May 31, 2012

Traversie case was the catalyst

Vern Traversie and the Worst Place to Be an Indian

By Lise Balk KingIn 1999, the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights held a hearing in Rapid City after “a series of high-profile cases involving the unsolved deaths of several American Indians…brought tensions to the surface.” I was one of the many people who felt relief that someone was listening and assumed help would come as a result. Many of us waited for hours to testify. It was the elders in the room who reminded everyone that the Commission had been there 20 years earlier, and not much had changed. Now we fast-forward to 2012—13 years hence—and despite our hopes in 1999, it seems we have made little progress.

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.”
Comment:  I posted a picture of the marks on Traversie. They don't look like a clear "KKK" to 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.

1 comment:

Rob said...

For more on the subject, see:

Vern Traversie’s Case Draws Attorney General’s Attention

In a new blog post by, Vern Traversie the blind and elderly Lakota elder who alleges he was a victim of branding while in the care of the Rapid City Regional Hospital for open-heart surgery is finally being heard.

According to the blog, Marty Jackley, South Dakota Attorney General, spoke with the Cheyenne River Sioux Tribal Council and took evidence from them on June 6. Indian Country Today Media Network has confirmed that the Federal Bureau of Investigation, the South Dakota Attorney General’s office, and Health and Human Services have commenced an investigation into the alleged attacks.