Harry Smiskin, chairman Confederated Tribes and Bands of the Yakama Nation

Yakama Nation Statement Against the ‘KKK’ Hate Crime Upon a Lakota Elder

Harry Smiskin

An Open Letter to Indian Country Media Network

At some point between August 26 and September 8 of 2011, while in the medical care of the Rapid City Regional Hospital following open heart surgery, Vern Traversie, a blind Lakota Elder and enrolled member of the Cheyenne River Sioux Tribe, allegedly had the letters “KKK” carved into his abdomen.

I write today on behalf of the Confederated Tribes and Bands of the Yakama Nation to take a formal stand, for the sake of Mr. Traversie and all Native Americans and Indigenous Peoples, decrying the apparent federal hate crime, civil rights violations, and medical discrimination committed against our Lakota Brother.

If these allegations are true, Mr. Traversie’s human rights have been violated, in a way that is unimaginable to us as Indian people. We with the Yakama Nation are appalled.

As a former tribal and Bureau of Indian Affairs police officer, I am particularly disturbed by what has not taken place in the aftermath of the assault upon Mr. Traversie. Upon the Yakama Nation’s inquiry of his tribal leaders and other relatives, I understand that there has been a complete failure of any federal, state or local law enforcement agency to take any initiative on the matter – despite that the Cheyenne River Sioux Tribal Police have determined conclusively that a hate crime has been committed against Mr. Traversie. In particular, the United States seems to ignore the trust responsibility it owes Mr. Traversie as a Sioux Indian. Like the assault itself, this federal and state inaction is grossly unjust.

To be clear, the federal Civil Rights Act makes it illegal for a person to be discriminated against based upon his race. In particular, private individuals and corporations who deprive a person the equal protection and equal privileges provided by law, based upon racial or other class-based motives, violate the Civil Rights Act. Likewise, the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, recently signed by President Barack Obama, says that: “Indigenous peoples have the right to the full enjoyment, as a collective or as individuals, of all human rights and fundamental freedoms.”

Rapid City Hospital and its medical and convalescent “care providers” seem to have violated Mr. Traversie’s civil rights as an American and his fundamental freedoms as a human being. If everything is as it seems, there could be no clearer case of discriminatory treatment, depravation of the equal protection of law, and violation of human rights than here: “KKK” was somehow etched across Mr. Traversie’s abdomen – literally etched in his own blood – because he is a Sioux Indian. Our Lakota Brother was viciously violated because he cannot see. This simply would not have happened to an Anglo American elder or an affluent patient, or to any non-Indian person with sight.

Based on Mr. Traversie’s account and the corroboration of photographs, it appears that Rapid City Regional Hospital allowed a hate crime and a racially motivated attack to take place, at the hands of its “health care professionals.” It does not take a medical professional to observe that three separate incisions across his abdomen that read “KKK” were not the result of open-heart surgery or post-operative care.

If so, we can only conclude that the hospital and its providers have violated federal civil rights laws; they have violated Mr. Traversie’s most basic rights and freedoms – to receive medical care and be safe from harm; they have done so in an unimaginably repulsive way; and they must all be held accountable to the fullest extent allowed by law.

Again, I have been told that federal, state and local law enforcement agencies have been formally notified of the attack, but have failed to investigate the crime, obtain a search warrant, or apprehend any suspects. This inaction, too, stands as a clear violation of Mr. Traversie’s federal civil rights and his basic human rights. Were Mr. Traversie an Anglo American, we can be sure that federal and state law enforcement would not have handled the referral from the Cheyenne River Police with such disregard.

We urge the United States Department of Justice and the South Dakota U.S. Attorney’s Office to immediately cause an investigation of this hate crime. Anything less would be a violation of the trust responsibility that the United States owes to Mr. Traversie.

We also urge the South Dakota Governor and Attorney General, the Pennington County Sheriff and the Rapid City Police Chief, to help bring justice to this situation. Anything less would make state and local government legally and morally culpable.

We urge Indian country to stand with us in strong, outspoken support of Mr. Traversie. Anything less would leave all Native Americans susceptible to the same sort of violent racism that has been committed upon our Lakota Brother.

I am told that Mr. Traversie is deeply religious; a Christian man who has been in deep prayer since he was told of his assault last September. We will join him in prayer – in our traditional Yakama spiritual ways – asking that justice be served on his behalf.



Harry Smiskin


Confederated Tribes and Bands of the Yakama Nation

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jamesrook's picture
Submitted by jamesrook on
This is reprehensible...and now the murder at Lakota Ranch of the Sacred White Buffalo, Lightening Medicine Cloud and his Mother. If these heinous crimes, and their obvious connections isn't investigated and prosecuted rigorously by federal, state and local law enforcement agencies to the fullest extent of the laws, I am going to be forced to come to the logical conclusion and start believing that the US govt is a KKK mouthpiece or worse.

drumspeaker's picture
Submitted by drumspeaker on
I am so sorry this has happened my prayers go out to our Lakota Elder & Brother. I wish to make a remark on some of the statements said here,,, (quote) This simply would not have happened to an Anglo American elder or an affluent patient, or to any non-Indian person with sight. For a very long time the KKK has murdered the black people in this country. Hate crimes did not just start here this has been happening for many years. A while many whites hated the Native American but it seems now there are alot of Native Americans who hate the whites just because of what happened several hundred years ago. Now many blacks hate the white man because of the hate many years ago,,, We hate the gay person because he is gay one church dislikes another because they worship the Creator in a different way,,, To say,,,,This simply would not have happened to an Anglo American elder or an affluent patient, or to any non-Indian person with sight. Is not true and in its self a form of hate.. Ok hate this person for what he done to our brother but dont hate everyone because they are not your color or race,,, The Creator created made us all in his image when we die our spirit will not be black, white or native,,, If there is any Native pride or white or black power then let it be a stand to love our neighbor as our selfs,,,,,

stephencampbell's picture
Submitted by stephencampbell on
A Typical Display of RACIAL Injustice here and seemingly allowed to go unchecked at ALL levels of Government. Be it a BLACK individual, The Right Reverends Jackson and Sharpton would be Demonstrating in the Streets and DEMANDING Accountability...I Also DEMAND JUSTICE and will follow this to a final Closure! -- Believe! ~~ Geronimo

stephencampbell's picture
Submitted by stephencampbell on
There is Absolutely very Little Activity here and should be Flooded with Comments, not only on any one issue but All that pertains to NATIVE Americans.. Where is the Unity my People? Geronimo

sophelet's picture
Submitted by sophelet on
Greetings from Chicago. I read about this horrifying event on Facebook, where a friend of mine shared a blog post about it (you can see it here: leave it lay where Jesus flang it: cruel road map --but the other way is the Way of the Cross leaveitlay.blogspot.com) The author of that blog, my friend, and I are all members of the Episcopal Church. My friend (Shel) and I are distressed to read about this attack on your brother. I wish I could do something concrete, but I have no means to do so, though I would be glad to write a letter of protest if you could tell me where to send it. Maybe you or someone you have connections to could get Change.org to create a petition to gather signatures of people protesting on behalf of Mr. Traversie and his family. The cruel people who did this and covered it up should be arrested and brought to justice, and should lose their medical licenses and jobs immediately. The hospital also must be held to account. I wonder whether a plastic surgeon - a compassionate one! - would be able to reverse some of the scarring so the KKK would become close to invisible? As a person of northern European descent, and as a Canadian, and as a lesbian who also has had to deal with prejudice and hate, I found your website so I could send a message of support. Wishing peace for all of us...

battlescars's picture
Submitted by battlescars on
It's good to see other tribes look upon each other as Brothers. The time is past due to unite. The barriers that stopped us and were used against us have to fall. The seperation amongst ourselves is where we as a indigenous population failed. Divide and conquer at its greatest "Different Tribes" to one another, but still all "Savages" to the white men. Not exact but similar to gangs in large citys. We do exactly what they want us to do. Puppets. Violence is their intended outcome. Dr. Matrin Luther King Jr. is the greatest example of rising above their level. A Modern day Warrior. He knew the odds were against him, yet he knew that nothing would change if he quit! Our Warriors today need to be armed with Our Culture and the knowledge to fight todays battles. We are still children in the ways of white men. We hurt ourselves more when we become violent. They are steps back. Take a Step Back, Stand Strong. TOGETHER!!

curtj's picture
Submitted by curtj on
How do we as Indigenous, define colonialism? What does colonialism mean to the Indigenous, especially the leaders? Have the leaders ever bothered to read up on the history of what happened to the Indigenous since 1492? The catholic churches papal decrees, Romanus Pontifex in 1493, giving Spain the churches blessings to invade what is now north and South America. Prior to that, inter caetera, issued in 1453 to give the churches blessings for Portugal to invade West Africa. In exchange for part of stolen loot and stolen lands. Have the Indigenous leaders read up on the pilgrims murdering their Indigenous saviors three years after their famous "Thanksgiving Feast"? Capt. Miles Standish, and his men lured the Indigenous leaders into a blockhouse under the ruse of a meeting. When all were inside, the windows and doors were bolted shut. The Indigenous were run through with swords and shot to death. The survivors were hung from the rafters. The illegal European immigrants and their descendants, were not satisfied and will not be satisfied till all Indigenous are stripped of their lands and resources and removed from their lands. For centuries the Europeans and Americans have invaded weaker countries to allow their energy and mining conglomerates to steal natural resources and lands for colonization. With the removal, murder and genocide of the Indigenous peoples. Theft and Murder. Even now, Americas foreign policy with 900 bases in 130 countries is to destabilize governments in order to mount coups to topple governments, to install puppet 2 bit dictator regimes, bribed to subjugate their people with intimidation, terror, kidnappings, rape and murder. Saddam Hussein and Osama Bin Laden are some whom America propped up. Iran was the victim of a CIA engineered coup in 1953, Venezuela was the victim of a CIA engineered coup thanks to Daddy Bush and his fellow neo con parasites.

dale patrick rice's picture
dale patrick rice
Submitted by dale patrick rice on
I am an enrolled member of the Yakama Nation and also of the T'sunaimo Nation of Nanaimo, B.C., my wife is also a native with French Canadian Native blood, we are also veterans who proudly served in the USMC and USAF respectively, we are chalenged everyday by acts of evil, and that does not mean racism, but people who are not of faith, we want to start a ministry to help our veterans from past and recent wars that are fighting the everyday battles of PTSD and thoughts of suicide, we want to build a church that serves the needs of all our veterans, our people along with others fought along side with our white brothers in defending this nation, even though war is not the first choice in resolving world issues , it most of the time is the only way to bring peace, and maintain freedom and liberty in our United States of America, though we still don't have unified relationships across this nation, I feel we as a Nation can change the world through the kind words of our Lord Jesus Christ and its followers of His word, until we accomplish that, we will always have hate, judgement, elitism (etc). I pray everyday for the safe return of our warriors who our defending against the very thing we are talking about, terrorists can be many things, bullies,gangs,racists,domestic violence,serial killers (etc), we must first change our own spirit in order to help others, otherwise we are no better than those we are commenting against.