Notes from Indian Country
By Tim Giago (Nanwica Kciji)
© 2012 Unity South Dakota
August 20, 2012
A faulty headline can change the entire focus of a news story.
One year ago two Rapid City police officers were shot to death and a third wounded by a Lakota man named Daniel Tiger. A one year memorial anniversary was held by police officers at the site of the shooting last week to honor the fallen officers.
Several Lakota friends and relatives decided to hold their own memorial for Daniel Tiger. They held it about a block away from where the police memorial was held. The editor of Native Sun News and staff writer Karin Eagle attended the memorial for Tiger in order to get some feedback from the Indian community. There had been reports of uneasiness between the Indian community and the Rapid City Police Department since the shooting.
A Lakota woman named Jenn Ghost Bear memorialized Tiger with a prayer and grief song in the Lakota language. Tiger had been demonized by the local media since the shooting and many Lakota people who knew him well wanted to remember him as they knew him.
Tad Montgomery, head of the Sioux Addition Civic Association remembered his friend. He said, "He was more than just my cousin, he was my little brother. We grew up together; we both came from broken homes. I remember him from since before there was a Head Start we attended. We grew up in the same family. I can't tell you how close I was to Daniel."
Police Chief Steve Allender tweeted "I am disturbed that a local Native newspaper honored the man who murdered two of our police officers last year." He then added, "Guess I should read it and decide how I feel. But did they honor other murderers or just this one?"
Therein was the mistake made by the headline writer for Native Sun News. The headline read, "Honoring Daniel Tiger" when it should have read, "Remembering Daniel Tiger." The gathering of Native Americans that day was to "remember" Tiger, not honor him.
If Chief Allender had read the article instead of only the headline, he would have understood what happened in the Native community that day and he would not have besmirched a Native American newspaper that was only covering the Indian community. Native Sun News was the only media present at the Lakota ceremony because the word had been spread by the other media and the police department that the American Indian Movement was holding the ceremony. That was not true.
Aside from a headline that turned out be misleading and inflammatory, the news article itself was a direct report of the feelings that had spread throughout most of the Indian community. They were remembering a young man most of them knew, not the man who shot and killed to white police officers. There is a lot of difference between "honoring" and "remembering" and the new and young staff at the Native Sun News learned a valuable lesson.
Tension between Indians and the law enforcement departments in Rapid City goes back a hundred years or more. The failure of the police departments, which includes the Rapid City Police Department and the Pennington County Sheriff's Department, to hire qualified Native Americans to serve alongside of their majority white police officers in an ongoing point of contention.
Since 1998, 11 unsolved deaths have sullied the investigative capabilities of the Rapid City police. Most of the deaths were Native Americans or homeless people who could have been mistaken as Native. Ben Long Wolf, age 36 of Martin, S. D. was found under the 6th Street Bridge on May 21, 1998.
Royce Yellow Hawk, age 26, died as a result of four gunshot wounds on November 12, 1998. Randell Two Crow, age 48, was found near the East Blvd. Bridge on December 8, 1998; Lauren Two Bulls, age 33, was found downstream of the East Blvd. Bridge on December 9, 1998; Timothy Bull Bear, Sr., age 47, was found in Rapid Creek near Orchard Lane on July 6, 1999 and Allen Hough, age 42 was found near South Valley Drive on July 4, 1998.
Other deaths included George Hatton, 56, 1998, Dirk Bartling, 44, 1999, Arthur Chamberlain, 45, 1999, Lonnie Isham, 43, 1999, Wilbur G. Johnson, 41, 2000, all of them allegedly homeless men. Nearly all were found dead in Rapid Creek or nearby.
Numerous deaths on or near the Pine Ridge Reservation still remain unsolved and this leads many Native Americans wondering if these deaths are getting the same attention as would be applied if the victims were white.
It was unfortunate that a Native newspaper chose the word "Honoring" instead of "Remembering" in its headlines last week, but it is also untoward that Chief Allender chose to speak out on twitter with his inflammatory tweets without ever reading the article he smeared.
There is still a divide between the Native community and the Rapid City law enforcement departments and when the Chief of Police makes heated comments over an article he did not even read, he only puts wood on the fire.
"Did they (Native Sun News) honor any other murderers or just this one" was totally uncalled for from Chief Allender. He owes the newspaper an apology.
Tim Giago, an Oglala Lakota, is President of Unity South Dakota. He was a Nieman Fellow at Harvard with the Class of 1991. His weekly column won the H. L. Mencken Award in 1985. He was inducted into the South Dakota Hall of Fame and the South Dakota Newspaper Hall of Fame. He can be reached at UnitySoDak1@knology.net