Tribal Chairman Speaks About Statements Regarding Vern Traversie

Kevin C. Keckler
8/10/12

The following is a statement released by Cheyenne River Sioux Tribe’s chairman Kevin Keckler in regards to the latest developments in the progress of a case for Vern Traversie and the alleged events that happened at Rapid City Regional Hospital.

The Cheyenne River Sioux Tribe expresses outrage over what was apparently done to tribal elder Vern Traversie, while he was a patient at the Rapid City Regional Hospital and since he filed complaints leading to investigations by our tribal police, the State of South Dakota, the FBI and the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.

This past Monday [August 6], South Dakota Attorney General Marty Jackley overstepped his authority by asserting in a news release posted on the state's website that all investigations had concluded that "the scars on Mr. Traversie are a side effect of the surgery performed on him." He is wrong, and so are those news outlets that reported this statement without asking anyone for confirmation.

First, Attorney General Jackley has no business rendering conclusions about our Tribal Government's law enforcement investigation. Second, the Cheyenne River Sioux Tribal Police, the first responders to our elder's complaint last October, made no conclusion whatsoever about "the letters carved into his torso," simply because our tribe does not have regulatory authority over Rapid City Regional Hospital or its doctors, nurses or other staff. Instead, our police ably responded to and documented their investigation and referred the matter to the Pennington County Sheriff's Office and Rapid City Police Department for review.

Regrettably, County and City police, both with limited resources, completed their joint investigation last October without even examining our elder's scars or meeting him in person. Instead, they simply spoke to his surgeon and relied upon the hospital's representations. Not only did the ways in which the local investigations were handled violate our elder's human rights but the State of South Dakota and Attorney General Jackley now distorts those local investigations for their own purposes.

In contrast, the United States, with which the Cheyenne River Sioux Tribe has a government-to-government relationship and from which our elder is owed a trust and fiduciary responsibility under our tribe's treaty, has two investigations actively underway. One by the Federal Bureau of Investigation ("FBI"), and the other by Health and Human Services ("HHS"). Contrary to Mr. Jackley's assertion, neither of these federal investigations are closed. The two active federal investigations seek to understand whether our elder's civil and patient rights were violated while he was in aftercare at the Rapid City Regional Hospital, and whether a hate crime was committed against him. These inquiries are necessary and critical not only for our elder but also for the entire Cheyenne River Sioux Reservation and for all Indians in South Dakota.

That is also why in May 2012, the Cheyenne River Sioux Tribe called upon U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder to investigate "whether Mr. Traversie was the victim of racial discrimination (American Indian) or disability (blindness), and whether his civil rights were violated during the course of his hospitalization at RCRH in August 2011." We are pleased that the United States has answered our call for a full and fair investigation, and we are hopeful that no matter the outcome of the FBI and HHS's investigations, they will each be carried out and concluded in an honorable way.

In the end, though, it will be a jury of our elder's peers who will hear all of the evidence and testimony from medical experts before deciding what was done to him, and who did it.

So today we join our 69-year-old tribal elder Vern Traversie in calling for justice, and for a just investigation process, not only for him but as he has said so many times, for all Indian people – so no one is ever again treated the way he believes he was treated by the hospital and the State of South Dakota.

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