Indian Movement activist Dennis
Banks, left, and Clyde Bellecourt
during rally at the Pine Ridge
PINE RIDGE, S.D. (AP)
It's been nearly three months since two Sioux men were found slain in a culvert
near the Nebraska line, and many Indians
doubt authorities even care whether they
solve the crime.
In fact, some Indian
activists say the apparent standstill in
the investigation only confirms their
suspicion that white Nebraska lawmen
helped kill Wilson Black Elk Jr. and
Ronald Hard Heart or helped cover up the
crime to make it seem as if Indians were
"It's just two dead
Indians to them," Tom Poor Bear, who
was Black Elk's half brother and Hard
Heart's cousin, said of the FBI. "If
these were two white people who were
murdered, this place would be swarming
with FBI agents. They'd be turning over
every blade of grass."
Deaths lead to
The deaths have led to a
violent protest and heightened
long-standing tensions between whites and
the Oglala Sioux from the poor and
desolate Pine Ridge Indian Reservation.
U.S. flag flies upside down on March 3, 1973, at Wounded
The FBI says it is doing
all it can. And the sheriff's department
in Sheridan County, Neb., denies having
any role in the killings or
discriminating against Indians. But those
statements do little to diminish the
distrust on the reservation.
In a measure of how deep
the distrust runs, the Sioux who believe
white deputies were involved in the
slaying can't cite any direct evidence.
They believe the men were killed in
Nebraska and their bodies were dumped on
the reservation to make it seem as if a
tribe member did it. But investigators
have not said whether the bodies were
Bad blood from 1973
Many of the bad feelings
are left over from the American Indian
Movement's 1973 armed takeover of a
trading post at nearby Wounded Knee in a
protest over the government's handling of
complaints about Indian affairs. In 71
days of unrest, two Indians were killed
and a deputy marshal was wounded.
Distrust of law officers
also run high on South Dakota's eight
other reservations, where unemployment
often is staggering and alcoholism
In Mobridge, just across
the Missouri River from the Standing Rock
Sioux Indian Reservation, Indians have
rallied to protest the way authorities
have handled the death earlier this
summer of Robert "Boo" Many
Horses, 22, whose body was found
face-down in a garbage can.
Alcohol kills man
The autopsy found that
Many Horses died of alcohol poisoning.
Four white teenagers who were drinking
with him the night he died have been
charged -- one with manslaughter -- for
allegedly stuffing him in the can.
Indians are angry that
the defendants are free as they await
trial, while three Indians accused of
severely beating a white man near Pine
Ridge in August were denied bail.
deep-rooted racism in South Dakota, and
it can't be denied," said Alfred
Bone Shirt, who is on the Lakota Nation
Human Rights Committee. Lakota is the
name some Sioux call themselves.
A series of protests
Indians have held a
series of protests over both the Pine
Ridge slayings and alcohol sales in tiny
Whiteclay, Neb., where a few stores do a
brisk business selling beer and booze to
Sioux. Alcohol is banned at Pine Ridge,
just two miles from Whiteclay.
During the first march,
in June, several people attacked a store,
threw soda, cigarettes and other items
into the street and set fires in the
Before a rally the
following week, the town's 22 residents
were evacuated, and 100 troopers met the
marchers in riot gear. Several
demonstrators were arrested for crossing
a police line.
Soon after, a group of
Indians set up tents and tepees at
"Camp Justice," near a grove of
stunted elm trees on a hill overlooking
the spot where the bodies were found.
Poor Bear and about a dozen others have
vowed to stay there until the crime is
"All I want to do is
have my brother rest in peace," said
Edward Hard Heart. "Right now his
spirit is wandering around, and he won't
rest until we find out who killed
Cops reluctant to
Few details of the
investigation have emerged. The FBI has
shown autopsy results to the families but
said releasing the results publicly might
compromise the investigation. Poor Bear,
who helped identify Black Elk's body,
said the man was severely beaten.
Mark Vukelich, the FBI
agent overseeing the investigation, said
his agency and tribal police are making
every effort to find who killed the men.
A $15,000 reward for information has been
remain in the unsolved category, they
receive the highest priority,"
Vukelich said. "I disagree that
we're not doing all we can."
Vukelich would not say
whether Sheridan County law officers are
being investigated. "We are
investigating all angles of this
case," he said. "That includes
anybody who had any involvement in the
Sheridan County Sheriff
Terry Robbins said his department played
no role in the deaths. As for allegations
of racism, he said: "I have no idea
why that sentiment is there, other than
we have a large influx of Native
Americans into our county and there is a
number of them arrested. We try to treat
everybody as equals, no matter what race,
color or creed."