Article — From the February 2011 issue

Tiny Little Laws

A plague of sexual violence in Indian country

My second day on the Standing Rock Sioux Reservation in the Dakotas, an official from the Bureau of Indian Affairs sent a memo to all its law-enforcement employees forbidding them to talk to me. One of those officers working the jail at Fort Yates, North Dakota, walked into a tribal judge’s office, and throwing the memo down, said, “Can you believe this shit?” Since I was on the reservation to write about crime—sexual assault and rape, in particular, and how often these crimes go unreported when they take place on tribal land—I had naturally hoped to speak to the police. But after politely declining to be interviewed, Standing Rock’s police chief, Michael Hayes, referred me to Elmer Four Dance, who, as the BIA’s special agent in charge of District 1—which serves fifty-two tribes in the states of South Dakota, North Dakota, Minnesota, Michigan, Wisconsin, Nebraska, and Iowa—was the man who had issued the memo from his office in Aberdeen, South Dakota, 150 miles away.

“Who gave you permission to come here and talk to people without getting permission?” Four Dance asked me when I reached him by phone. He said I had to make a formal request in writing, which I emailed to him immediately. He promised to get back to me shortly. “Don’t call me, I’ll call you,” he said. And that was the last I heard from him.

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’s last article for Harper’s Magazine, Crimes Against Nature, appeared in the July 2008 issue. She is a reporting fellow with the Investigative Fund at The Nation Institute

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