2018-08-09 / Voices

Are We The Only Ones Who Notice Our Missing?


Over the last decade or so, I have become more aware of the reality that, if our people go missing, there is a real chance they will never be found again.

It seems like every few weeks there is a new alert about someone from our community disappearing. The ones that come to mind for me are Larissa Lonehill and Tank Vasquez. How is it that two people can simply vanish from the everyday lives of people living in a small community?

When I think about the reasons why this takes place there are plenty of things that pop into my mind. On the northern plains, there is absolutely a presence of institutionalized racism within the court system. Evidence of this is found in the high rate per capita of Native people currently incarcerated within South Dakota’s prisons. If our people are more likely to be arrested, are they less likely to have justice delivered on their behalf if they are a victim of a crime?

I think part of the issue that we do not always confront is that often times the perpetrators of crimes against our women are male tribal citizens. It is easy to look for suspects from outside of our communities, but the reality is that the statistics prove that a significant percentage of individuals living amongst us are capable of inflicting harm.

Like most of our problems, high rates of addiction, and generational abuse and trauma has left many of our people in need of significant mental health care. The federal government has long failed to create an environment where Indian Health Service hospitals can flourish. The same can be said for our local law enforcement who are not provided with the resources they need to succeed.

Most of these issues are caused by the federal government’s unwillingness to live up to its promises made through treaties, and inability to uphold the trust responsibility. In the meantime, it would be beneficial for tribal governments and tribal programs to help spread information to our people about how they can prevent themselves from being abducted.

Tribal governments can work with our local colleges and law enforcement to develop community action plans for both prevention, and response, in the likely event that more of our people go missing. This plan can include the local media, the tribe’s communication department, as well as in our homes. Right now, the new 911 system serving the Pine Ridge area has the ability to send out emergency texts to all.

The willingness of tribal-government to share information is vital to this effort. As we have seen from other abductions across the country, very little attention is paid to crimes in Indian Country. That means it is up to us to get the word out. For that to happen the local media must be in the loop from the start.

The tribe’s emergency management agency has done a wonderful job, but they need more support. The chances of the federal government stepping up to do its part in Indian Country is highly unlikely now and in the foreseeable future. That means tribes need to become more and more innovative in how they use resources. Creating plans of actions for emergencies are drastically needed.

Brandon Ecoffey is the former editor of LCT and an award-winning journalist who was born and raised on the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation. He is also the owner of Bad Face Consulting and a cohost on the Bad Face Consulting Podcast presented by Native Hope.

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