Indianz.Com > News > ‘Your silence votes for you’: Citizens of Oglala Sioux Tribe target council over impeachment vote
With signs reading “We Believe Richard” and “Save Our Children,” residents of the Pine Ridge Reservation in South Dakota participate in a rally on September 16, 2020. Photo courtesy Candy Brings Plenty
‘Your silence votes for you’: Citizens of Oglala Sioux Tribe target council over impeachment vote
Thursday, September 17, 2020

The mother of a young Lakota man who accused President Julian Bear Runner of the Oglala Sioux Tribe of coercing him into sex filed a second complaint as citizens came together to support two spirits and youth on the Pine Ridge Reservation in South Dakota.

On Monday, the tribal council voted 11-5 to impeach Bear Runner, falling at least two votes short of the two-thirds majority needed to remove the president from office. But Dana Richards said the vote wasn’t properly recorded after the five-hour hearing.

According to Richards, the technology used by the tribe failed to properly record some council members’ votes, including those of Phillip Good Crow and Vincent Two Lance. She said their efforts to vote couldn’t be heard by the presiding judge at the hearing, which was largely conducted via Zoom.

“It is deeply concerning that using zoom, how many council may have faded in and out of reception during testimony and voting,” she wrote in her complaint on Tuesday. “The attorney’s (sic) for the tribal government failed to mention that Robert’s Rule of Order governs the conduct and operation of a council member.”

Holding a sign reading “We Believe Richard,” residents of the Pine Ridge Reservation participate in a rally on September 16, 2020. Photo courtesy Candi Brings Plenty

Richards said Robert’s Rules of Order, which are procedures used by some tribal councils, dictates that an official’s silence during a vote should be recorded as a consenting vote. She said adding the votes of the four councilmembers who did not vote to the total would mean the council’s votes should have been recorded as 15 in favor and 5 against the motion to impeach Bear Runner.

On Wednesday, supporters of Richards’ son, Richard Weston, protested the council’s failure to impeach the president based on Weston’s claims against Bear Runner.

About 20 protesters gathered in a park for speeches prior to marching several blocks and gathering again across the street from the tribe’s main administrative building in the community of Pine Ridge.

“If you choose to withhold your votes, your silence votes for you,” said Candi Brings Plenty, indigenous justice organizer for the ACLU of South Dakota and a two-spirit citizen of the Oglala Sioux Tribe, standing across the street from the tribe’s main headquarters. “When you choose to stand silent with a sexual predator or oppressor, you too are violating the victim.”

Posted by Candi Brings Plenty on Wednesday, September 16, 2020

Efforts to impeach Bear Runner began earlier this summer when Weston posted his allegations against the president on Facebook and his mother then submitted a complaint against Bear Runner to the tribal council, leading to the impeachment hearing Monday.

Weston has alleged that Bear Runner coerced him into letting him perform oral sex on him when Weston was only 17 years old and later coerced him into having sexual intercourse with him when he was 18.

During testimony Monday, Weston told the tribal council that he was 17 on February 10 when Bear Runner picked him up at his home near Porcupine, to take him to Pine Ridge where the two were going to meet the tribe’s spokeswoman. He said Bear Runner drove him to a water tower near Wounded Knee and parked his pickup.

Bear Runner then coerced him into allowing him to give the minor oral sex.

“After that, I kept to myself because I was ashamed because of what happened,” Weston said, fighting tears. “I kept that from my mother and everyone else. The only other person that knew was Julian.”

He said Bear Runner kept contacting him afterward, sending him messages using Snapchat, an application that allows users to send messages that are deleted shortly after they are opened by the recipient.

He told the tribal council that on June 17 he again had sex with Bear Runner after the tribal president gave him a ride to Rapid City, South Dakota, and paid for a hotel room for the two of them. When they got to the hotel room, Bear Runner took off most of his clothes of got into bed with Weston and began hugging him.

Weston said Bear Runner convinced him to have sexual intercourse with him.

“He convinced me to say yes,” Weston said. “I felt violated. I felt disgusted with myself.”

President Julian Bear Runner of the Oglala Sioux Tribe addresses the National Congress of American Indians in Albuquerque, New Mexico, on October 23, 2019. Photo by Kevin Abourezk

In his defense Monday, Bear Runner asked the tribal council to dismiss Richards’s complaint so a tribal court could adjudicate a cease and desist order that Bear Runner filed, alleging defamation of character against him by Richards and her son.

And he defended himself against the allegations made by Weston, denying he had sex with Weston during the two incidents that he told the tribal council about.

But Bear Runner admitted that he picked up Weston the morning of February 10 to give him a ride to Pine Ridge to meet the tribe’s spokeswoman, Karin Eagle, who planned to take Weston with her to Pierre to take part in a rally and a legislative hearing on a bill that would have penalized doctors for providing puberty blockers and gender confirmation surgery to transgender children under age 16.

The South Dakota Legislature failed to pass the bill.

Bear Runner said he had picked up Weston around 5:30 a.m. that morning and got him to Pine Ridge shortly after 6 a.m., meaning he wouldn’t have had time to have sex with Weston. Weston had claimed he and Bear Runner didn’t make it to Pine Ridge until almost 8 a.m., and he offered a screenshot with the tribal council showing he sent Eagle a text message shortly before 8 a.m. saying they were almost to Pine Ridge.

Bear Runner said if he and Weston hadn’t arrived at the Big Bat’s convenience store until almost 8 a.m., Eagle and Weston wouldn’t have been able to make the three-hour drive to Pierre, South Dakota, in time for the 9 a.m. legislative hearing. In a Facebook post later that morning, Eagle shared video footage of her speaking before the state Legislature.

And Bear Runner also admitted to picking up Weston on June 17 and driving him to Rapid City to a motel, but he said the two men never had sex.

“I was tired and having a hard time staying awake as I had not slept in almost 24 hours,” Bear Runner said.

Screenshots presented to leaders of the Oglala Sioux Tribe during a special session show messages between Richard Weston and Karin Eagle, a spokesperson for the tribe. In the messages, Eagle arranges for Weston to be picked up President Julian Bear Runner on the morning of a February 10, 2020, hearing at the state capital in Pierre, South Dakota.

Eagle also testified before the council Monday and shared a screenshot of a text message from Weston in which he said he and Bear Runner were near to the water tower by Wounded Knee at 5:53 a.m. and would be to Pine Ridge soon. She said they arrived at 6:05 a.m. that morning, thereby confirming Bear Runner’s account of the morning’s timeline.

Speaking at the rally held in a Pine Ridge park on Wednesday, Dana Richards said the stress of Monday’s impeachment hearing forced her son to visit an emergency room near his home in Virginia, where he is attending classes online.

“He’s going to have to deal with this for the rest of his life,” she said. “It’s going to take him time to heal.”

And she criticized people who have attacked her son on social media, saying her son didn’t speak for just himself this week.

“He’s not the only one,” she said. “There’s a lot of them out here that are scared to speak up because of what my son is going through and it took guts for him to speak the truth.”

Nakina Mills, a council member for the Oglala Sioux Tribe who voted to impeach President Julian Bear Runner, takes part in a rally in Pine Ridge, South Dakota, on September 16, 2020. Photo courtesy Candi Brings Plenty

Richard Weston’s father, Ernie Weston, said he was proud of his son for speaking up for himself and for being true to himself.

“That’s his decision to live that way of life,” he said. “We love him. We love him more and more each day about it.”

He said he hopes his son’s stance will inspire other two-spirit tribal citizens.

“They shouldn’t be ashamed to come out because they are our sacred people, too,” he said. “They are part of our tiospaye, our oyate, they bring harmony to our tribes, our reservation.”

Fallout from the failed impeachment vote was immediate on Monday. Shortly after the vote, tribal council member Nakina Mills said she and some of her fellow leaders are taking a stand against Bear Runner and will refuse to participate in meetings led by him because”he was not officially reinstated” to his post as president.

“We, are united in our position there were unethical and inappropriate behaviors, which lead to his misuse of power as an elected official,” Mills, who voted to impeach Bear Runner, wrote in a statement.

“We, are highly disappointed in the outcome of the impeachment hearing of the OST President Julian Bear Runner,” she continued.

Posted by Daily Updates from Oglala Sioux Tribal Councilwoman Nakina Mills on Tuesday, September 15, 2020

In July, Bear Runner was suspended for 30 days in connection with COVID-19 directives he issued on the reservation. He returned to work in early August.

Immediately following his earlier suspension, Bear Runner shared some personal information. In a post on social media, he said he had “recently come to terms” with his bisexuality.

In early May, Bear Runner acknowledged he had been arrested by tribal police. He was charged in tribal court with driving while intoxicated and verbal assault.

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