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"Bad News for 'Bad Men' . . ."

Jun 25, 2009 — Categories: ,

Good news for women. Lavetta Elk, 26, is a member of the Oglala Sioux Tribe from Wounded Knee, SD. Sgt. Joseph Kopf, an Army recruiter, raped Elk after she inquired about joining the Army. In April, Elk was awarded $600K in damages for the “pain and suffering” she endured. The basis of this verdict was the Fort Laramie Treaty of 1868.

. . . good news for women. Lavetta Elk, 26, is a member of the Oglala Sioux Tribe from Wounded Knee, SD. Sgt. Joseph Kopf, an Army recruiter, raped Elk after she inquired about joining the Army. In April, Elk was awarded $600K in damages for the “pain and suffering” she endured. The basis of this verdict was the Fort Laramie Treaty of 1868.

Article I of the Treaty, the so-called “Bad Men” clause, states:

“If bad men among the whites, or among other people subject to the authority of the United States, shall commit any wrong upon the person or property of the Indians, the United States will, upon proof made to the agent and forwarded to the Commissioner of Indian Affairs at Washington City, proceed at once to cause the offender to be arrested and punished according to the laws of the United States, and also reimburse the injured person for the loss sustained.”

Elk’s lawyer, Adam Horowitz, argued that in the Treaty, the notion of “reimbursement” meant far more than paying out-of-pocket expenses. According to his research in Congressional records, “reimbursement” means “to make someone completely whole.” He won this argument and the law suit.

Horowitz noted that clearly the assault of Native women by white men was an issue in 19th century America; hence this provision in the Treaty. (The irony is that this Treaty was signed at the very time that the US Government was carrying out genocide against Native people.) Sadly assault of Native women by non-Native men remains a tragic fact in 21st century America as well.

The Department of Justice reports that 1 in 3 Native women are sexually assaulted in their lifetimes; that is twice as many as non-Native women. 70% of reported assaults on Native women are committed by non-Native men. This contrasts significantly with the experiences of non-Native women who are most likely raped by men from their own ethnic groups. (Federal Prosecution of Misdemeanor & Felony Violent Crimes in Indian Country by Leslie A. Hagen, AUSA, Western District of Michigan (Leslie.Hagen@usdoj.gov))

So this federal court ruling, if upheld on appeal, becomes a significant legal resource in support of Native women from any nation covered under the Laramie treaty who are raped by “bad men among the whites, or among other people subject to the authority of the United States.” It asserts restitution, a moral standard of justice which speaks to healing, as also a legal standard and legitimate expectation for rape survivors. It affirms the sovereignty of Indian nations.

“Let justice roll down like water, and righteousness like an ever-flowing stream,” (Amos 5:24) for Native women in the US.

Rev. Dr. Marie M. Fortune
FaithTrust Institute

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