Home Page
Charles Abourezk
News Archives
Video & Audio Media
Published Articles
Links On Line

Warriors of Wounded Knee

Abourezk Law Firm

James Abourezk USD Library Collection

Bruce Cockburn Official Site

Oglala Lakota College

KILI Radio - Pine Ridge Indian Reservation

International Indian Treaty Council

South Dakota Public Broadcasting

The Porcupine Health Clinic

American Indian Film Instititute

Little Steven Van Zandt

National Psychodrama Training Center

Peter Coyote




News Archives

October 2008 http://www.bhpioneer.com/articles/2008/10/08/breaking_news/doc48ed0cbce88bb944174869.txt

Colonizing the West

Closing the open range greatly harmed Native Americans, says lawyer
By Vicky Wicks
For The Weekly News

The open range closed when Indian Country became Cowboy Country, and that conversion was accomplished by means of colonization, Rapid City lawyer Charlie Abourezk told a crowd at the Journey Museum on Sunday, Oct. 5.

Once colonization was complete, racism settled in, and the combination resulted in economic disaster for the Indian people, he said. Abourezk was the first speaker in the Storytellers Series, part of the Journey’s exhibit “Fencing the West: Buffalo to Barbed Wire.”

He outlined the four steps of the British mode of colonization, which was applied by European settlers in this country.

“The first step was to dislocate traditional agriculture and food gathering, essentially to destroy people’s traditional way of obtaining food and surviving off the land, and replace it with something that you could make the colonial subjects be dependent upon,î Abourezk said.

That dislocation was achieved by killing off buffalo herds and confining tribes to reservations, leaving tribes dependent on government commodities, he said.

The second step was to divide up communally owned land and transfer it into private ownership, a move Abourezk said was designed to get Native people to appreciate market capitalism while divesting them of their land.

“The government knew what it was doing,” he said. “Teddy Roosevelt, who was then a congressman who was a proponent of the Allotment Act or the Dawes Act, got up on the floor of the Congress and called it ‘a mighty pulverizing machine with which to break up the tribal mass.’”

The third step of colonization was establishing a Native "ruling elite,” consisting of “paper chiefs” who got that title from the U.S. government rather than their own people, Abourezk said. That step put the appointed chiefs in a position to carry out government programs, diverting Natives’ anger away from the government and toward their own people.

That effort was assisted by the Indian Reorganization Act of 1934, which got rid of traditional tribal government and installed federally sanctioned modes of government based on the U.S. Constitution.

Abourezk said that interference led to confusion that still exists, in part because the new form of government didn’t provide for separation of powers. As a result, tribal councils could fire judges who made unpopular decisions.

The fourth step of colonization, he said, was to get Native people on board with white culture, a goal of the U.S. government’s relocation program in which Native people were given one-way tickets to large cities where they could get a job or an education.

That move backfired, however, when the children of the relocated Natives “later became the Indian activists that we know about in the 1970s and ’80s,î he said.

Abourezk said the colonizing of a nation within a purportedly democratic nation has led to illogical Indian law.

“The government is trying to both adhere to its democratic and constitutional principles on the one hand, while at the other hand straining to try to achieve the goals of a colonizer,” he said. “The vagaries of settler colonialism require that the logic of the law be bent and twisted to fit a certain result.”

After colonization had successfully dominated Native people and land, Abourezk said, racism continued to keep indigenous people in check.

“We saw the machinery of colonization gradually replaced by the machinery of racial and cultural dominance,” he said. "This system in modern times has come to be called racism, but before you flinch, I want to pull you back and look at it as the remnants of a colonial system, as well as a system which has sort of gained a life of its own.”

Abourezk said white people now criticize Indian people for being poor without recognizing that racism, born of colonialism, has caused their poverty.

One part of the solution needs to be a change in federal policy to stimulate economies on reservations, to make possible what white people would be able to do if they were in the same circumstances, he said.

"It has nothing to do with 'Indian' and everything to do with economics,” Abourezk said.

Economically speaking, South Dakota is a poor state when compared with certain other states, and Abourezk said that fact should unite us rather than divide us.

“If we started to see our common ground, and how our stories merge and how our histories merge and how we’re all one people now, I think the Indians and the ranchers and farmers and small businessmen of the state have a lot more in common than they do differences,î he said.

For a full listing of events in conjunction with the exhibit, go to journeymuseum.org.

Vicky Wicks is a freelance journalist living in Rapid City. She can be contacted at wicksvicky@hotmail.com.


[Back To Top]

Southern Law Poverty Center

Intelligence Report

Winter 2007 - Malign Neglect

Racial violence against Native Americans has drawn attention from the federal government twice in recent years, but many hate crimes still seem to get a pass.
by Susy Buchanan

Daisy Piggott, whose daughter was murdered in 2000, reacted with shock when a white man was acquitted in her death. Joshua Wade boasted of killing Della Brown and having sex with her corpse.

The U.S. Commission on Civil Rights is a federal fact-finding agency with subpoena powers that investigates reports of violent hate crimes and other civil rights violations nationwide. Twice in recent years, the commission has investigated bias-motivated violence against American Indians and Alaska Natives in far-flung locales. In one notorious January 2001 case that prompted the commission to hold hearings in Alaska, three white teenagers cruised the dark and icy streets of downtown Anchorage armed with a paintball gun loaded with paint pellets that had been frozen to intensify the pain inflicted upon impact. They hunted Alaska Natives and videotaped their own drive-by attacks. Pulling alongside one victim, the teenagers lured the man to the car, saying, "We're tourists from California, and we just want to talk to some Alaskan people." They began asking him fake interview questions. "Talk to the camera," they said. Then, when he turned, they shot him in the face and cheered.

It was clear from the 24-minute videotape recovered by police that the teens were specifically targeting Alaska Natives. As they put it, they were going on "an Eskimo hunt." At one point in the tape, one of them spots a potential victim and says, "Shoot him! Shoot him!" Then, "No, he's Chinese."

When one of the victims, most of whom were inebriated, flagged down a police cruiser and told the officer he had been shot, he was arrested for disorderly conduct and spent 10 days in jail.

"The January 2001 paintball incident may have been the first realization among the non-Native community in Alaska that hate crimes occur, but for the Native community, the event was one more in a series of hate-inspired acts," the civil rights commission concluded in its April 2002 report, "Racism's Frontier: The Untold Story of Discrimination and Division in Alaska."

The paintball attacks came amidst a series of brutal attacks on Alaska Natives that were widely suspected of being hate crimes and were included in the commission's investigation. These included five instances where Native women were kidnapped off the streets in downtown Anchorage and raped. Also, four Native women were murdered in Anchorage in a single year, including a 33-year-old woman whose mutilated body was found sprawled in an abandoned shed in September 2000.

Joshua Wade was arrested after police learned the 20-year-old white man had showed off the body to several of his friends before it was discovered by authorities, bragging that he'd killed the woman and had sex with her corpse. After he was arrested, Wade claimed he'd made up the murder story to impress people. He was later convicted of evidence tampering only.

"There are systemic institutional racism problems against Alaska Natives that have occurred for a long time," David Levy, the executive director of the Anchorage Equal Rights Commission who likens the treatment of Alaska Natives in Anchorage to that of African Americans in the Deep South 50 years ago, told the commission. "These problems are going to take a long time to deal with."

Since the January 2001 paintball attacks there have been at least two copycat crimes, and bias-motivated violence against Alaska Natives in Anchorage remains a serious problem.

Tensions in South Dakota
Race hate apparently can be just as dangerous for American Indians in South Dakota towns bordering the Pine Ridge Reservation. Before visiting Anchorage, in 2000, the Commission on Civil Rights went to South Dakota in response to "a recent series of high-profile cases involving the unsolved deaths of several American Indians [that] has brought tensions to the surface," according to the
US Civil Rights Commission Report,  "Native Americans in South Dakota: An Erosion of Confidence in the Justice System, Summary of Opening Statement by Charles Abourezk, Link: http://www.usccr.gov/pubs/sac/sd0300/ch2.htm

In Mobridge, S.D., in 1999, four white teenagers beat a mentally retarded, inebriated Sioux Indian, and then shoved him headfirst into a garbage can, where he later died. When the coroner determined alcohol poisoning to be the cause of death, the incident was widely viewed as a prank gone awry. All charges against the four youths were quickly dropped.

As attorney Charles Abourezk told the federal civil rights commission: "Our James Byrds often appear with little notice here in our region, and their killers often get probation rather than the death penalty or do not get charged at all."

Between May 1998 and December 1999, six homeless American Indians were found drowned in the relatively shallow waters of Rapid Creek, and the bodies of two murdered Indian men were found in a culvert just outside the reservation.

In 1999, Native activist Frank Killsright told a reporter he and two friends were crossing a bridge over Rapid Creek when they were confronted by six skinheads. "One of our guys was thrown off the bridge and had his arm broken. The fight lasted five minutes. My glasses were broken and I got a fat lip. Then they ran."

Police refused to take action, Killsright said. "The police are denying white supremacist groups exist here. The town has been a magnet for white supremacists since Custer first came here looking for gold."

Also in 1999, 17 year-old Mark Appel ran over and killed 21 year-old Justin Redday, who had passed out on the road near Sisseton, S.D. Appel admitted he made no effort to avoid the body because "it is illegal to cross the white line, or if it is a solid yellow line, or even if it wasn't, it is illegal to swerve." Unsure of what he had hit, he reportedly backed up to take a look and ran over Redday again. Appel was charged with drunken driving, sentenced to 30 days in jail and fined $330.

Redday's mother was outraged. "In my opinion, the message the courts are sending to our community is that it's okay to kill someone as long as it [is] an Indian in this county and state. This state treats Native Americans just like blacks are treated in Mississippi. Why did my son have to die?" she asked a reporter. "Because this white boy seems to have the right to drive around drunk?"

As the commission's report concluded: "Rumors of cover-ups by law enforcement, allegations of halfhearted or nonexistent investigations, and seemingly disparate jail sentences have spurred protests throughout American Indian communities, and further strained already tenuous white-Indian relations."


[Back To Top]

3/20/2007 - Jury awards man $212,058 after Prairie Bottle Market incident

By Katie Brown, Journal staff
RAPID CITY -- A Pennington County jury Wednesday night awarded a Winner man $212,058 in damages for an incident in 2000 during which he was wrongly attacked by a security guard and clerks at Prairie Bottle Market in Rapid City.

After a two-day trial before 7th Circuit Judge Jack Delaney, the jury found in favor of Robert Black Feather, 58, the man who said on Sept. 30, 2000, a Prairie Bottle Market security guard and two clerks grabbed him, took him outside and pushed him onto the ground.

Black Feather's attorney, Charles Abourezk, said his client was then held by the three men until police arrived.

Abourezk said at the time of the incident, Black Feather and his wife and children were grocery shopping at the store. Black Feather, who had not been drinking, attempted to buy a bottle of rum, and a cashier called security.

"It was very humiliating for him," Abourezk said. "His wife and children saw him stretched out on the ground, and a crowd had gathered."

Black Feather was released from police custody an hour later and was not charged.

During the incident, Black Feather sustained severe bruises, scrapes and cuts and a ruptured disk in his lower back.

Abourezk said Black Feather's medical expenses totaled $12,000. He said the jury awarded him $212,058 in damages for negligent infliction of emotional distress and battery.

Nash Finch, owner of Prairie Bottle Market, will be liable for the damages.

"I've always believed that there are a lot of decent people in Rapid City, and I'm pleased that they recognized another decent person in Robert Black Feather," Abourezk said.

Contact Katie Brown at 394-8318 or

[Back To Top]

5/4/2005 - Local film to air nationwide

By Jomay Steen, Journal Staff Writer Monday, September 19, 2005

RAPID CITY - In November, a documentary by two Rapid City filmmakers about the 1973 American Indian Movement's occupation at Wounded Knee on Pine Ridge Indian Reservation will air on more than 70 public TV stations.

In March, South Dakota Public Broadcasting and co-producers and directors Charles Abourezk and Brett Lawlor of Badland Films submitted "A Tattoo on My Heart: The Warriors of Wounded Knee 1973" for national distribution.

Bob Bosse, director of television for South Dakota Public Broadcasting, contacted American Public Television to suggest the documentary about the 1973 siege at Wounded Knee would appeal to a national audience based upon the quality of the film and its historical significance.

"This is a wonderful documentary, and it deserves to be seen by a broad audience," Bosse said.

American Public Television agreed.

The film will air on public broadcasts in 73 television markets, including the nation's largest markets. It will be shown in 48 states and Washington, D.C., with a potential audience in the tens of millions, Bosse said.

Bosse said the film's fresh perspective and compelling narrative made it the first independent documentary that American Public Television has offered to distribute through SDPB in the past three years.

"We know there are so many South Dakota stories waiting to be told nationwide, and ?A Tattoo on My Heart: The Warriors of Wounded Knee 1973' is a perfect example," Bosse said.

Lawlor said they found out a couple weeks ago that it would be broadcast nationally. "We were excited about it," he said. Lawlor is a physician, and Abourezk is a lawyer in Rapid City.

Lawlor said the film would help educate people about the events that happened 32 years ago and led to Wounded Knee.

He enjoyed going through the process with Bosse to get the documentary exposed to a wider audience than those found at film festivals.

"Now, my siblings and parents in Portland, Seattle and Spokane can watch it on television," Lawlor said.

Lawlor said that when he and Abourezk began the project, their goals were to make a quality film sufficient to be shown on public television and also on a national level.

In 2003, Abourezk and Lawlor filmed 39 hours of interviews at the 30th anniversary reunion of Wounded Knee. For the next two years, the independent filmmakers worked evenings in their basement studios writing a script, putting together the sequence of interviews, gathering news footage and photographs. They also edited the film to 59 minutes.

In Seattle, Lawlor's brother added still photography, television footage, music and scene transitions to help make a seamless documentary film.

Tapping into South Dakota's Indian and white political relations, the Rapid City men are following the footsteps of public television documentary favorites Ken Burns and Dayton Duncan.

"I wouldn't go that far," Lawlor said of the comparison.

Abourezk was at a film festival in Michigan and unavailable for comment.

But in a news release, Abourezk said having the film nationally recognized was a humbling experience.

"This is where we both grew up and where we choose to live. So, we share this recognition with the people of South Dakota and the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation," he said in the release.

Lawlor said he and Abourezk are considering more film projects.

"It will be something that we're interested in enough to live with for a couple of years," he said.

Contact Jomay Steen at 394-8418 or jomay.steen@rapidcityjournal.com

[Back To Top]

5/4/2005 - Film tells story of those on the inside of Wounded Knee siege

By Jomay Steen, Journal Staff Writer Wednesday, May 04, 2005

At the 30th anniversary of the 1973 siege at Wounded Knee, lawyer Charles Abourezk and Dr. Brett Lawlor, both of Rapid City, began four days of talking to the American Indian men and women who were part of its history.

In a mini-studio that the amateur filmmakers had set up at Wounded Knee District School in Manderson on Pine Ridge Indian Reservation, they interviewed the people who lived through the 71-day siege.

On Tuesday, Abourezk, 51, talked about the film "A Tattoo on My Heart: The Warriors of Wounded Knee 1973" between appointments at his office.

"I've always been, as a journalist and an attorney, a storyteller. I felt compelled to get the story out there," he said.

The documentary will be one of the scores of films shown at the Native Voice Film Festival. The annual festival begins at 7 p.m. today showing a series of short studies, documentaries and feature-length films about American Indians.

The local filmmakers will present their film on the main floor at 9 p.m. Thursday at the Elks Theatre.

After a brief introduction by Abourezk and Lawlor, the film will fill the silver screen for the first time at the Rapid City. The men will answer questions from the audience after the movie, he said.

The two friends decided to collaborate on the project combining Lawlor's interest in script writing and Abourezk's journalism and documentary skills.

"We didn't think the story had ever been told by the people inside of the siege or from their perspective," Abourezk said.

The 30th anniversary was the perfect catalyst to start their first project.

Using their own money, they filmed 39 hours of interviews. For the next two years, the men, with the help of an editor in Seattle, cut the documentary to its 59-minute-feature length.

"They had powerful stories and so many moving sound bites. Editing the film down to an hour was difficult," Abourezk said.

Although it is Lawlor's and Abourezk's first-time at the Native Voice festival, they have had their documentary shown at several other film festivals.

The film premiered at the Wounded Knee District School in Manderson, was exhibited at the San Francisco American Indian Film Festival, where it sold out, and was shown at Palm Springs Native American Film Festival and ImageNation American Indian Film Festival in Vancouver, Canada. It also aired on South Dakota Public Television on Feb. 28.

"We just got selected for Montreal's First Nations Film Festival," Abourezk said.

As the lights dimmed and the story unfolded for the first time on the silver screen, pride flooded Abourezk.

"I kept thinking, ?That's my movie,'" he said.

It is a feeling that he hopes those documented in the movie share. Since the film's completion, four of the people interviewed have died.

What has drawn audiences into the theaters to watch the program has been the universal stories of people living through events that changed their lives, he said.

"Like most heroic stories, we see ordinary people face their fears and become transformed in the process," Abourezk said.

For more information, go to Web sites for Native Voice Film Festival at www.elkstheatre.com or www.nativevoicefilmfestival.com.

Contact Jomay Steen at 394-8418 or jomay.steen@rapidcityjournal.com

[Back To Top]

3/24/2005 - Wounded Knee '73 revisited

WOUNDED KNEE, S.D. - A handful of American Indians took over a church on Feb. 27, 1973 to protest racism and corruption in the Oglala Sioux government. A 71-day war resulted.

It wasn't meant to be a shootout; the intent was to protest events that were crushing the people's pride and dignity on the Pine Ridge Reservation. Traditional Oglala people claimed they were ignored and some said at the time they were afraid to go into town (Pine Ridge village) for essential items such as food.

That's when Severt Young Bear, Lakota elder, called in the American Indian Movement: and traditional people and AIM members stood together in the standoff that attracted the media and captured the hearts of supporters nationwide.

Oglala Sioux Tribal President Dick Wilson was accused of authoritarian rule on Pine Ridge, and of using Goon (Guardians of the Oglala Nation) squads to keep order and to keep the traditional people and those who didn't support his administration in line, the traditional elders said.

Two events - the violent deaths of an Oglala man in Gordon, Neb. and another in Custer County, S.D. - brought thousands of protesters to the area. Arrests were made and buildings burned. The demonstrations and the occupation spilled over to the Pine Ridge Reservation, and the occupation of Wounded Knee began.

Two American Indians were killed and many others wounded. Two law enforcement officials were wounded.

A new documentary film, ''A Tattoo on My Heart,'' presents the warriors' point of view through actual film footage from the occupation and contemporary interviews. The film tells their story and their feelings about their stand against the most powerful military in the world - and how they became heroes. Its world premiere was held on the occupation's 32nd anniversary, bringing community residents and occupation veterans together to experience the film and honor those who took a stand against tyranny and racism.

Wilson and some of his supporters are portrayed as uncaring, sarcastic fools in brief clips; one shows him commenting on the accusations against him: ''There have been a number of accusations made lately,'' he said, smiling; a supporter seated next to him said sarcastically, ''We are all sharp shooters.''

Wounded Knee, as the film points out, was chosen as the site to make a stand with the knowledge that the Wilson administration and the federal government planned to protect the tribal administration and adjacent BIA buildings in Pine Ridge village. Machine gun nests were placed on top of the BIA building on all four corners; and armored personnel carriers, the FBI, federal marshals and the military were brought in to squelch any such takeover.

Anticipating this, the protestors instead went to where their ancestors had died at the hands of the 7th U.S. Cavalry in 1890: Wounded Knee.

Rapid City, S.D. attorney Charles Abourezk wrote, directed and produced the film; his partner, Brett Lawlor, was the executive producer. It took two years and 50 edits to complete the project. Floyd Red Crow Westerman, a veteran of AIM protests of the '70s, a songwriter, singer and Hollywood actor, is the narrator.

How important was the occupation and standoff to those who were there? It changed their lives, they said on film and in person, and they believe it changed the lives of all American Indians.

''Wounded Knee is like a tattoo on your heart ... Nobody could take away the stand that we made,'' Bill Means said on film.

Madonna Thunder Hawk, Cheyenne River Sioux tribal member, was a medic in the AIM compound. She said she is proud when she sees her son's picture in the film; at the time, he was 10 years old. She now has a grandson that age. ''My grandson knows who he is.'' And that, she said, is why the standoff and occupation were organized and took place.

Those in the compound knew they couldn't win the war, but what they gained was more important. Defending the pride, dignity and spirit of American Indians across the country prompted the takeover, not a desire for war.

''If another Wounded Knee [happened], I would do it again,'' said Webster Poor Bear on film. ''Because the reasons we did that are so powerful, truth is so powerful. Gandhi said [that] even if you are a minority of one, the truth is still the truth. That's why I was at Wounded Knee.

''I didn't realize how deep that truth went or how broad. When you live like that it's an honorable way to live ... I am honored and privileged to have stood with them.''

DVDs of the film are available at www.warriorsofwoundedknee.com.

[Back To Top]

Southern Law Poverty Center

11/3/2004 - American Dreams

The world's oldest event dedicated to Native American cinema
By Gregg Rickman

The American Indian Film Festival is the world's oldest event dedicated to Native American cinema. Its 29th edition opens this week with a program full of documentaries -- topics include mustang horses and the 1973 Wounded Knee uprising -- plus features such as On the Corner, about troubled urban teens, and The Reawakening, which follows a successful attorney back to his home reservation, an offer in hand to represent casino interests.

The hot topic of Indian gaming also frames the documentary The Rules of the Game, by Monica Lam and Garance Burke, which plays with The Reawakening on Monday: A tribe's plan to build a casino in a Rohnert Park pasture rouses virulent opposition, with antagonists dressing up as cows to campaign against it, resting their signs on their fake udders.

One of the Indians interviewed by Lam and Burke in this even-handed film speaks gleefully about how casino money will allow him to buy some nice trucks, or "a big trailer with a lot of Harleys on it." Others speak of past oppression: "We are not your noble savages," says one angry woman. All seem anxious to "participate in the American dream of capitalism," as a third puts it. The casino's foes, meanwhile, swerve from emotional opposition to gambling and traffic to contorted racial arguments that make them look foolish. In the end, the promise of sharing the money with the city carries the day. At movie's end, the casino seems unstoppable, and only time will tell if all the members of the tribe, much less Rohnert Park, will benefit -- and if gambling really is a pathway into the American dream.

One more American dream, the shopping mall, is the contemporary setting for another good documentary, Andres Cediel's Shellmound, screening on Sunday. What is currently the Bay Street Center in Emeryville was in the past home for Ohlone Indians, who left behind a mountain of shells to mark their passing. Cediel skillfully traces the fate of this shellmound, site of an amusement park a hundred years ago -- captured on film in Erich von Stroheim's Greed -- and then a paint factory. The company's ochre left the ground "an orange blob" and toxic chemicals in the ground had "made the bones rubbery" when workmen discovered and anthropologists began unearthing the human remains of Ohlone buried in the shellmound in the 1990s. The thousand-year-old bones disturbed by mall construction were reburied elsewhere, and the rest of the mound was unceremoniously paved over. Bay Street Center now stands atop this mass grave, which appalls one Ohlone interviewed by Cediel. But another is cheerful: He feels the mall serves the same social function as the old shellmound meeting places. After all, he shopped for his Christmas gifts there. The American dream lives.

[Back To Top]

10/2/2001 -  Civil suit filed for Six Feathers estate

RAPID CITY, S.D. - Nearly a year to the day that Albert J. Six Feathers Jr. was killed by a law enforcement officer in Fall River County, a civil action lawsuit was filed on behalf of his estate in federal district court here.

Six Feathers was fatally shot at the end of a high-speed chase from Newcastle, Wyo., that finished near Edgemont, S.D., while he was surrounded by county sheriff's deputies and state law enforcement officials. A coroner's inquiry shortly after the incident determined that Edgemont Police Chief Brett Jarman was not held responsible for Six Feathers' death.

"It is the most egregious act of civil rights violations I've seen," said Charles Abourezk, attorney for the estate. Robin Zephier is also listed as an attorney of record.

"I was outraged by the excessive response and killing of Albert Six Feathers," Abourezk said.

He said at the time of the incident he was made aware of it through the news media, but he said he knew there was more to the story than what was reported. "Law enforcement controlled the story for weeks."

The lawsuit filed on behalf of the Six Feathers estate asked in preliminary filings for a more than $2.5 million settlement, but Abourezk said that would be up to a jury. He said there were children who would grow up without a father and it was only fair to them to file this lawsuit.

In addition to the benefits for the estate, Abourezk said he hoped to prove that finally in the year 2000 an American Indian's life in South Dakota has more meaning than it used to.

"For years Indian people wound up dead in alleys and trash cans and people looked the other way. But public investigations fail to burn into the conscious of South Dakotans that violence against Native Americans is wrong and that it carries with it consequences as strong as to non-Indians.

"And, that law enforcement officials who crossed the line will be held accountable," he said. "We intend to right one of the worst wrongs imaginable."

Six Feathers was killed following a 90-minute, high-speed chase that began in Newcastle where he was followed by city police officer Robert Fazendin, who determined Six Feathers was driving in an erratic manner.

Six Feathers drove south on Wyoming Highway 35 to Mule Creek Junction then east to Edgemont. Fall River County officers and Jarman picked up the chase at Edgemont. The chase at times exceeded 100 miles per hour.

Six Feathers eluded road blocks and finally was surrounded in a pasture south of Edgemont were he rammed Fall River County Sheriff Jeffrey Terrell's car.

Jarman, who was riding with Terrell, jumped from the vehicle and fired four shots from a shotgun, three of which hit Six Feathers.

Jarman told the coroner's inquest he was certain Terrell's life was at risk. Jarman told the jury he set a predetermined line which he would not allow Six Feathers to cross. When he did, Jarman fired two rounds above the steering column. The three shots that hit the vehicle were at windshield level, which indicated no attempt was made to shoot out tires to stop the vehicle.

Gary C. Mann of the Rapid City Police Department testified before the coroner's jury that road spikes and shooting the tires rarely stop a vehicle. However, according to newspaper accounts, near the same time, high-speed chases that ended in Sturgis, Sioux Falls and Brookings were stopped with spikes that blew the tires.

"He was not armed and was never given the benefit of tire spikes or a tire shot," Abourezk said.

The lawsuit contends the state, the city of Edgemont and Fall River County failed to properly train and supervise Jarman, which amounts to a disregard for the constitutional rights of the citizens, and Jarman. His need for training, the complaint states, "was so obvious that defendants can reasonably be said to have been deliberately indifferent to the constitutional rights of Albert James Six Feathers."

The lack of training, proper supervision and discipline led to the death of Six Feathers, the complaint argues, and continues to add that his death was the result of reckless, willful and wanton conduct by the defendants.

Because there were no criminal actions taken against any of the defendants, the family took the step to file the civil action.

"There are civil rights statutes in place when all else fails to provide some remedy," Abourezk said. He added that his hope was that this case would bring awareness about the civil and human rights of American Indians in South Dakota.

"We can make this change, one case at a time. I hope Indian people benefit from this lawsuit. I'm more concerned about the four kids that will grow up without a father," he said. "By all accounts he was a good father and on a path to doing good."

Zephier said he had good knowledge that Jarman transferred personal property into his wife's name after the incident. He said it is a crime to transfer property to avoid payment for damages as the result of legal action.

Part of the complaint alludes to the transfer of personal property and with reasonable belief that tangible and intangible evidence and materials were intentionally, negligently or willfully destroyed.

Damages are asked for funeral expenses, grief and loss of companionship for parents, siblings and his common-law spouse and the children; loss of wages and future support and punitive damages. No trial date has been set, but could come within six months.

Sybil Hernandez, Six Feathers' mother, is administrator of his estate and is the lead plaintiff in the case.

"Whatever crime he committed prior to the chase was only a misdemeanor, and we have no capital punishment in South Dakota for a misdemeanor. He did not deserve to die in the brutal manner he did," Abourezk said.

[Back To Top]



Charles Abourezk P.O. Box 9460 Rapid City, South Dakota 57709-9460

© copyright 2006                                                                                          Website Designed & Maintained By Create My Web