By Lise Balk King
Enter Vern Traversie. He is a blind and physically disabled 69-year old elder from the Cheyenne River reservation who claims to be the victim of a hate crime. Scars on his abdomen, a result of heart surgery at Rapid City Regional Hospital in September, 2011, appear to depict the letters KKK, referring to the Klu Klux Klan. That is, according to his supporters, a few hundred of which marched in protest in Rapid City on Monday.
Not everyone agrees. A Sioux Falls-based reporter for the Associated Press likened the purported KKK markings to “spotting the Madonna in a water stain.” This story has been featured in a number of national news outlets, including The Washington Post, and has set the tone for the media coverage, furthering the sense of frustration felt by some. Oglala Lakota Cheryl Cedar Face lamented, “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.”
What the media and other outsiders may not see is that Traversie’s cry for help and pitiful condition wasn’t itself the cause, it was the 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.” On Traversie’s YouTube video, which has gone viral in Native circles, Cedar Face said, “I don’t usually pass these things around, but it was the honest anguish…it made me cry. This was truly the last straw for me.”
Even if there was no "branding," I want to know how his belly got so cut up. That's not a normal surgery outcome.
I wouldn't have pushed this cause as much as people have done. But I always appreciate some activist people power.
It seems like people were looking for a reason to protest racism in SD. And this cause was as good as any. So I approve of the protest even if the underlying reason was questionable.
For more on the subject, see AIM Leads March for Traversie and Indians Rally for "KKK" Victim.