Sarah Lee Circle Bear died in agony, screaming and begging for care

Sarah Lee Circle Bear

On July 6, Sarah Lee Circle Bear was “found” unconscious in a holding cell in Brown County Jail in Aberdeen, South Dakota. Women’s bodies keep being “found” in jails across the United States. Police are killing Native American women, such as Christina Tahhahwah, at a staggering rate. Overrepresented in prisons and jails, Native Americans are beyond overrepresented in jail mortality rates. They are the dumped and “found”. Sarah Lee Circle Bear’s death is typical as is the excruciating pain and suffering she was forced to endure as she died in agony, screaming and begging for care.

Sarah Lee Circle Bear was 24 years old, a Lakota woman, the mother of two children, aged one and two. She was picked up for a bond violation, which is to say for not much. According to other prisoners, before being transferred to a holding cell, Sarah Lee Circle Bear told her jailers that she was suffering excruciating pain. The staff told her to “knock it off” and “quit faking”. Inmates called to the staff to help her. The staff came, picked Sarah Lee Circle Bear up off the floor, dragged her out of the cell, and transferred to a holding cell. Later, they “found” Sarah Lee Circle Bear “unresponsive.” Her family is now seeking justice.

Prisoners, and especially those in jails, die in agony, begging and screaming for care. From 2000 through 2012, close to 13,000 people died in local jails. The State lists “cause of death” but never includes the State among those. Sarah Lee Circle Bear died in agony, screaming and begging for help. Her fellow prisoners screamed as well.

This is Chuneice Patterson’s story. A prisoner in the Onondaga County Justice Center, in Syracuse, New York, Chuneice Patterson died, November 2, 2009, of ectopic pregnancy. She spent hours in agony begging for care. No one came. Amy Lynn Cowling died, in December 2010, in excruciating pain in the Gregg County Jail, in Texas. From coast to coast and border to border, a national community has built with the shrieks of women in jail, dying in excruciating pain and suffering, screaming and begging for care. No one comes or, worse, they come and drag her away. The dead who are “found” are “unresponsive”? It’s the other way around.

What happened to Sarah Lee Circle Bear? Nothing much. All part of the plan. Just another Native American woman dead in a jail somewhere in the United States.

 

(Photo Credit: Terrance Circle Bear, Sr. / Indian Country Today)

Indigenous women liberate the Americas

Sheyla Juruna

Indigenous people are trying to liberate the Americas, and they are led by women. In Brazil yesterday, hundreds of indigenous leaders, fisherfolk and others from the Xingu River basin gathered to occupy the Belo Monte Dam construction site in a peaceful protest to stop its construction in the heart of the Brazilian Amazon. Belo Monte is one of those mega-dams that cost billions of dollars, displace whole communities, wipe out acres and acres of forest, all in the name of “necessary energy production.”

Ealier this week, the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights tried to create a space for the indigenous communities, and their supporters, and the Brazilian government to enter into dialogue. The Juruna people sent their leader, Sheyla Juruna, who travelled days to get to Washington. The much wealthier, much more popular, and much better resourced Brazilian government sent … no one.

And so indigenous communities of the Xingu, and their supporters, took to the dam site, and they were, and are, led by women. Sheyla Juruna. Juma Xipaia. Roberta Amanajás. Antonia Melo. Some, like Juruna and Xiapaia, are indigenous leaders. Some, like Amanajás, are human rights advocates and activists. Some, like Melo, are leaders of movements, in this instance the Xingu Forever Alive Movement.

Cherokee feminist activist and author Andrea Smith once wrote, “The primary reason for the continuing genocide of Native peoples has less to do with ignorance and more to do with material conditions. Non-Indians continue to oppress Indians because Indians occupy land resources that the dominant society wants.”

The indigenous women leaders and communities of the Xingu River basin know, and live, this history today. They know the genocide takes many forms. Sometimes it’s flat out extermination campaigns. At other times, it’s removal, person by person, nation by nation, child by child.

In the United States, for example, a Federal law states that if Native American children are taken from their homes, they must be placed with their family members, relatives, their tribes or other Native Americans. And native children are taken from their homes, at a much higher rate than children of other races and communities. Some studies suggest the rate is twice as high. Furthermore, of the native children taken from their homes, a remarkably low percentage have experienced sexual or physical abuse. So, why are they taken? “For their own good” … of course.

A report this week highlighted the situation of these stolen children in South Dakota. Nearly 90 percent are placed in non-Native households or group settings. Those non-native group settings are private, and making good profit off of the “poor” native children.

Who cares? Well, the children care. Their families care. Their communities care. And while the caring of the children isn’t particularly gendered, the caring by the adults is. Women. Women like Janice Howe, a grandmother who refused to let the State get away with kidnapping, who fought for over a year and a half to get her grandkids back. Four children, including Antoinette, 6 years old, and Raushana, 5 years old. When they returned, 18 months later, they were each a full dress size smaller. Only now are the stories of their sojourn beginning to emerge.

There are native Grandmothers’ Groups, native foster home providers, native foster parents, tribal social workers, and they are everywhere on the reservation. There are also mothers who mourn and wait and, if they’re very “lucky”, may, just may some day meet their children. In the case of Dwayne Stenstrom, kidnapped by the State at the age of 8 years old, this reunion occurred decades later … six months before his mother died of cancer.

And no one ever receives an apology, ever receives an acknowledgment. This is what military occupation looks like.

As the Occupy Wall Street movement has spread, or effloresced, across the United States and Canada, indigenous people across both countries have criticized the term “occupation”. Some have suggested replacing it with “decolonize” or “(un)occupy”, others have noted the painful nationalism and racism of their supposed, or potential, allies in the current movement.

And others have said, instead, “Defend Mother Earth.” At the Belo Monte Dam site yesterday, Juma Xipaia explained, “We will not be silent. We will shout out loud and we will do it now.” The Mothers, Grandmothers, Daughters, Sisters, Aunts, Women are gathering, out loud, now, to Defend Mother Earth. Another occupation is possible. Shout out loud, do it now.

 

(Photo Credit: Amazon Watch)