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Excerpts from recent South Dakota editorials

September 20, 2018

Rapid City Journal, Rapid City, Sept. 20

Act to protect Native women

An epidemic of disappearances among Native American women should disturb every South Dakotan. On Indian reservations across the country accounts run rampant of women going missing or turning up dead.

The scope of the problem, however, remains obscure. Perhaps, this ignorance explains how it’s so easy to ignore or disregard the harm. It’s time to get better information and act on it.

At the end of 2017, the FBI’s National Crime Information Center database had 633 open missing person cases for Native American women, according to a recent four-part Associated Press series. The rate is far higher than among the non-Native population and likely much larger. Many cases of missing Native American women and girls go unreported or haven’t been thoroughly documented. No specific government database exists to track all cases. Nobody knows how many Native women have been abducted into sex trafficking, although concern is rising.

As a result, sex traffickers and murderers hide in plain sight behind a maze of competing jurisdictions and inadequate tribal law enforcement resources. The jurisdictional overlap of authority and laws depend on whether a crime happened on a reservation and whether a tribal member is the victim or perpetrator.

Federal changes enacted in 2010 were intended to close those loopholes, but recent statistics demonstrate little progress. More needs to be done, but action isn’t guaranteed.

Indifference is perhaps the greatest impediment. Four out of five Native women experience violence in their lifetime, according to one 2016 federal study. It’s a longstanding problem, and many people have turned their heads from the ugliness. Many have convinced themselves the issue doesn’t affect non-Natives. There’s a type of racism that requires inaction rather than action. This is an example of it.

If the problem were new, we wouldn’t be so accepting. If a rash of disappearances arose in other communities, there would be outrage. We should be outraged anyway.

When a mother of four children goes missing, it affects generations of families. The disappearances of aunts, sisters, grandmothers and daughters leave black holes that expand into society, polluting everything they touch.

U.S. Sen. Heidi Heitkamp of North Dakota has introduced “Savanna’s Act,” named after Savanna LaFontaine-Greywind, 22, who was murdered in 2017 while eight months pregnant. It aims to improve tribal access to federal crime information databases. It also would require the Department of Justice to develop a protocol to respond to cases of missing and murdered Native Americans so cases don’t get ignored.

If authorities have accurate statistics, they might be able to detect patterns that help solve more cases.

If we address the issues and take steps to diminish the problem, the results would benefit everyone. If we can uncover sex trafficking rings where they can most easily take hold, we can prevent them from spreading into other communities.

We need to get the data, understand the issues, define a roadmap and not stop there. Resources must be deployed strategically to begin chipping away at a problem that has gone unchecked for far too long.

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Yankton Daily Press & Dakotan, Yankton, Sept. 18

Should buffer strips be mandatory?

In an agricultural economy, the land and the water are everything. They represent not only the pulse of economic opportunity, but also the quality of life that we all value. It demands a delicate balancing act, carefully weighing how we use those resources to make a living and how we protect those resources in order to live.

The introduction could take us to a number of rural issues, but today, let’s focus on something that was discussed in a South Dakota News Watch story in Saturday’s Press & Dakotan: buffer strips along waterways.

As the name implies, a buffer strip is literally a strip of grass and/or hay on either side of, say, a creek that creates a filtering zone between cropland and that waterway. The strip helps filter the water runoff from cropland, in the process reducing the material that ends up running into the waterway and flowing somewhere else. The strip also acts as a safeguard against erosion by reducing the flow of draining water that can cut through and carry away soil.

In South Dakota, there are incentives available for buffer strips, but it’s on a voluntary basis, as officials cite the reluctance of farmers to be dictated to in regards to how they do their business. However, a program that provides a 40 percent tax break for farmers using buffer strips attracted just 27 farmers who placed 292 acres in 12 counties in the program during the first year. Analysts say the tax break simply wasn’t enough to make up for the money being made by farming those acres.

This is an unfortunate response. As stated above, the soil is the staple of farming business, and the failure to prevent the erosion of that soil is, ultimately, like failing to protect one’s own investment.

Water is also crucial, and this is an area in which South Dakota has real concerns. Approximately two-thirds of the state’s rivers were classified as being impaired by pollution in 2017, according to the federal government. A big culprit in this is ag runoff from farming operations, with E. coli bacteria being one of the more common pollutants.

Thus, protecting these resources must be a high priority — perhaps even a mandatory one.

That’s what Minnesota did in 2015. According to News Watch, that state has seen an increase of nearly 20 percent in the use of buffer strips.

South Dakota officials say other agricultural methods, such as no-till farming, have reduced runoff and, thus, there is no need for making buffer strips mandatory.

But the federal water quality assessment implies that these other techniques may not be doing the job, at least not by enough.

That’s not to say that buffer strips alone will dramatically change the state’s water quality, but it would be a practical next step to controlling runoff and cleaning up the state’s water.

There will likely continue to be resistance here to steps such as buffer strip requirements, but if Minnesota continues to see successful results, the pressure may grow in Pierre. And rightly so.

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The Daily Republic, Mitchell, Sept. 18

Collaborative search leads to good work

Last week, a group of first responders spent the night north of Mitchell searching for a missing child.

The 9-year-old boy, who authorities said is autistic, went missing Wednesday evening but was found by a Davison County Sheriff’s deputy around 9 a.m. Thursday. The child was “beat up a little bit from spending the night in the weeds and the bushes” but was ultimately OK.

What a relief it is to hear the search was successful. Multiple agencies assisted in the late hours of the night and into the morning. They were the Davison County Sheriff’s Office, Sanborn County and Jerauld County sheriff’s offices, Davison County Search and Rescue, Mitchell Department of Public Safety and the Letcher Volunteer Fire Department.

In South Dakota, where we have thousands of miles of open fields and cropland, going into a search for a missing child can be like looking for a needle in a haystack. Luckily, authorities had some information and a good starting point to find the missing boy.

Due to the late-night work of volunteers and other first responders, the child was found about 3½ miles from where authorities pinpointed a probable location. When a rare situation like this arises, it takes a village to find a child. The more help, the better.

It was great to hear that multiple agencies — especially including volunteers like in this case the Letcher Volunteer Fire Department — are working together when an emergency of this magnitude arises.

While it’s never fun planning for a missing child, it is necessary. It was only a few months ago the Hanson County Sheriff’s Office led the search for a 3-year-old boy who went missing from his home. He was also found, and it was partially because 50 to 60 people were involved in the search.

These types of searches are not regular, but we hope law enforcement agencies of all shapes and sizes have a detailed plan in place for when it does. In last week’s case, a text alert was sent out at about 6:30 a.m. for morning travelers to keep an eye out for the missing boy. Volunteers were called early in the search.

Those are the types of plans and communications that need to be planned before a child goes missing.

We applaud everyone involved for the work last week in the search, and we hope other agencies take notice of the successful ending.

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