Letter of Transmittal

South Dakota Advisory Committee to
the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights

Members of the Commission
Mary Frances Berry, Chairperson
Cruz Reynoso, Vice Chairperson
Carl A. Anderson
Christopher Edley, Jr.
Yvonne Y. Lee
Elsie M. Meeks
Russell G. Redenbaugh
Victoria Wilson

Ruby G. Moy,
Staff Director

As part of its responsibility to assist the Commission in its factfinding function, the South Dakota Advisory Committee submits this Statement of Concerns, Conclusions, and Recommendations for your consideration. The document, approved by a committee vote of 12 in favor and 1 opposed, is based on the Advisory Committee's December 6, 1999, public forum in Rapid City, where nearly 100 persons addressed issues affecting the administration of justice and Native Americans in South Dakota. Among those participating were: State prosecutors, local and tribal law enforcement officials, the United States attorney, FBI, Civil Rights Division of the U.S. Department of Justice, tribal officials, Native American advocacy organizations, victims of alleged discrimination, and many other private citizens. While there was a diversity of views presented, it is clear that the overwhelming majority of Native Americans heard by the Advisory Committee believe there is a crisis in the justice system that needs immediate attention. Consistent information presented at the forum suggests a widespread perception of a dual system of justice, where Native Americans are treated in a disparate and discriminatory manner by the Federal, State, and local criminal justice systems. So pervasive is this belief, that the Advisory Committee believes that much of Indian Country has lost confidence in our democratic institutions.

As noted in the Advisory Committee's Statement, both the Commission and this Committee have previously studied these issues, releasing comprehensive reports more than 20 years ago. It is disturbing that many of the problems identified in these research reports persist to this day. Clearly, there is a need to expeditiously implement strategies for corrective action. For this reason, the Advisory Committee is recommending, among other initiatives, that the Commissioners call for the appointment of a Federal task force to begin immediately addressing inequities in the administration of justice affecting Native Americans. The Advisory Committee also calls for enhanced inclusion of Native Americans in the establishment and implementation of justice and law enforcement policies and practices. The Advisory Committee suggests additional research to measure accurately the extent of disparities in all aspects of the criminal justice system.

Finally, the South Dakota Advisory Committee wishes to express its gratitude to the members of the Commission who participated in the forum and also conducted information-gathering visits to Indian Country prior to the meeting. Unquestionably, the presence of the Commissioners was deeply appreciated by many Native Americans, especially victims of discrimination whose voice so often has gone unheeded. Your presence and concern have increased hope in Indian Country and elevated the prospects for change that are necessary to rebuild trust of Native Americans in our justice system. The South Dakota Advisory Committee pledges its continued support to your efforts as we work together toward the attainment of this important objective.


Marc S. Feinstein,
South Dakota Advisory Committee