Independent Lakota Nation Creates Human Rights Office to Investigate Police Killings, Unsolved Disappearances

By Sameer Rao Aug 30, 2017

The disproportionate rate at which Native people are killed by tribal police and other law enforcement agencies represents just one of the many systemic abuses rooted in the U.S. government’s genocidal history. One Native group seeks to fight these abuses via a new office dedicated to investigating human rights violations against their those in their tribal territory.

The Independent Lakota Nation (ILN), a group of Lakota tribal leaders and members advocating for indigenous autonomy in former Lakota and Sioux lands seized by the U.S., announced the creation of the International Indigenous Human Rights Office (IIHRO) yesterday (August 29). A statement published on the website of the Cante Tenza Okolakiciye/Strong Heart Warrior Society—a parallel advocacy group rooted in traditional Lakota warrior traditions—says that the IIHRO will "monitor and address Indigenous human rights issues within Lakota and surrounding Indigenous territory."

The IIHRO’s first project will be an investigation into the cases of "Indigenous people murdered by law enforcement or whose cases were never solved, or solved in contradiction of evidence, going back 27 years to 1990."

“The international community is required to investigate a high capacity of unexplained deaths that occur randomly to Indigenous people at the hands of law enforcement,” ILN spokesperson and Strong Heart Warrior Society leader Canupa Gluha Mani in the statement. “In the absence of international action, we will take it upon ourselves to investigate [by forming this] human rights office.”

The investigation, titled "Justice for Stolen Lives," begins with cases in Nebraska, South Dakota and Montana. Parts of each state lie within the Great Sioux Nation, an Anglophone term for lands historically inhabited by the Sioux. The ILN asserts that these lands rightfully belong to the Lakota and other Sioux peoples. 

Canupa Ghula Mani confirmed to Colorlines that the project launches with these three states because of the land’s tribal importance and each state’s high Native arrest and incarceration rates. A 2016 report from the nonpartisan Council of State Governments’ Justice Center supports that statement, noting that in Montana alone, Native people make up 27 percent of all arrests despite making up only 7 percent of the state population.