2017-05-18 / Voices

A Young Lakota Man Just Doing His Job


Blame my Irish-German heritage. Give a nod to those long, disciplined years of Catholic school. Credit my time in the Marine Corps that led to a security career in the Fortune 500 corporate world.

Likely it’s all 4, along with my mother’s influence and the family of women I was raised in – each of whom were seriously hard workers.

You see, I’ve got this mindset about doing the job you’re paid to do, performing it to the best of your ability, living up to expectations no matter who’s watching you and following through on your responsibilities regardless of who you encounter while doing so - or what their position is.

But lately (“lately” being the last 20 years or so) finding individuals who fit the bill is becoming more and more difficult no matter where you go or what the job. Call it poor training. Call it distracted supervision in their youth. Call it a national case of apathy, combined with an overwhelming sense of futility and disillusionment over one’s purpose in life and their role in “the big picture”.

Except on the Pine Ridge Reservation…where one young man takes his job and the responsibilities that come with it – and they’re substantial – very seriously.

I say this not in jest, but with admiration…truly.

I was at the Suanne Big Crow Center recently covering a conference hosted by South Dakota’s U.S. Attorney. Since the story would run in print as well as air on national radio photos were a must. Yet there are few images worse than those taken at a conference – any conference.

“So, where,” I asked myself “can I find images outside the conference related to what’s taking place here?” Of course - the Oglala Sioux Tribe’s Justice Center for the People, where the U.S. Attorney had just announced he’d be opening an office.

When the meeting broke I drove to Big Bat’s Convenience Store, turned left toward Nebraska, then made another left at the sign pointing toward the tribe’s courts, police department and jail. I paused to take a photo of it.

Passing by the jail I found a space near the entrance to the building for the police department and courts and where the U.S. Attorney’s new home would soon be. Directly in front of the lobby was a brick wall with the words “Oyate Ki Woope Ogna Tipi” printed on it. There was a flag pole at each end. Both poles were bare.

I hopped out of my car and began taking photos. One from this direction and one from that. One close. One far. One zoom. One not. And another just in case. Okay… I’m done.

Thinking I’d better double-check the exact translation of that Lakota phrase on the wall (which I figured meant “Justice Center for the People”) I approached the building – only to find a young Lakota man wearing a shirt with a badge printed on it – security - heading my way. And he was very concerned because I was taking photos and “No One” is allowed to take photos of the building. I explained who I was and what I was doing and that I just needed a photo for the story. And that I’d just met with “The U.S. Attorney” and it was his office that was going to be here.

A bit nervous, he insisted. “ doesn’t matter. You still can’t take pictures, No one’s allowed to take pictures.” “Not even for the U.S. Attorney?” “Nope.... Well, you need to get permission.” “From who?” “Probably the police chief.” “Okay. Where’s he?” “Well, his office is here. But I don’t know if he’s in.” “Well, can we see? Can I come in?” “Yeah…but I have to scan you.” “Okay. Scan me.”

He “scanned me” with a handheld metal detector then directed me to “the receptionist down there... by the opening. She’ll give you directions.”

Actually, she gave me permission – since no one was around at lunch hour.

The security guard was busy signing-in and scanning other visitors as I left the building, so I didn’t have a chance to tell him “Job well done”.

As I walked to my car I recalled my time as a corporate security director and thought how nice it was to see “someone” doing their job these days, undeterred by credentials or “big names” like “The” U.S. Attorney.

Now if his superiors could just get some flags up on those poles they’d have a building that looks as professional as their security guard.

Jim Kent is a freelance writer and radio producer who lives in Hot Springs. He is a contributing columnist to the Lakota Country Times and former editor of The New Lakota Times. He can be heard on National Public Radio and National Native News Radio. Jim can be reached at

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