Perhaps the most common phrase in the FBI?s May 2000 publication ?Accounting for Native American Deaths -- Pine Ridge Reservation -- South Dakota? is ?No investigation.?
And that?s a bit odd, since the very purpose of the booklet is more than hinted at in the first word of the title: accounting defined as ?a statement of reasons, causes, etc., explaining some event.?
In this case, what was supposed to be accounted for was a series of unexplained deaths that occurred on or near Pine Ridge before, during and after the Wounded Knee Occupation of 1973.
Of the 57 deaths listed in the FBI?s ?accounting? booklet, 39 were labeled ?no investigation.? Not ?we investigated for X amount of time and couldn?t find anything,? just ?no investigation.?
Shortly after the aforementioned booklet began circulating, I sat down with Lakota elders Elaine Quiver and Joe Swift Bird to discuss the issue. They didn?t have much to say. Like many across Pine Ridge, Elaine and Joe weren?t happy.
The publication came about as a result of the 1999 U.S. Commission on Civil Rights hearing in Rapid City, when Lakota people claimed there were, quoting the FBI, ?hundreds of murdered Native Americans whose deaths hadn?t been investigated.? Thus the booklet.
The FBI asserted that the 39 deaths listed with ?no investigation? weren?t considered murders ?under the law.? For example, Edward Means Jr., who was ?allegedly? found beaten to death in a Pine Ridge alley in 1974. The FBI says the cause of death was hypothermia.
Of course, that was the original cause given for Anna Mae Aquash?s death until, oops, a bullet wound was found in the back of her head. The case is also reminiscent of Robert ?Boo? Many Horses, ?allegedly? beaten and left to die in a Mobridge alley in 1999. Actual cause of death was ruled as alcohol poisoning.
Many Horses wasn?t a Pine Ridge-related case, but his death does point to what has apparently become a primary cause of death among Native Americans: alleys. Another is deserted roads.
So, it was with Lena R. Slow Bear, Cleveland Reddest, Jancita Eagle Deer, Priscilla White Plume ? the list goes on.
Still, there were other types of ?not investigated? cases -- like Hilda R. Good Buffalo, found with a stab wound in her neck after a small fire in her home. Official cause of death: carbon monoxide poisoning, acute alcoholism and other factors.
Actually, ?other factors? seems to be right up there with alleys and deserted roads as causes for Native American deaths.
What makes this topic new again is what makes the legal battle for the Black Hills still current: the Lakota have not given up on finding answers to the deaths of their own -- even if others have.
By request, U.S. Attorney Brendan Johnson has agreed to look into 39 cases of unsolved deaths on the Pine Ridge Reservation -- many from the original list of 57 -- which is definitely a step in the right direction.
That the 1997 unsolved death of Jancita Eagle Deer?s niece, Richy Roubideax, is among several that have been added to the list is a sad testament to family tragedy but a distant light in the long tunnel of investigation ahead.
The Lakota are used to waiting for justice. As they?re fond of reminding the world: ?We?re still here.?
Jim Kent lives in Hot Springs. Write to firstname.lastname@example.org.