of sexual assault and domestic violence and very few trained Sexual Assault Nurse Examiners (SANEs) available to perform rape kits at the local Indian Health Services hospitals.

While we’ve had many successes here over the last few years, we still have a long way to go.  The largest local success being the establishment of the only operational safe house called Pretty Bird Woman House. This is the only shelter serving an area of over one million square miles in either direction located in McLaughlin, SD.  In the last year alone, this shelter has seen over 100 women walk through the doors to receive necessary support, counseling and legal advocacy in an effort to bring their perpetrators to justice.

With that, I invite you to stay tuned over the next few days for your very own first eye view of the amazing and courageous women of Standing Rock Reservation. Women, that everyday are faced with the unknown fear of when this will happen to them.