Oglala Sioux Tribe leadership says drugs, mental health surround MMIW crisis
Two recent cases of missing young women turning up dead on the Pine Ridge Reservation have amplified the crisis of missing and murdered Indigenous peoples. NewsCenter1's Darsha Nelson traveled to Pine Ridge to see what tribal officials are doing in response.
PINE RIDGE RESERVATION, S.D. — As of Monday morning, Indigenous people make up 65% of the 112 South Dakotans listed on the Missing Persons Clearinghouse; 25% of those were logged by the Oglala Sioux Tribe Police.
Two recent cases of missing young women turning up dead on the Pine Ridge Reservation have amplified the crisis of missing and murdered Indigenous peoples.
“It’s no longer outside people coming in and grabbing and snatching and going,” says Bernardo Rodriguez, the tribal councilman for the Wounded Knee district. “It’s our own against our own.”
Oglala Sioux Tribe President Kevin Killer says there’s a deeper issue at play.
“Unfortunately, I think there was use of drugs that could be traced back to both of these,” Killer said in reference to the deaths of Cheryl “Tia” Long Solider and Shayna Youngman Afraid Of His Horses.
Long Soldier, age 27, was reported missing in early January. Members of the tribe searched nearly a month before finding her remains in an area known as Grass Creek near Oglala. Her cause of death has not been released.
17-year-old Shayna Youngman Afraid Of His Horses was last seen on February 3 at a residence in Fraggle Rock. Her remains were located eight days later north of Manderson. Youngman Afraid Of His Horses’ case is being investigated as a homicide. Tribal police previously said one person of interest was taken into custody. However, no update has been provided in the case as of the time of writing.
In response, communities across the reservation are calling on tribal leadership to declare a state of emergency.
President Killer says the tribe has taken the request seriously and are considering all sides.
“The bigger thing is mental health, and a lot of these states of emergency don’t really address the mental health aspect of it,” Killer says. “The Chief of Police has been actively working with that; he acknowledged that he did receive it; he heightened patrols in those communities where he received state of emergency from, so there was action taken.”
Councilman Rodriguez says it’s not just up to them to fix the problem.
“I think we all as a people need to be held accountable for the actions because it’s all of our problem; it’s not just a public safety problem,” Rodriguez adds. “It’s not just the council’s problem.”
Advocates for the missing say more needs to be done before women vanish, not after.
“We want to bring awareness, first of all, because of prevention. We want to educate our young women, but not just our young women…our young men too, because they’re going missing,” says Darla Black, an MMIW advocate and member of the Rapid City-based Red Ribbon Skirt Society.
The Red Ribbon Skirt Society held a candlelight vigil on Valentine’s Day to bring attention to those missing in Indian country.
Last Thursday, an Oglala Sioux Tribe councilman proposed the council immediately create a task force to address the MMIW crisis. That resolution was tabled and sent to the law and order committee for further review.
President Killer says there is an ad-hoc task force that works through OST’s Department of Public Safety when someone goes missing, but that task force doesn’t address why they go missing.
According to the Association on American Indian Affairs, Indigenous people are two-and-a-half times more likely to experience violent crimes, while homicide is the third leading cause of death among Indigenous women ages 10 to 24. 84.3% of American Indian and Alaska Native women report having experienced violence in their lifetime.