Watertown Arrows fans didn't like us outsiders talking about the cultural misappropriation inherent in their homecoming activities. Now some Dakota students who attended Sisseton public schools but switched to Tiospa Zina to get away from racial prejudice are saying Sisseton's team name (the Redmen) and homecoming activities offend their cultural identity:

A group of female American Indian basketball players in Roberts County are working on a cause that their grandparents took up more than 20 years ago.

Tate, Mahpiya, Fidelity and Persephone Eastman, along with a few of their friends, hosted a rally this week asking the Sisseton School District to change the name of its team and logo from Redmen [Katherine Grandstrand, "Teens Rally for Name Change," Aberdeen American News, 2015.02.06].

A relative of the girls recalls cultural misppropriation in Sisseton's homecoming activities that sounds very similar to Watertown's:

LeeAnn Eastman said that when she went to high school in Sisseton, she had similar experiences as her daughters and nieces. Because of the way she was treated at Sisseton, she said she transferred to Tiospa Zina.

“I couldn’t handle that,” LeeAnn Eastman said. “You just feel lower, like you’re below them, like you’ll never be as good as them.”

The nickname isn’t the only issue. The way the American Indian is used at school events, like homecoming, is also problematic, LeeAnn Eastman said.

“They crown a chieftain and a princess, and they put on a headdress. The girls braid up their hair, they put paint on their face,” she said. “I haven’t seen it since I was really young, but I know before, they did mock ceremonies. They mocked our ceremonies. ... That’s how we pray” [Grandstrand, 2015.02.06].

The girls organized a protest of the Redmen name before Tuesday's basketball game between Tiospa Zina and Sisseton. The Sisseton superintendent appears to find First Amendment exercise incompatible with physical exercise:

Some people didn’t like that the protest took place before a girls’ basketball game, Sisseton School District Superintendent Stephen Schulte said. It affected not only those in attendance, but the game itself, he added.

“They have an opportunity to come to school board and make suggestions, and the board can act on that,” Schulte said. “But at this point in time, recently, they haven’t done that. They’ve done it in the past” [Grandstrand, 2015.02.06].

Hmm... if a group is aggrieved by a sports team's name, it seems to me the most appropriate place to raise awareness of that grievance would be at an event where that name is being chanted and trumpeted the most loudly. But then, what do I know about basketball?

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Attorney General Marty Jackley held a press conference in Sisseton Friday to discuss the details and conclusions of the state's investigation of the November 22, 2014 murder-suicide that shocked Sisseton and briefly put the entire tri-state area on alert. AG Jackley confirmed that Colter Arbach shot and injured Karissa DogEagle and shot and killed Vernon Renville Jr., Angela Adams, Candice Labelle.

DogEagle was Arbach's girlfriend. In the wee hours of November 22, he punched her three times. DogEagle's three friends took her outside to a car. Arbach followed and fired 18 rounds from a .223 rifle and three rounds from a 12-gauge shotgun. Arbach shot Renville, Adams, and Labelle dead at the car; he shot DogEagle several times in the back as she returned to the house. According to this shooting diagram released by the Department of Criminal Investigations, Arbach shot himself in the driveway.

Arbach shooting crime scene diagram, prepared by Special Agent Jeff Kollars, SD Department of Criminal Investigation, 2014.11.22 (click to enlarge).

Arbach shooting crime scene diagram, prepared by Special Agent Jeff Kollars, SD Department of Criminal Investigation, 2014.11.22 (click to enlarge).

The detailed information Attorney General Jackley released Friday raises three questions:

  1. AG Jackley said nothing (at least nothing published) about his office's failure to positively identify the dead shooter at the scene, an error that led law enforcement to unnecessarily alarm the public with warnings that Arbach was on the loose, armed and dangerous.
  2. The crime scene diagram identifies Item #22 at the foot of Arbach's corpse as a "Beretta 12 gauge semi-auto shotgun." The diagram and the Attorney General identify the other weapon, found in the front passenger seat of the white GMC, only as a .223 caliber rifle. Why does the AG specify the shotgun but not the rifle that did most of the rapid-fire killing? Is there a magic word we're not using to avoid grief for our NRA donors?
  3. This crime scene diagram offers significant detail about a crime about which there has been little public doubt. Why has Attorney General Marty Jackley not released a comparable crime scene diagram from his investigation of Richard Benda's death? With conflicting evidence and widespread public doubt about the plausibility of the official finding of suicide, it would behoove the Attorney General all the more to release the crime scene diagram and other details, like those released Friday in the Arbach case, to assure the public that law enforcement has done its job.

Attorney General Jackley's openness in the Arbach shooting is admirable, if incomplete. AG Jackley should revisit the Benda shooting with similar openness.

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Among the victims of the multiple shooting in Sisseton Saturday was Vernon Renville, Jr., also known as Vernon Redday. Lake Traverse Reservation newspaper Sota Iya Ye Yapi reports that Renville advocated for LGBT rights in Indian Country:

Vernon was a gentle giant of a young man, physically large and with an equally big heart. He was known for a sense of humor. And he’d volunteer for any walk or campaign to bring awareness to some of the most important problems on the Lake Traverse Reservation. Whether it was awareness of domestic violence, child abuse, drug and alcohol abuse, prejudice/racism, you-name-it. And he was a strong voice for the LGBT community. His brothers and sisters of the Two Spirit movement are mourning along with Vernon’s family and lots of other friends. We remember him during last winter’s Idle No More walk through snow-covered streets of Sisseton [CD Floro, "Tragedy in Sisseton: Young Oyate Lives Lost in Shooting," Sota Iya Ye Yapi Online, accessed 2014.11.24].

Two Spirit is an Anishinabe term. This social work sheet elaborates:

Two-Spirit is a Native American term that is usually used to indicate a person whose body simultaneously houses a masculine spirit and a feminine spirit. Two-Spirit is a Native concept: Will Roscoe writes that Two-Spirit people have been "documented in over 130 tribes, in every region of North America, among every type of native culture.” Different words are used for Two-Spirit people in different tribes, and the word Two-Spirit may have different meanings in different Native languages. Some tribes may not have a commonly known and used word for Two-Spirit people at this point in time.

Historically and culturally, Two-Spirit people were respected and honored by their tribes. Their gender roles in the community included protecting children; being parental/partners; helping in ceremonies; gathering food and medicine; caretaking; and serving as peacekeepers, name givers, and spiritual leaders. Due to oppression (including homophobia/transphobia) and historical and intergenerational trauma there are issues that may disproportionately impact Two-Spirit/Native LGBTQ people today [Tom Lidot and Lenny Hayes, "Sharing Our Lived Experiences," National Resource Center for Tribes and Tribal STAR, 2014].

Renville had to learn that history to understand his Two Spirit identity:

Renville struggled to find his place as a Two Spirit in his tribal community, but through prayer and asking his elders about the place they held in Dakota culture, he has found some wisdom. “I discovered that we weren't actually outcasts. We weren't shunned or anything, that we were actually highly-revered people and we were assassinated – I guess you could say – by the Europeans” [Alfred Walking Bull, "First S.D. Two Spirit Society Honors and Educates on the Reservation," The Circle, 2014.10.11].

Renville co-founded the new Sisseton-Wahpeton Oyate Two Spirit Society, the first such LGBT advocacy group in South Dakota's nine reservations:

Members of the newly-formed Sisseton Wahpeton Oyate Two Spirit Society gathered on Sept. 26 to educate members of the tribe on LGBTQ Native issues while honoring one of their own who was killed earlier in the month.

The group – the first Two Spirit society in any of the nine reservations in South Dakota – began its mission in June of this year. A testament to the growing power of social media on the reservation, the event “Gay is OK” was the impetus for forming the society. “We all went out to the corner, stood outside and held signs. And while we were standing there, we talked about forming a society, so we set a meeting date and from then on, it's been going ever since,” Vernon Renville, society co-founder said [Walking Bull, 2014.10.11].

In Renville, the Sisseton-Wahpeton Oyate has lost an organizer and a fighter for equality.

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South Dakota law enforcement alarmed the state into a manhunt yesterday morning following a multiple shooting in Sisseton:

State and local Law Enforcement are searching for Colter Richard Arbach, 22, Sissteton, the subject in a quadruple homicide. The shooting incident occurred in a Sisseton residence early this morning. Four individuals are dead and one is critically injured. The names of the victims are not being released at this time.

Arbach is armed and dangerous and should not be approached. Anyone who has seen Arbach or knows of his whereabouts is asked to contact the Sisseton Police Department at 605-698-7667 [South Dakota Attorney General's office, press release #1, 2014.11.22, approx. 6 a.m.].

About three and a half hours later, law enforcement found their suspect... dead at the scene of the crime:

The Division of Criminal Investigation has located and identified Colter Richard Arbach, 22, Sisseton, as one of the deceased individuals at the scene of the shooting incident that occurred at a Sisseton residence early this morning. Preliminary investigation results identify Arbach as the shooter, before taking his own life. Investigators are continuing to locate other individuals who may have been at the scene at the time of the shooting for their involvement or their eyewitness account. Law Enforcement does not feel that the public is in danger at this time.

The investigation is still ongoing. Agencies assisting in this investigation are the Sisseton Police Department, Sisseton-Wahpeton Sioux Tribal Police, Roberts County Sheriff’s Office, South Dakota Highway Patrol, South Dakota Game, Fish and Parks and the Division of Criminal Investigation [South Dakota Attorney General's office, press release #2, 2014.11.22, tweeted 9:32 a.m.].

Before whipping the public into a panic, maybe law enforcement should check IDs on the bodies one more time. If investigators knew enough to peg Arbach as the shooter, if they had a description and a photo, then whoever they were talking to at the scene probably would have known enough to ID the perp at the scene.

Keep calm, and carry on.

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Under the authority of this year's Senate Bill 235, Governor Dennis Daugaard handed out another $1.8 million this month to various communities and businesses around the state for economic development. These funds follow a quarter million handed out to 3M in Brookings and $600K to Marmen Energy in Brandon.

Last spring, I noted that South Dakota's economic development efforts seem to flow toward communities that are doing pretty well on their own, perhaps at the expense of smaller communities losing talent and dollars to their bigger neighbors. One could argue that Governor Daugaard is continuing that pattern with his SB 235 money. In these two rounds of funding, over 50% of the money has gone to Brookings County. The biggest single recipient is the new and well-heeled Novita LLC, which gets $771K to build a plant in Brookings County to make distillers meal and grain oil.

But Governor Daugaard is spreading the wealth to more rural areas. Infrastructure money is going to Sturgis and Alexandria. More economic dollars are going to Belle Fourche, the Southern Black Hills, Bison, and Sisseton. As we see with the example of Alexandria, a small investment can make a big difference, arguably a bigger difference than those same dollars would make in a big growing community like Brookings or Brandon.

Money follows money. The Governor likely receives more pitches from bigger investors for bigger projects in bigger towns. But those big investors are in the big towns because those communities already have lots of advantages to attract their dollars and dreams.

So the question remains: given the market advantages towns like Brookings and Brandon already have, should the state's economic development programs give priority to smaller communities like Bison and Alexandria?

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Matt Varilek spent the weekend hanging out with warriors at the 145th Annual Sisseton Wahpeton Oyate Wacipi at Agency Village:

Matt Varilek attends Sissteon Wahpeton Oyate Wacipi, June 30, 2012. Photo by Tonya Thompson Peterson

Matt Varilek attends Sissteon Wahpeton Oyate Wacipi, June 30, 2012. Photo by Tonya Thompson Peterson

Varilek said a few words to the crowd, joined the Sissteon Wahpeton in ceremony, and visited with numerous Dakota neighbors. A local reader was impressed with the time candidate Varilek spent with the tribal members and the respect he showed for their traditions.

If nothing else, Varilek seems to have given the Sisseton Wahpeton more time and attention than Rep. Kristi Noem gave to her own party's convention the previous weekend.

Check out more videos of the Sisseton Wahpeton Oyate Wacipi on R.N. Taylor's "South Dakota Channel" on YouTube. Here's an entry in the hand-drum competition (no, Matt did not enter!):

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