WASHINGTON – Oglala Sioux tribal officials are alleging that the Bureau of Indian Affairs (BIA) of the U.S. Department of the Interior has withheld from the tribe an unmet needs assessment conducted by the agency over a year ago on the reservation that has major implications for improving tribal justice and safety programs.
According to tribal leaders, officials with the BIA’s Office of Justice Services (OJS) visited the Oglala Sioux Tribe in July 2011 to assess the tribe’s law enforcement programs and judicial services. The next month, a deputy director at the agency, Darren Cruzan, presented what the tribe says was an incomplete draft of the unmet needs assessment to the Oglala Sioux Tribe Law and Order Committee. They say he promised a final copy would be provided to the committee a few days later.
Over a year later, the tribe still has not received the report, and Cruzan has continued to stall, never giving a firm reason for the delay.
Tribal leaders say the hold-up has had negative impacts on their ability to protect the reservation, and there is some concern that the report is being kept in limbo by the bureaucracy at Interior because it would highlight a dramatic need for increased federal funding.
“Maybe the D.C. officials just don’t understand that this report has real-life implications for these people on the Pine Ridge Reservation,” said Jennifer Baker, a lawyer with Smith, Shelton, Ragona & Salazar who represents the tribe.
Baker said tribal leaders see a disturbing trend developing, given recent Interior problems with reporting tribal information in violation of federal law. In addition to breaking a law on the reporting of federally recognized tribes earlier this year, Interior has breached the 1992 Indian Employment, Training, and Related Services Demonstration Act, which requires the Secretary of the Interior to release tribal and economic employment reports biennially, but the Department hasn’t released such data since 2007. Interior officials have blamed that problem on “methodology inconsistencies,” and staffing shortfalls have been cited.
Baker said Interior officials have yet to give an explanation to the tribe for the Oglala delay. Interior spokeswoman Nedra Darling told Indian Country Today Media Network that the report is “completed and under review.” She did not explain the delay, adding, “We will continue to work with the tribe to assess their needs and reduce crime.”
Meanwhile, the tribe continues to experience exceptionally high crime and safety issues.
“The withholding of information about the true levels of unmet needs has crippled the tribe’s ability to negotiate for adequate resources to remedy this situation and will worsen the serious funding shortfall,” said James “Toby” Big Boy, chairman of the tribe’s Law and Order Committee, in a statement. He added that there is an “appalling level of unmet needs on the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation” that continues to “result in an unnecessarily high rate of crime, overworked law enforcement officers, and overburdened tribal programs – all at the expense of the Lakota Oyate (people).”
In June 2012, the BIA sent the tribe a separate report, calling it a “community program assessment,” which was conducted by its Division of Professional Standards. The tribe was forced to reject it, citing a BIA “failure to comply with minimal professional standards.”
Baker said the report was “riddled with typos and void of analytical substance” and was obviously “copy and pasted” from other federal documents that had previously been sent to other tribes. She said the tribe worries that the federal government is imposing a “cookie cutter” approach in its tribal relations.
Big Boy said the Oglala Lakota Nation has a “unique history, unique challenges in law enforcement, and a unique relationship with the United States government” that deserves better attention from Interior.
In July, the tribe sent the BIA a letter asking for a meeting and an explanation of the missing unmet needs report and the other-typo-filled report. Cruzan admitted in a response letter that there were “errors” in the community assessment report, but he called them “inadvertent” and said they “did not take away from the overall substance of the report.” He again ignored requests for the unmet needs report.
A follow-up letter was sent from the tribe on September 5 to Cruzan, in which the tribe reminded him that it will be re-negotiating the terms of its law enforcement and court contracts with the federal government before the new fiscal year begins on October 1. Big Boy noted that data in the unmet needs report could go a long way in showing the federal government how much more money is needed to combat the rampant crime problems on his reservation.
Baker shared that when U.S. House legislators, including funding appropriators, visited the reservation in August, the tribe could have used the unmet needs report to make a strong case for increased funding.
In the most recent letter from the tribe, leaders have once again asked that the BIA provide the tribe with a copy of the unmet needs assessment so that both tribal and federal agencies are aware of the actual levels of unmet needs during this upcoming contracting process.
The letter was copied to top Obama administration officials and members of Congress, including those from South Dakota and U.S. House appropriators. So far, members of Congress haven’t acted, Baker said, but the hope is that they could encourage Interior to soon release the report.