Lakota Country Times: Family brings attention to domestic violence

The family of murder victims Jessie Waters and her unborn child gathered in her honor on February 14, 2016. Photo by Natalie Hand

Giving Voice to the Voiceless
By Natalie Hand
Lakota Country Times Correspondent

ALLEN --Valentine’s Day is a time for people to express their love for one another.

 The family of murder victims Jessie Waters and her unborn child however choose this day as one to remember their loved ones who were lost to a senseless act of violence.

Through an event designed to raise awareness about domestic violence the family of Waters has found a way to bring attention to a touchy subject.

“It’s been ten months since my cousin Jessie and her baby boy were violently taken from us and to date there still hasn’t been any charges filed for their deaths.  All along we have been told that the investigation is pending.” stated Anna Salomon, Waters’ first cousin.

Salomon helped organize the “Red Dress Event” to coincide with the international initiative to promote awareness of murdered and missing indigenous women, and to bring to light the fact that a high number of these cases are the result of domestic violence.

The red dress is a glaring reminder of the bloodshed that 2 in 5 Native women experience, according to the National Congress of American Indians.  But the color red bears important significance in Oglala Lakota culture and is a reminder that all life is sacred.

The Sing Our Rivers Red traveling earring exhibit.raises awareness of missing and murdered indigenous women. The family of Jessie Waters added one of her earrings to the exhibit in April 2015. Photo from Sing Our Rivers Red / Facebook

Extended family members and community members held a prayer walk through the community of Allen and participated in the grand entry at the Cante’ Skuya Wacipi (Sweetheart Powwow) at American Horse School later that day.

“In this circle is where our healing begins and where respect for one another is learned.  We have to stand up and stop the violence against our women,” said Lawrence Swalley, who offered prayers and encouragement for the family. Oglala Sioux Tribe Victims Services Program staff were on hand and brought the “Silent Witness” cutouts to symbolize Waters and her unborn son, “Baby Jesse”.

Waters was 31 years old and three months pregnant at the time of her death on April 30, 2015.  She was in an 11 month tumultuous relationship with Duane Benson of Oglala, SD, whom she was last seen with that afternoon, according to witnesses.

“Jessie’s body was discovered that evening on a remote fire trail in the hills near Oglala, after Benson’s mother reported the location to tribal police.  The police told us that she had been run over,” stated Donna Salomon, Waters’ aunt and staffer for President John Steele.

Waters had filed for a protection order against Benson just two weeks prior to her passing, citing that she was in fear for her and her unborn child’s welfare.  In her petition to the Oglala Sioux Tribal Court, Waters cited the verbal, emotional and physical abuse she had endured at the hands of Benson.

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“No matter how many times Jessie got away from him, he would find her and coax her back.  But she always minimize the abuse.  Most of our family didn’t know what was going on.  He kept her isolated.  When she wanted to visit her relatives in late December, 2014, he became enraged and she fled to a nearby relative’s home.  He followed her and threatened to burn up her house if she didn’t return with him.  The relatives stood their ground and chased him away.  A short time later, Jessie’s trailer house was engulfed in flames,” said Donna Salomon.

Benson was indicted on federal arson charges in May 2015 and remains in federal custody awaiting trial.  The Federal Bureau of Investigation is in charge of the case and have assured the family that it has “top priority” status.

According to the Oglala Sioux Tribe’s Department of Public Safety, there were 130 domestic violence calls to Public Safety Dispatch in the month of January, 2016.

“This number only represents the victims that do report abuse.  Imagine how many more assaults are going unreported,” noted Salomon.

Waters family had invited the “Sing Our Rivers Red” (SORR) Earring Exhibit to bring their exhibit to the funeral last April.  

According to their website, “…The SORR campaign was created to raise awareness of the epidemic of missing and murdered indigenous women and colonial gender based violence in United States and Canada.  Water is the source of life and so are women. We need to Sing Our Rivers Red to remember the missing and murdered and those who are metaphorically drowning in injustices.”

The Earring Exhibit travels extensively across the U.S. and Canada and is a powerful visual representation of the murdered and missing indigenous women.  The Waters family added an earring to the exhibit in loving memory of Jessie and plan to invite the exhibit back to Pine Ridge Reservation this spring.

“Jessie’s voice has been silenced and cannot address the horrible wrongs that have been committed against her and her baby.  We are here to carry her voice for her.  We will continue to host these forums on her behalf until justice for Jessie and Baby Jesse has been served,” added Anna Salomon.

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