Update: Indian Country Today Media Network has reported that the Federal Bureau of Investigation and the Department of Health and Human Services have commenced an investigation into the alleged attack, as well as the South Dakota Attorney General’s office as reported here.
The case of Vern Traversie, a blind and elderly Native America who alleges he was branded with “KKK,” is finally receiving official attention after two months of campaigning and petitions, including a Care2 one of nearly 9,000.
South Dakota’s State’s Attorney General, Marty Jackley, is today speaking and taking evidence at the Cheyenne River Sioux Tribal Council.
Traversie says he left the hospital after surgery last September with the letters branded on his abdomen. In a moving video (below) he explained how an anonymous women in the hospital told him:
My conscience won’t let me be. It’s bothered me for days. Something was done to you, and I believe it was wrong. I can’t sleep; I keep thinking about what they did to you.
The video was recorded after the FBI, local authorities and a local lawyer all failed to pursue investigating the case.
President Rodney Bordeaux of the Rosebud Sioux Tribe says that he is demanding:
· That the FBI and Rapid City Police publicly explain why no investigation into these events has been launched in the six months since Mr. Traversie reported them to law enforcement agencies;
· And that the Rapid City Regional Hospital seek an independent investigation into what went so tragically wrong during the hospitalization of Mr. Vern Traversie.
Native Americans see the case as one example of many of the hate crimes directed against them which go unrecorded and unrecognized.
Writing for Indian Country Today, Lise Balk King explains that hundreds turned out for the march because Traversie’s “cry for help and pitiful condition” was a catalyst:
His plight embodied the day-to-day strain of facing racism and the reaction of doubt that is so readily cast on “Indians complaining again.”
Balk King points to an uncomprehending media reaction to Traversie’s case and speaks to Oglala Lakota Cheryl Cedar Face who laments, “The way the media covers Native issues makes it all seem like a big joke. Very rarely do I read something that conveys why people are upset or acknowledges that racism does exist.”
Balk King writes:
For those who live on the other side of the color line, every day can bring small indignities, strained interactions or frustrating stonewalls to disrupt the normal life flow from wake-up to sundown. It is an accepted but loathed part of living in the areas off of the Indian reservations in western South Dakota. But no place is this tension more keenly felt than in Rapid City.
Traversie was unable to attend the Rapid City march but said in a statement:
I am scarred for life, but I seek justice. I don’t want any other Native American to be treated like I was by the medical professionals who I trusted to take care of me when I was vulnerable.
I am thankful that so many Native Americans and other people from all over the world have reached out to me to say that they support me. I am humbled by their compassion. I ask that all who say my name and fight for me do so in a good way, and in peace.
Sign the petition: ‘Investigate Vernon’s KKK Marks as Possible Hate Crime.’
Picture courtesy of Justice For Vern Facebook page