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Oglala Sioux Tribe considers putting public safety agencies under BIA control

From the Rapid City Journal: http://www.rapidcityjournal.com/news/article_a583404c-a068-11e0-aa5a-001cc4c002e0.html

Acknowledging widespread dissatisfaction with public-safety management on the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation, the Oglala Sioux Tribe Judiciary Committee and other tribal leaders met Thursday with Bureau of Indian Affairs personnel to discuss changes that could put the OST Department of Public Safety under BIA control once again.

“There were some questions as to the effectiveness of law and order in our communities. Too many complaints not addressed by public safety,” Judiciary Chairman James “Toby” Big Boy said Friday.

In a meeting with the tribal officials Thursday, a team from the BIA Office of Justice Services discussed the process of putting one of its management teams in place, which would require replacing the tribe’s current acting chief of police, Pat Mills, and his assistant chief, Capt. Ron Duke.

Big Boy said the Judiciary Committee agreed to look at a forthcoming memorandum of understanding with the BIA that would give that federal agency the right to come in and restructure public safety leadership -- including police, courts and corrections -- on the Pine Ridge Reservation. That agreement is expected to be presented to the tribe by July 1. Currently, the tribe operates its own police, judiciary and corrections programs under a Public Law 638 contract with the BIA. Native American tribes have the option to contract with the BIA for funds to run their own public safety systems, or to let the BIA provide those services directly.

Before making a decision, Big Boy said, the committee will take into consideration a public poll of reservation residents that it has posted to the tribal web site: www.oglalalakotanation.org.

“We’re taking public input into what the tribal members want to do about public safety. In six weeks, we should have a response from all nine districts,” Big Boy said.

The poll gives voters three options to choose from: a public safety department managed by the BIA, a separate board of trustees or by tribal administration of President John Yellow Bird Steele and the Judiciary Committee.

In the meantime, Mills will still be acting chief of police, a job he took following the retirement of Everett Little Whiteman last year, Big Boy said. Mills could not be reached for comment, but on Thursday, Capt. Milt Bianis of the tribal police department said he and other staff members had not been notified of the meeting with BIA officials at tribal headquarters before it happened.

“I’m not too sure what’s happening. I was not aware of the meeting. We weren’t notified at all,” Bianis said.

Big Boy said he expects the BIA to submit a management plan for the committee and full council’s approval, but “there’s a whole ton of questions that they’ll have to answer” first.

A spokeswoman for the BIA said the agency was working to put together a technical plan for the tribe’s approval.

“It’s a work in progress. It’s not going to happen right away. We look forward to working with the tribe on this and getting a plan in place for them,” Nedra Darling said.

Between 2004 and 2006, the BIA assumed control of the OST police department, a move that proved popular with many reservation residents but one that also left the tribe’s public safety budget in debt, Big Boy said.

In 2008, a surge of BIA and other law enforcement officers was sent to the Pine Ridge Reservation after about 30 OST police officers either walked off their jobs or were relieved of duty following a fracas that broke out during a meeting between tribal council members and complaining officers, who cited a lack of departmental leadership and poor working conditions.

Contact Mary Garrigan at 394-8424 or mary.garrigan@rapidcityjournal.com.

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