PINE RIDGE, S.D. (KOTA TV) A methamphetamine-fueled crime wave on the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation in 2016 sowed apprehension in the community. It didn't help that relationships between federal prosecutors and tribal authorities were already frayed. But a new picture is emerging today after leaders on both sides of the coin set out to repair old wounds and open new lanes of communication.
Oglala Sioux Tribe President Scott Weston.
Perhaps the low point in the relationship came after a brazen daylight shooting outside of a community basketball tournament in October last year.
Then OST Attorney General said the tribe had to stand up and declared: "We're done waiting for the feds to get involved and take action against some of these drug dealers and drug related offenses."
But New OST President Scott Weston, thought he wanted more action from the feds, didn't want to be at odds with federal law enforcement. Even before he took office in January 2017 he and tribal council representatives met with U.S. Attorney for South Dakota Randy Seiler.
"We sat down and said, 'This is what we need to do.' And my thing was, 'you need to be more aggressive,'" Weston said earlier this year. "'You need to show the people that you're here to protect them. You can't be complacent and not do your job.' And we butted heads for a long time."
But good things came from the meeting. Seiler and Weston coordinated a series of four community meetings around the reservation with a raft of tribal and federal law enforcement representatives including FBI, BIA and ATF agents as well as federal prosecutors. They listened to community concerns and aimed to show that crime will be punished. "I care," Seiler repeatedly told audiences.
"It was a huge first step for us in terms of outreach on Pine Ridge and increasing communication both ways with respect to the U.S. Attorney's Office and the Oglala Sioux Tribe," Sieler said last week in his Rapid City office.
And he also took unilateral action.
"I took a more proactive and aggressive stance," he said.
He opened an office in Pine Ridge staffed once a week with a federal prosecutor and has moved to beef up his staff.
"I went to the Department of Justice and have asked for additional hiring authority for a full time violent crime prosecutor dedicated to the prosecution of violent crime in Pine Ridge," he said. That request is pending. Seiler hopes to get the OK for the new prosecutor when Congress passes a new budget.
He also said the Pine Ridge office hours are paying dividends.
"We have at least a half a dozen new referrals and investigations as a result of information that came to us through the Walk in Wednesday process," he said.
And he said his working relationship with the tribe has improved.
"I think it's the best it's ever been," he said. "I do believe there is a new sense and new generation of leadership on Pine Ridge."
Weston agreed but noted there is more work yet to be done.
"We did definitely open some doors and opened some eyes up," he said. "We are trying. It's a tough road. It really is. But I believe it is incumbent on every one of us. Not just tribal leaders but tribal members, tribal citizens to say this is about us. let's do this right now."