Sex, Drugs and Blood Money on the Rez

As a judge for the Spirit Lake Nation and the Crow Creek Sioux Tribe and a new resident on southwestern North Dakota, I’m witnessing a frightening trend in Indian country. The oil boom is harming Native communities far beyond the Bakken.

Impoverished reservations are flooded with cash thanks to lease money distributed to land beneficiaries on the Fort Berthold Reservation and their descendants living in outlying Native communities.

Western society would tell us that this influx of money should solve all our problems. Native communities in the Dakotas are plagued with extreme poverty and financial support is desperately needed, but on the whole the dirty money spewing from oil wells and flowing onto local reservations is not being invested. It’s not being used to build new roads or schools, to start businesses or to fund vital language-revitalization projects. Instead, it’s going to individual tribal members—some of whom suffer from mental illness and addiction, or simply never learned how to handle large sums of cash. They’re blowing through thousands of dollars a day.

They may be homeless, but they throw parties that end with them being broke after they pass out and get rolled by relatives. A brand-new vehicle is bought and totaled within a week. What could amount to millions received over a short period of time provides no guarantee that the beneficiary’s own children will have their basic needs met. Even worse, predatory outsiders happily take advantage of the situation and reservations do not currently have the infrastructure in place to combat the looming, inevitable crime wave. Tribal law enforcement and courts don’t hold the necessary jurisdiction to keep out, to incarcerate and to punish these outsiders who bring poison and disease into our traditional homelands.

Everyone knows everyone on the Rez, so newcomers stick out. Elders come to me pleading for help—afraid of these dangerous non-Natives from the city. Easily recognizable, they wear flashy clothing and drive high-end vehicles. They sell illicit drugs in the community and when tribal members owe them money, the drug dealers hunt them down on tribal lands, follow them into tribal businesses, and drive onto trust land to threaten their family members. According to reports, tribal police are hesitant to interact with these men. As a judge I wish I could do more to help, other than to call the Feds. We are sovereign nations and should be able to protect our own.

Some of the outsiders coming onto our reservations are pimps and sex offenders. Sexual violence against Native women is already an epidemic. One Native woman in three is sexually assaulted in her lifetime, and although it’s seldom discussed, sex trafficking has been a problem in the Dakotas for years. The oil boom has amplified it. Native women and girls who fall between the cracks are lured by men into sex work, or even sold by male relatives.

Thankfully, Senators Heidi Heitkamp (D-ND) and Jon Tester (D-MT) have called attention to sex trafficking and taken action to combat it, but prevention can’t happen soon enough. As camps brought by Big Oil spring up on treaty lands, we’ll see more sexual violence perpetrated against Native women. The reauthorized Violence against Women Act, which includes provisions for Natives, will assist tribes in fighting domestic abuse and sex crimes, but it doesn’t take full effect until March 7, 2015. Tribes cannot prosecute non-Indian abusers until that date and even then participation is not mandatory.

The Department of Justice’s Office on Violence against Women recently announced the release of three million dollars in grants to aid VAWA with Native provisions. That is seed money, but it won’t be enough, especially if the Keystone XL pipeline is implemented. South Dakota legislators must step up to the plate for Native women and take a strong stance in support of fighting sex trafficking in their state. Sen. Heitkamp (D-ND), Sen. Tester (D-MT), and Sen. Thune (R-SD) should all be questioned as to how they justify backing the Transcanada Keystone XL pipeline when it’s implementation will only make sex trafficking throughout the Northern Plains worse.

Politicians talk out of both sides of their mouths all the time, but that doesn’t mean Natives can’t call them on it and use our voting power to influence their decisions. As the Bakken oil boom peaks and fades, we will continue to see a rise in crime, in substance abuse, in sex trafficking, and in violence against Native women. We must act now to protect Native communities, and work toward educating tribal members on finance management. Above all, we must remember that no amount of money is worth the lives of our sisters.

Ruth Hopkins (Sisseton-Wahpeton and Mdewakanton Dakota, Hunkpapa Lakota) is an author, blogger, biologist, activist, judge, columnist for Indian Country Today Media Network, and founding writer with Lastrealindians.com.


More articles by:

Ruth Hopkins (Sisseton-Wahpeton and Mdewakanton Dakota, Hunkpapa Lakota) is an author, blogger, biologist, activist, judge, columnist for Indian Country Today Media Network, and founding writer with Lastrealindians.com.

Weekend Edition
August 23, 2019
Friday - Sunday
Adolf Alzuphar
Tears / Ayizan Velekete
Stephen Cooper
General Jah Mikey: “I Just Love That Microphone, Man”
Louis Proyect
Slaves to the Clock
August 22, 2019
George Ochenski
Breaking the Web of Life
Kenneth Surin
Boris Johnson’s Brexit Helter Skelter
Enrique C. Ochoa – Gilda L. Ochoa
It’s About Time for Ethnic Studies in Our K-12 Schools
Steve Early
A GI Rebellion: When Soldiers Said No to War
Clark T. Scott
Sanders And Bezos’s Shared, Debilitating, Basic Premise
Dan Corjescu
The Metaphysics of Revolution
Mark Weisbrot
Who is to Blame for Argentina’s Economic Crisis?
Howard Lisnoff
To Protect and Serve
Cesar Chelala
A Palestinian/Israeli Experiment for Peace in the Middle East
Binoy Kampmark
No Deal Chaos: the Brexit Cliff Face and Operation Yellowhammer
Josue De Luna Navarro
For True Climate Justice, Abolish ICE and CBP
Dean Baker
The NYT’s Upside Down Economics on Germany and the Euro Zone
August 21, 2019
Craig Collins
Endangered Species Act: A Failure Worth Fighting For?
Colin Todhunter
Offering Choice But Delivering Tyranny: the Corporate Capture of Agriculture
Michael Welton
That Couldn’t Be True: Restorying and Reconciliation
John Feffer
‘Slowbalization’: Is the Slowing Global Economy a Boon or Bane?
Johnny Hazard
In Protest Against Police Raping Spree, Women Burn Their Station in Mexico City.
Tom Engelhardt
2084: Orwell Revisited in the Age of Trump
Binoy Kampmark
Condescension and Climate Change: Australia and the Failure of the Pacific Islands Forum
Kenn Orphan – Phil Rockstroh
The Dead Letter Office of Capitalist Imperium: a Poverty of Mundus Imaginalis 
George Wuerthner
The Forest Service Puts Ranchers Ahead of Grizzlies (and the Public Interest)
Stephen Martin
Geopolitics of Arse and Elbow, with Apologies to Schopenhauer.
Gary Lindorff
The Smiling Turtle
August 20, 2019
James Bovard
America’s Forgotten Bullshit Bombing of Serbia
Peter Bolton
Biden’s Complicity in Obama’s Toxic Legacy
James Phillips
Calm and Conflict: a Dispatch From Nicaragua
Karl Grossman
Einstein’s Atomic Regrets
Colter Louwerse
Kushner’s Threat to Palestine: An Interview with Norman Finkelstein
Nyla Ali Khan
Jammu and Kashmir: the Legitimacy of Article 370
Dean Baker
The Mythology of the Stock Market
Daniel Warner
Is Hong Kong Important? For Whom?
Frederick B. Mills
Monroeism is the Other Side of Jim Crow, the Side Facing South
Binoy Kampmark
God, Guns and Video Games
John Kendall Hawkins
Toni Morrison: Beloved or Belovéd?
Martin Billheimer
A Clerk’s Guide to the Unspectacular, 1914
Elliot Sperber
On the 10-Year Treasury Bonds 
August 19, 2019
John Davis
The Isle of White: a Tale of the Have-Lots Versus the Have-Nots
John O'Kane
Supreme Nihilism: the El Paso Shooter’s Manifesto
Robert Fisk
If Chinese Tanks Take Hong Kong, Who’ll be Surprised?
Ipek S. Burnett
White Terror: Toni Morrison on the Construct of Racism
Arshad Khan
India’s Mangled Economy
Howard Lisnoff
The Proud Boys Take Over the Streets of Portland, Oregon