Kristin Brave, 18, is the mother of a healthy son, is finishing school and lives her life according to Lakota values. But just a few years ago, her life was much different. "I never felt safe," Brave said.
Her childhood days spent on the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation, and in Rapid City, don't resemble anything close to an ideal Lakota way of life. Brave was raped and beaten on a regular basis as a child. "I felt stuck and I thought I was never going to get out of it," she said. At the age of 13, Brave went into the foster care system where she met numerous other Native children who lived her reality.
Dan Hudspeth, a tribal police sergeant on the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation, says sadly, Brave's story is not unusual. "It has become the norm," he said.
The rate of violent crime is astounding. In fact, in just a two month span: November and December, there were three murders in Pine Ridge Village. Hudspeth says the 34 officers on the reservation answered more than 120,000 calls for service last year. "The crime rate is continuing to climb," Upset said.
The violent crime rate is also at an all-time high in Rapid City. "Native Americans are over- represented in our crime statistics," Rapid City Police Chief Steve Allender said.
U.S. Justice Department findings also reveal a disturbing picture. According to a report released by the Department, the rate of violent crime estimated from self reported victimizations for American Indians is well above that of other U.S. racial or ethnic groups, and is more than twice the national average.
The question of course is why. Brave sites substance abuse as the underlying issue. "Every bad thing that happened was due to alcohol," Brave said. Sergeant Hudspeth isn't willing to give the substance that much credit. "Alcohol is a big factor, but it shouldn't be interpreted as the main factor," he said.
While the root cause is up for debate, Upset says one thing is for sure, "if we don't do anything about it and allow it to keep going and going, it's only going to get worse."
Fortunately, in Brave's case, she was able to use her background to motivate her. She doesn't drink, and she actively participates in a culture that she says heals her, something she hopes more of her people will turn to.
In the next few weeks Rapid City Police Administrators will be taking a closer look at the crime trends to find solutions. We'll bring you the latest on the Department's efforts in the coming weeks and months.