Killer Attorney General Jason Ravnsborg has spent the past year ignoring a 2021 law requiring that he hire a specialist to focus on the problem of missing and murdered indigenous people. His excuse for flouting the law was that his office (which he expanded in 2018 by creating a chief of staff position that costs $118,140.12 a year without any asking for any additional budgetary authorization) hasn’t received any funding for the position.
The Chamberlain-based non-profit Native Hope has taken that excuse away. They are donating $85,000 a year for three years (28% less than the annual salary of Ravnsborg’s chief of staff) to help the Attorney General’s office meet its legal mandate to find missing and murdered indigenous people.
“The decision to fund the grant was a logical next step in our commitment to the issue that has been a pillar of our work for seven years now,” said Executive Director of Native Hope Jennifer Long. “When we learned in the news about difficulties in funding the office, we wanted to break down any barrier that existed. In the work we do with tribal communities, we want to have a positive impact. No more missing sisters. No more missing Indigenous people.”
…Like the Sacred Heart Center in Eagle Butte, S.D., Native Hope is an outreach of St. Joseph’s Indian School. “Native Hope is doing the right thing for our students and families,” noted St. Joseph’s Indian School President Mike Tyrell. “Even one missing person is too many. Students at St. Joseph’s have lost loved ones and family members through this human tragedy.”
Some 40% of sex trafficking victims in South Dakota are Native women and children, disproportionate to the 8.57% of Native residents. Domestic violence is another contributing factor to MMIP [Native Hope, press release, 2022.02.16].
Native Hope’s Long joined indigenous legislators Troy Heinert, Peri Pourier, and Tamara St. John to announce the grant at a press conference in Pierre yesterday. From the photos available, it appears Jason Ravnsborg did not attend. In his press release, A.G. Ravnsborg couldn’t even bring himself to acknowledge that Native Hope was providing the money; he chose instead to lead with the vaguely insulting passive voice:
South Dakota Attorney General Jason Ravnsborg announced today that in cooperation with St. Joseph’s Indian School and Native Hope, Inc., a grant has been made to aid in the funding of the Office of Liaison for Missing and Murdered Indigenous Persons. The grant will provide $85,000 per year for the years 2022 to 2024 [Office of the Attorney General, press release, 2022.02.16].
That passive voice left the door open for the Mitchell Republic to misstate the source of the funds in its original headline before correcting the record an hour later:
Funding public services with private dollars is problematic. Waiting for Native Hope or St. Joseph’s Indian School to fund enforcement of a law to protect indigenous people is like making rape victims pay for the police and prosecutors who handle their case, or like making victims of arson cover the full cost of rolling the fire trucks to their flaming businesses. Jason Ravnsborg didn’t have to spend a year begging for private donors to fund his new chief of staff; why should we have to rely on private donors to do actual work required by actual law? We’ve passed a law, we should fund the execution of that law.
Representative St. John and Senator Red Dawn Foster are working on that: their House Bill 1194 would immediately provide $70,000 to cover the liaison position for one year. But despite the emergency clause on HB 1194, House Judiciary dilly-dallied and kicked the bill to House Appropriations, which in turn dithered and kicked it to Joint Appropriations. Native Hope helps us jump past that delay and guarantees a longer solution than our slowpoke legislators and inattentive A.G. have mustered. We should be grateful that Native Hope has stepped into the gap; we should be disgusted that they had to do so.