Skip to main content


back to News

Tribal leaders summit tackles domestic violence, law enforcement issues


Font Size:
Default font size
Larger font size

buy this photoWILL KINCAID/Tribune. Elmer Four Dance, BIA regional special agent in charge, participates in a law enforcement panel at the United Tribes Tribal Leaders Summit on Thursday.

Cecilia Fire Thunder urged those attending the United Tribes Technical College Tribal Leaders Summit on Thursday to quit looking for funding for problems on reservations and in tribal communities and to start working toward saving Native American culture for future generations.

"This is an inside job to save our people," she said in a rousing hour-long talk at the Bismarck Civic Center Expo Center.

Fire Thunder, co-coordinator of the Native Women's Society of the Great Plains, spoke along with Linda Thompson, director of First Nations Women's Alliance, about domestic violence in Native American communities during the second day of the Tribal Leaders Summit. The summit runs through today at the Expo Center.

Fire Thunder became nationally known in 2006 when she proposed opening a Planned Parenthood clinic on her own land on South Dakota's Pine Ridge reservation in response to the South Dakota Legislature's ban on all abortions in the state, which was later overturned by voters.

At the Thursday panel, Fire Thunder recounted beginning her career changing policy and looking for resources for change in 1966 as a 20-year-old nurse who helped establish a free clinic for native people relocated to Los Angeles, the first of its kind in a major city. She said that despite the work done to address problems on reservations in the past 50 years, such as soaring domestic violence rates, unemployment and dropout rates, many things are worse now than then.

Fire Thunder said men need to help solve the problem of violence against women by being responsible for their own behaviors and guiding and mentoring future generations. More men are needed to be active "daddies" to children, she said.

"A dad takes responsibility for that child they create," she said. "A dad picks up that child and holds it."

Fire Thunder talked about the need to focus efforts and resources on helping children, even if it means sacrificing current generations facing health and substance abuse problems. She recommended people stop having children they can't care for and to put the time in to nurture children they have. Children should be born into communities without alcohol and violence problems, she said.

"Those little kids who are growing up have to be our priority," she said. "We need to quit enabling each other ... We can no longer keep blaming history and the past. Doggone it, it's over."

Fire Thunder also recommended tribal courts update domestic violence codes to allow judges to sentence offenders to programs to deal with issues at the heart of abuse. Standing Rock has implemented such a re-education program, she said. She recommended the formation of a think tank for solutions to problems facing native communities.

"Let's talk about what we have to do to save ourselves," she said, pointing out that the solution was not in additional funding. "What we need is in our homes, in our tribes. It's our values."

During a law enforcement panel Thursday afternoon, Linda Bearcrane Couture, victim-witness coordinator for the Bureau of Indian Affairs and Office of Justice Services, talked about the addition of victim-witness specialists to BIA's services. She said previously the BIA did not offer services to victims, but they are adding specialists throughout Indian Country. The first two are in Pierre, S.D., and Albuquerque, N.M. According to her presentation, one is planned for Fort Yates.

Elmer Four Dance, BIA's regional special agent in charge, outlined how the Tribal Law and Order Act is being implemented in BIA law enforcement and what changes it has created. He said gangs are becoming an increasing problem in many tribal communities in the region, and the district he heads, which is based in Aberdeen, S.D., has started a Gang Suppression Plan to deal with the problem.

"It's not a problem that any one agency can solve," he said.

North Dakota Supreme Court Justice Carol Ronning Kapsner and Northeast District Judge Donovan Foughty explained the state court system's new Commission to Study Racial and Ethnic bias in the Courts. The judges, who are commission co-chairs, said the court system will begin holding meetings to get input about bias problems in the court system and will distribute surveys to jurors about perceptions of bias. They asked for assistance in getting information from minority communities to the commission.

Foughty said the purpose of the commission is to create a more fair and equal judicial system.

"I think it's something to strive for," he said.

The commission will take comments at the Expo Center in room 103 from 9 a.m. to noon today, though they are willing to stay until 3 p.m. if people come to talk, Kapsner said.

(Reach reporter Jenny Michael at 250-8225 or



Sign up today



Criminal Justice Reform News Updates

Office of Sex Offender, Sentencing, Monitoring, Apprehending, and Tracking Seeking Applications for Grants

Coordinated Tribal Assistance Solicitation

BJA funding opportunities: DEADLINE April 2015

NCJA Justice Bulletin, January 2015

BJA Explores Lessons Learned from Tribal Judges Regarding Implementation of TLOA's Enhanced Sentencing Authority