Native Sun News: Oglala leader blames deaths on domestic violence

The former trailer home of Jessie Waters and Duane Benson on the Pine Ridge Reservation in South Dakota was destroyed by a fire in December 2014. Benson has been arrested in connection with the arson. Photo by Richie Richards

OST President issues domestic violence proclamation
By Richie Richards
Native Sun News Staff Writer

PINE RIDGE –– When President Barack Obama signed the reauthorization of Violence Against Women Act (VAWA 2013) on March 7, 2013, included in this law were special provisions for tribal governments to implement regarding jurisdiction and protection order enforcement.

The crimes included under the tribal provisions of VAWA 2013 include; domestic violence, dating violence, and criminal violations of protection orders. Beginning March 7, 2015, tribes were given general authority to implement these new provisions.

On June 10, 2015, Oglala Sioux Tribal President John Yellow Bird Steele issued Proclamation No. 15-06 declaring action on domestic violence.

The opening text reads, “…we reflect on those tribal members who have lost their lives to Domestic Violence, including the recent loss of Jessie Renae Waters, a 31 year old Lakota woman from Allen, South Dakota, and her Baby son Jesse Ray Waters. Jessie Renae Waters and her unborn son’s lives ended as a result of Domestic Violence in its most extreme form on the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation when she became a homicide victim on April 30, 2015, the last day of the month that has been nationally observed as Domestic Violence Awareness Month.”

President Yellow Bird Steele vowed to make the following commitments to OST tribal members who have lost their lives to Domestic Violence:
1. Declared June 10, 2015 as “Jessie Renae & baby Jesse Ray Waters Domestic Violence Awareness Day”,
2. A call for reservation-wide Indian people to teach youth about domestic violence and build stable family environments,
3. A call for the OST Tribal Council to develop Domestic Violence Safe Houses,
4. A call for all tribal programs and organizations to become more active in promoting information and/or educating themselves about domestic violence,
5. A call for the OST Tribal Council to re-examine and improve all tribal ordinances related to Domestic Violence and adopt ordinances to incorporate VAWA.

Jessie Waters, 1984-2015.

Presented to the United States Senate Committee on Indian Affairs on June 24, 2015, was the testimony of John Yellow Bird Steele on “Demanding Results to End Native Youth Suicides.” The testimony includes various reasons or causes for the high number of suicides and attempts.

“We are also beset with a great deal of violence against our women and children, particularly domestic violence. While we do not have precise statistics about such instances, one of our women’s shelter reports 1,300 instances of domestic violence in the last year, while our Department of Public Safety reports 470 prosecuted cases in 2014,” the testimony states.

In the testimony of President Yellow Bird Steele, the fourth plea to the U.S. Senate Committee on Indian Affairs on ways to help on the Pine Ridge Reservation was to “Remove Jurisdictional Restrictions and Fund Tribal Law Enforcement and Justice.”

The plea reads, “Protecting our people from crime and intervening in domestic violence is critical to our efforts to reduce the rate of suicide on the Reservation. Today, the expanded jurisdiction provisions of the Violence Against Women Act (VAWA) and Tribal Law and Order Act (TLOA) are not working for the majority of the large land based tribes.”

In order for the tribe to implement the new, expanded provisions of VAWA and TLOA, President Yellow Bird Steele feels that Congress and the BIA should provide the funding necessary to sustain the changes or “…VAWA and TLOA’s expanded jurisdiction provisions are unfulfilled promises.”

In Yellow Bird Steele’s testimony to the Committee he says, “Today, Pine Ridge is still short 60 officers from the minimum 110 that the BIA itself, says we need. Our officers are exhausted and morale is at an all-time low. Our tribal courts also need funding increases.”

Essentially, 50 officers patrol the nearly 2 million acres of the Oglala Sioux Tribal land base and the approximately 40,000 members living on the reservation in 9 districts situated miles apart.

From left: Phillip Red Bear Sr. (sons’ father), Chevy Red Bear (son), Raymond Waters Sr. (father of Jessie), Phillip Red Bear Jr. (son), Anthony Waters (uncle), and Elizabeth Waters (aunt) stand on the spot where Jessie Waters was found dead on the Pine Ridge Reservation in South Dakota. Photo by Richie Richards / Native Sun News

Recently, Native Sun News reported the story of the death of Jessie Renae Waters, 31, and her unborn son Jesse Ray, who was found near Oglala on Apr. 30, as told through Waters’ family members.

Jessie Waters’ death is under investigation and Duane Benson, her domestic partner and the father of her unborn child, was arrested on June 18 on federal arson charges for an incident during their relationship. He is accused of allegedly burning down the trailer home they lived in together in Oglala in December of 2014.

The death of Jessie Waters, though tragic and untimely, is not unique on the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation. Federal, state and tribal studies confirm the unsolved and unprosecuted deaths of scores of women over the past few decades, including the FBI’s “Accounting For Native American Deaths” report in 2000.

Jessie Waters had filed a protection order against Duane Benson just three weeks before her death. This protection order was allegedly difficult to enforce for various reasons according to Waters’ family, including a shortage of staff in law enforcement.

Native Sun News contacted Chief Division Counsel/Media Coordinator Kyle Loven of the Minneapolis Division of the FBI for an update in the investigation of the death of Jessie Waters. Loven said, “The case is ongoing and because it does involve a suspicious death, it is a priority investigation. The FBI is conducting the investigation in a logical fashion as we typically do. We want to make certain evidence is not compromised.”

(Contact Richie Richards at

Copyright permission Native Sun News

Related Stories
Arrest made in connection with death of Oglala Sioux woman (6/22)
Native Sun News: Oglala family demands justice for slain mother (6/11)

Join the Conversation