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Wednesday, September 18, 2019

September 18, 2019 - 12:25pm

Organizers say the first tribally-operated casino in Las Vegas, Nev. will open in late 2020 (Photo: rendering courtesy Virgin Hotels and Rockwell Group)

A new documentary focuses on how the high rate of missing and murdered indigenous women affects tribes, families and communities in Montana A new deal will bring the first tribally-operated casino to Las Vegas

The post Wednesday, September 18, 2019 appeared first on National Native News, by Art Hughes.


Tuesday, September 17, 2019

September 17, 2019 - 12:23pm
The Crow Legislature is considering a bill that would introduce alcohol on the Tribe’s Reservation. Officials with the University of Wisconsin Eau Claire say they are investigating after a student found a racist message written on a door.

The post Tuesday, September 17, 2019 appeared first on National Native News, by Art Hughes.


Monday, September 16, 2019

September 16, 2019 - 2:37pm

A racist epithet on the door of a University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire student’s dorm prompts concern. (Photo: Wikimedia C/C)

A Navajo man on death row is seeking a stay of execution, claiming jury racial bias

Maine tribes want to change a law that gives the state oversight on tribal issues

A plan to move Bureau of Land Management headquarters draws criticism

The post Monday, September 16, 2019 appeared first on National Native News, by engineer.


Friday, September 13, 2019

September 13, 2019 - 11:54am

Rosebud Sioux tribal delegation. The Rosebud Sioux Tribe is fighting the Keystone XL Pipeline in court. (Photo-Rosebud Sioux Tribe Attorney General’s Office, Facebook)

Tribes sue President Trump over Keystone XL Pipeline project Congressman advocates for federal recognition of Little Shell Tribe

The post Friday, September 13, 2019 appeared first on National Native News, by Antonia Gonzales.


Thursday, September 12, 2019

September 12, 2019 - 12:07pm

A rally for the Violence Against Women Act is held in front of the U.S. Capitol. (Photo-Representative Betty McCollum, Twitter) 

Native people rally for Violence Against Women Act Rock found in Canada sacred to Blackfeet people

The post Thursday, September 12, 2019 appeared first on National Native News, by Antonia Gonzales.


Waiting for justice in Nome, Alaska

September 12, 2019 - 12:04pm

This series is in partnership with the Associated Press with support from the Pulitzer Center and the Fund for Investigative Journalism

Even after the initial trauma, invasive medical exams, and difficult police questioning, a woman in Nome who reports sexual assault must also confront the likelihood her complaint will go nowhere. She may never learn the fate of her case in the law enforcement system. National Native News takes a look at the climate of fear, mistrust and despair that arises when perpetrators don’t face any consequences. A group of mostly Alaska Native women have been working for years to change the narrative coming from a mostly male, non-Native government and legal structure.

For years, Nome sexual assault reports go unanswered
Community outrage has forced city and police leaders from office and new leaders promise a new era of trust and transparency. But the promise of reform faces a skeptical public, especially among Nome’s Alaska Native residents who say they encounter indifference from an overwhelmingly non-Native power structure.

In Nome, a legacy of mistrust, outsiders promise change
Even with new officers and a renewed public outreach effort, Nome’s new police chief has an uphill battle convincing a skeptical public that has a long memory about the department’s troubled history that includes murder, physical assault and inaction.

‘We are all we have’: Nome sexual assault survivors find their collective strength
Fed up with inaction, a group of Nome residents–mostly Alaska Native women–chart a path for accountability from city leaders and law enforcement. Progress is slow, but their gaining some victories.

The post Waiting for justice in Nome, Alaska appeared first on National Native News, by Art Hughes.


‘We are all we have’: Nome sexual assault survivors find their collective strength

September 12, 2019 - 11:52am

The sun rises on the horizon in Nome, Alaska. (AP Photo/Wong Maye-E, Feb. 15, 2019)

This series is in partnership with the Associated Press. It is supported by the Pulitzer Center and the Fund for Investigative Journalism.  Read the AP in-depth reporting here.

By Victoria Mckenzie

Frustration over Nome officials’ inaction on sexual assault and other violent crimes boiled over in the summer of 2018. Residents voiced their anger at public meetings to try and spur some kind of response. But the process to get to that point started much sooner—more than three years before allegations started going public.

“I’m not just a… troublemaker, I swear to God,” said Lisa Ellanna. “You know, this is my home. I love my home. I love my land. I grew up here. This is my ancestral land. This is my community. And I love my community, and I’m proud of my community. I really am.”

Ellanna started talking with other residents and meeting regularly in living rooms for mutual support. Their conversations revealed a pattern. The stories the members of the group shared with one another involved investigations that ended without any communication to the accuser. Worse, people in the group described how police seemed to blame those who suffered violence. Other times, survivors said that police didn’t even respond to their calls for help.

“I’m not an expert in sexual assault and domestic violence,” Ellanna said. “But I do know what I’m seeing in my community.”

Another member of the group, Panganga Pungowiyi, said it became clear to group members that sexual assault cases were more likely to reach a dead end if the victim was Native. She is Yup’ik and lives in Nome.

“It makes it so Alaska Native women are an easier target because you’re less likely to get in trouble for it,” Pungowiyi said.

The Nome group started seeking alliances to help them restructure a system that seemed stacked against victims. One of the logical first places for improvement was the police department. In 2015 they appealed to a community alcohol safety group that included the police chief, and asked for help establishing new policies and responses to sexual assault and domestic violence. They also spoke up at other collaborative meetings that the police chief attended, like the regional wellness forum. Survivors shared their personal experiences. Two years went by.

“That took a while for us to really see that that wasn’t going to go any further,” said Ellanna. “And that’s when we decided then to go public.”

The advocacy group started drafting a resolution to present to the city council. And they began preparing their fellow residents. They alerted the hospital, the community center, and other service providers what was coming, anticipating an uptick in people needing social and mental health support.

“We knew that when we started coming forward in a public way around this issue people would start to feel empowered,” Ellanna said. “Survivors would start to feel empowered and begin to come forward with their situations too.”

In May 2018, several Native women addressed the all-male, non-Native city council, city manager and mayor, and presented a three-page resolution calling for an outside review of the police department and its operations manual. They proposed over a dozen policy changes.

The city responded with its own resolution, striking all but one reference to race, and suggesting that any enforcement failures were due to understaffing. Several women objected. Darlene Trigg is an Inupiaq resident of Nome and the lead Native Cultural Liaison at the regional hospital. She’s also a member of the advocacy group. She addressed the city council in May 2018.

“I really, really need to point out that there has been an injustice (against) Alaska Native people,” Trigg said at the public meeting. “And the way the Resolution is crafted does not acknowledge that. You have every opportunity to raise up the Native community right now. In the end we can come out of this in a good place. We all just have to be humble enough to recognize that there’s been mistakes. Please, please recognize that.”

The drive to get to this point is informed by a long, unacknowledged history of abuse and betrayal in Alaska at the hands of government agencies and religious organizations. And Nome is not an isolated instance.

“I think the thing more people need to understand is that, there’s a thing that says ‘oh get over it. That happened a long time ago,’” said Jim LaBelle. He’s Inupiaq from the Village of Port Graham. He’s also a member of the National Native American Boarding School Healing Coalition and an Alaska Native historian. “But what they don’t understand is that the stuff that happened to us is cumulative. It isn’t just one thing we have to get over.”

LaBelle is also a survivor of the Wrangell Institute, a boarding school for almost 100 years in far southeast Alaska notorious for physical and sexual violence against young Native children through 1969.

“Wrangell was such a place that it just attracted pedophiles of all kinds,” LaBelle said. “They were almost freely practicing their own form of abuse. Boys and girls. I remember girls going home in the middle of the school year pregnant—and these are girls that are 11,12, 13 years old. I experienced violence. I was eight, but there were children as young as five.”

Abuse wasn’t limited to boarding schools. In St. Michael, a village of just 400 people near Nome, at least seven Jesuit priests and one layperson are known to have sexually abused children between 1949 and 1986 according to a list of credible allegations published in 2018 by the Jesuits West, the province that includes Alaska and several other states. The Jesuits based in Oregon settled a $50 million lawsuit brought by Alaska Native victims in 2007.

Many Alaska Native communities are still dealing with the layers of trauma from similar experiences all over the state. In Nome, as elsewhere, that history remains a significant dynamic in how Alaska Native residents live their daily lives.

“There’s a whole bunch of different things that piled up on each other,” LaBelle said. “There’s really no way of unravelling it all—well there is, but it takes a lot of time and effort. There is the boarding schools, there is economic slavery, there’s all kinds of things that kind of piled on. There’s never been any uniform or creative way to deal with it.”

After the turmoil that culminated with the Nome city manager and the police chief both leaving office, residents took a step in a new direction, electing an Alaska Native woman to city council.

Meghan Topkok is Inupiaq and an attorney. Her family is originally from Mary’s Igloo on the Seward Peninsula. Her city council campaign highlighted the lack of Native representation in city leadership. She said officials either didn’t listen to, or failed to understand, their Native constituents.

In addition, Topkok says she was sexually assaulted after she moved back to Nome following law school. She didn’t report it, partly because she didn’t think her accusation would go anywhere.

“Part of it was kind of the fact that I didn’t realize that it was sexual assault,” Topkok said. “Then the other half of it was that I had heard such horrible things from my friends who had reported that I didn’t feel comfortable going through that myself.

Topkok commends the group of women who came forward to try and change things. They are the reason she decided to share her own experience.

“I mean nobody wants to go back in and tell a bunch of old, white men what you just had gone through in your life,” she said. “To just hope that they’ll understand and take it seriously. I mean there’s definitely people who don’t take it seriously, and that is frustrating and I think dampens people’s voice. But the more people who speak out, hopefully the more conversations we’ll have, the more solutions we’ll find.”

In May, Lisa Ellanna and the other women pushing for reform secured a victory. The council agreed to appoint a commission to provide civilian oversight on public safety issues. It’s the first city in Alaska to do so. The vote was unanimous. After two months the mayor had yet to name anyone to the panel. Supporters are hopeful the seats will be filled soon and that they will include Alaska Native residents.

“Policy doesn’t cost anything,” Ellanna said. “You can write a rule, it’ll stay there regardless of who comes in next, right? They have to follow that same policy. There are procedures they can put into place that’ll be there. Step by step procedures, and how to handle certain situations, that’ll be there no matter who’s employed at the police department.”

Ellanna said progress remains slow, but that they are seeing the first steps in what she hopes is a significant turnaround

“Relationships in small towns all we have,” she said. “We are all we have. I really hope that the people that can affect change see this as not an us-against-them situation. I hope they see it as we’re all in this together, because we are. We’re all we have.”

This project relied on production and editorial oversight by Koahnic Broadcasting Corp. Producer Monica Braine, Native Voice One Network Manager Bob Petersen, and KNBA Producer Tripp Crouse. Music is by Torin Jacobs. The executive producer is Art Hughes.


The post ‘We are all we have’: Nome sexual assault survivors find their collective strength appeared first on National Native News, by Art Hughes.


In Nome, a legacy of mistrust, outsiders promise change

September 12, 2019 - 11:44am

Robert Estes speaks to National Native News shortly after taking over as police chief in Nome, Alaska. Estes replaced the outgoing chief after public complaints that the police department had mishandled sexual assault cases in Nome. (AP Photo/Wong Maye-E, Feb. 23, 2019)

This series is in partnership with the Associated Press. It is supported by the Pulitzer Center and the Fund for Investigative Journalism. Read the AP in-depth reporting here.

By Victoria Mckenzie

A call comes over Elizabeth Jachim’s radio from a fellow officer responding to a woman outside on a cold Nome night. The woman said she’d been sexually assaulted.

“How 56 is she?” Jachim asks, using the police code for ‘intoxicated pedestrian.’
“She’s highly 56. We didn’t get a BrAC (Breath Alcohol Concentration test),” the voice on the radio responds.

Jachim takes the lead in this case as the only officer on duty with sexual assault response training.

“If you can stop by the station and grab the SART kits in case she’s capable of getting an exam, and I will go up there and see if I can establish if she is capable of giving one,” Jachim says, using the acronym for a Sexual Assault Response Team exam kit. If medical staff deem the woman too intoxicated, she can’t legally consent to a SART exam.

The team of officers on duty is among the 11 sworn officers, including an investigator, and an additional two community service officers that make up the Nome Police Department. The department has had a revolving door, with an average retention rate of only two-and-a-half years. They rarely had 8 positions filled. In 2016 the city was down to 5 officers, one of them on medical leave. There was only one patrolman to respond to all calls on any given night. Police and city officials say the high cost of living and relatively low salaries make it hard to recruit and retain talented officers.

The snow-encrusted sign marks the entrance to the Nome police station outside of town. (AP Photo/Wong Maye-E, Feb. 21, 2019)

In 2018, a community service officer pleaded guilty to punching a woman while on duty. He was fired, but then rehired by the city to work as a dispatcher in the same department.

That added to mounting criticism of police misconduct that reached a boil that summer. The police chief, John Papasodora, decided to retire. His boss, the city manager, was facing a growing scandal after a woman went public with sexual harassment allegations. He was getting ready to step down, but before he did, he installed a new police chief without any public process or input from residents.

Bob Estes took over as Nome police chief in September. He previously worked at the Chesterfield County Police Department just outside of Richmond, Virginia. He worked for the department for 30 years before retiring in 2010. Shortly after arriving in Nome, he invited three other colleagues, all retired officers from Chesterfield County P.D. He also has almost 40 years of experience in the National Guard Reserve which he said informs his management style.

“Coming in with a military background, as a commander of several units, you always do the audit and bean count when you come in as a new guy or gal,” he said in an interview. “That’s basically what I’m doing here. And it was my choice to audit additional cases, going back to at least 2005.”

When he first came to Nome he met with different local organizations, like the Nome Eskimo Community and the regional tribal authority, Kawerak Inc., and started taking stock of the records behind the papered-over windows of the police station. As part of the internal audit, his team is reviewing at least 460 sexual assault complaints, beginning with more recent cases. Estes said he also sought guidance from other law enforcement agencies, including state troopers and the FBI. He’s since brought 76 sexual assault cases to the district attorney. Fifty seven of them were rejected.

Sgt. Jerry Kennon, 75, is one of the three new investigators pouring through old cases. He’s also one of Estes’ retired colleagues from Virginia. Kennon said very early on in his review he found shoddy procedures going back decades.

“What I’m finding with these is there just were no narratives done to them at all, much less an investigation,” Kennon said.

He’s looking at calls for service logged into the department’s records management system. For each of these, there should be a police report. But some of those reports are simply missing. Others had no follow ups or had evidence that was never submitted to the state lab.

“We’re a quarter of the way through them, I would say,” Kennon said at the time. “Some of them are really bad, serious cases that were not investigated.”

At the same time the investigators are trying to get a handle on past cases, Chief Estes said new cases keep coming in. He is still working toward his goal of having at least two officers on shift at a time.

Even with new officers and a renewed public outreach effort, Estes has an uphill battle convincing a skeptical public that has a long memory about the department’s troubled history. Most notably, in 2005, a jury convicted a Nome police officer of murdering a 19-year-old Inupiaaq woman from the village of Unalakleet, south of Nome. Matt Owens shot Sonya Ivanoff, left her naked body next to a service road outside of town, and tried to cover up the crime. Residents had complained to police officials that Owens cruised the streets in his uniform making unwanted sexual advances and picking up young women and even underage girls in his police car. After settling a $500,000 civil suit with Ivanoff’s family, the City of Nome quietly paid another $270,000 to settle remaining lawsuits filed by three women who said they were stalked, threatened and sexually assaulted by Owens. Nome police helped solve the Ivanoff case, but many residents complained investigators failed to talk to witnesses and were slow to follow leads. The murder sent shockwaves throughout the region. It also prompted Alaska Native villagers to speak up about their negative experiences with Nome Police. Stories about police interaction with Native residents ranged from indifference to hostility and even physical assault. Two regional Alaska Native organizations called for a federal human rights investigation. The Norton Sound Regional Hospital board cited what it called “discriminatory harassment and excessive force” in the police department and unsolved cases of Alaska Native residents who went missing or turned up dead in Nome. Kawerak, the regional tribal consortium, published a list of 20 unsolved deaths and disappearances of Native people in Nome. There was a department shake-up. In 2005, the city hired a new police chief, Craig Moates, who promised to heal the wounds. Moates met with residents of the surrounding villages and listened to individual complaints. But in the end, there was never an outside investigation of police practices. Moates concluded the allegations of police harassment, abuse and malfeasance could not be substantiated.

The city is on its fourth police chief since then. Complaints continued to fester in that time but didn’t reach another breaking point until 2018, when a small group of Alaska Native residents started speaking publicly about the growing number of unsolved sexual assaults. A National Native News analysis found over the past decade, only 8% of all calls to Nome police about sexual assaults resulted in an arrest with charges filed.

Officer Nick Harvey is emblematic of where sexual assault complaints stopped. National Native News spoke to Susie, a woman who called police immediately after she said a man followed her home from a bar and raped her. She doesn’t want to be identified because she is afraid of her perpetrator, who was never arrested.

Susie reported her rape to Nick Harvey and another officer in 2013. According to a forensic nurse’s notes from medical records Susie released to National Native News, Harvey brought her to the hospital. But then he tried to cancel the rape exam “because the man admitted that he ‘had sex’ with the patient but that it was consensual. Therefore the officer did not see a need for an exam,” the nurse wrote in her report from that night. The nurse did the exam anyway. Harvey declined collecting DNA. Court records show the man had been convicted of 3 prior assaults. Susie remains afraid to come to Nome from her nearby village for necessary medical appointments.

“Honestly, if you look back at a lot of the sexual assaults (investigations) within the police department that that particular officer did, it was always like a no report, ‘he said she said’ kind of thing,” said former Nome Community Services Officer Tomas Paniaataq, who is Inupiaq and a member of the King Island Native Community. He trained under Harvey. He eventually left the department for a job in the Alaska Division of Juvenile Justice. His observation about NPD is backed up by former Nome Sgt. Preston Stotts, who said he was frustrated with shoddy police work and what he called the “good ol boy syndrome” in the department. Stotts said he investigated Lt. Harvey’s work on more than one occasion, and that Harvey and others regularly failed to respond to felony calls and sexual assaults. He said he reported his concerns to the police chief and to the city manager. Nothing happened. In fact, Harvey was promoted.

As the city was hiring it’s new chief of police in 2018, Bun Hardy went public with the allegations she was drugged at a Nome bar and raped, saying police failed to investigate. She blames Lt. Harvey’s lack of follow-through as the reason her case languished and died. For one, she says he never delivered on his promise to get a Glass warrant, a complaint levelled by several other sexual assault accusers.

“You know if Nick (Harvey) would have done his job and got…that Glass warrant, and gotten their (alleged perpetrators’) phones and gotten the video that would make my case that much more stronger,” Hardy said. “But since it’s all gone… that’s why the D.A. is not going forward with charges, because…he doesn’t have any hard evidence.”

Nick Harvey declined to be interviewed for this story. He’s now a deputy clerk at the Nome courthouse.

Estes admits his review of old sexual assault cases may not produce results right away.

“These cases are going to absolutely take time to reopen because if it’s cases that are a few years ago then we’re gonna have to reopen, find victims, witnesses, possible suspects in these cases, and gathering the evidence again,” Estes said. “But, again, that’s what we’re here for.”

The Alaska state Attorney General denied a public records request for information indicating why 57 of the 76 sexual assault cases Estes submitted were declined. He argued that the information is protected under attorney-client privilege.

A National Native News analysis finds that between 2010 and 2017, only 25 cases of sexual assault in Nome made it to court. Who, or what, prevented prosecution remains a secret guarded by police and the state Attorney General.

Nome residents also encounter barriers getting information from police, even for their own cases.

Bun Hardy, Diedre Levi and Susie all requested copies of the police reports pertaining to their alleged sexual assaults. None has gotten any records yet. Police Chief Estes noted that many older records were discarded during the move to a new police station in 2009, but doesn’t know how or why. At least one assault survivor who spoke to National Native News discovered in February that all traces of her case, including forensic material, were simply gone.

John Handeland is Nome’s acting city manager. He stepped in to fill the position when Tom Moran resigned and then left the state facing sexual harassment accusations.

Handeland encouraged people to come to his office and talk to him personally if they aren’t comfortable going to police or to other city leaders.

“A city council meeting and public comment is not the proper place for an ongoing conversation back and forth,” Handeland said. “It’s a business meeting to take care of items on the agenda.”

Susie is still waiting to hear back from either the new chief or Handeland, who told National Native News in February he would personally help her get a copy of her police report. It’s not clear whether a report even exists.

The Alaska Police Standards Council oversees police certification. State regulations require police departments to report instances of ‘sustained misconduct’ to the council within 30 days. Their records show the council has investigated only one Nome officer over the past 13 years. That was Lance McElroy, who quit the department in November 2018 while under investigation pending disciplinary action. The council only heard of this case after Chief Estes took over. McElroy surrendered his police certification in May, which bars him from working as an officer in Alaska. The council did not investigate Nick Harvey, saying only that they received a report from Nome police in late June about one officer who left the department, but the case didn’t rise to the level of decertification.

Since Estes took over as chief, there’s been a quiet shake-up. At least five officers have left the department, including Nick Harvey and Lance McElroy. Estes hasn’t publicly said who the officers are or why any of them are no longer working there.

Sergeant Kennon said that unless the officers are charged with a crime, their names won’t be made public.

“In going and giving out their names, what you have to remember about that is that some of these guys have families and they have kids and we’re not going to go and give out their name to the public and then all of a sudden we have some form of retaliation against that officer’s family,” Kennon said. “From what I’m seeing everybody is going to know anyway that something happened.”

He said it’s not up to the Nome Police Department to determine whether those officers can go work in another city or state.

“So if we were in a situation where we found that these guys were doing things that went against our policy, against integrity, all of those things, they would not be working at the (Nome) police department anymore,” Kennon said. “That’s how they are held accountable.”

Chief Estes’ apparent shake up of personnel and his audit of past cases gives many people in this small city hope. But at the same time, Estes has indicated a continued focus on certain issues that worry residents. Tactics that might work elsewhere offer little promise here. Putting police officers in schools for one. Some Alaska Native parents fear it will only criminalize young Native people. Another is a focus on alcohol.

In the first months of his tenure, Estes told National Native News that he believed Nome’s biggest public safety issue is what he calls its “huge inebriation problem.” The police release a report every week that’s published in the Nome newspaper. In bold letters across the top, each column indicates the rate of alcohol use relative to all police calls. They’re put under the vague heading “alcohol involved”. The number is usually high. It can be 80 percent or more. Those types of numbers, says Sgt. Kennon, are different than his old department in Virginia:

“When I worked our rape cases and homicide cases before, quite a few times you wouldn’t see alcohol involved in it,” Kennon said. “But I’m telling you, here it is completely the opposite way around for me. All the reports that I read, all the ones that I see, alcohol is involved. Do they have to be intoxicated? No. You just see that there. They’re involved in it and it’s not just a suspect it’s the victims too. Here, they call it being blacked out. I’ve never experienced that myself but it definitely seems to be that alcohol is a thriving issue to go along with the sex offenses.”

But for some long time residents alcohol has become code for “Alaska Native”.

“I’m really exhausted with hearing terms like ‘street drinkers,’ or ‘homeless people’ or ‘Alaska Native drunk,’” said Lisa Ellanna. She’s Inupiaq and a resident of Nome. She’s part of a core group of people fighting an uphill battle to change the narrative out of city hall, the police department, and in the media. “Those kind of terms really work to perpetuate really negative racial stereotypes and can really validate people’s innocently ignorant assumptions about Alaska Native people. And that’s very very concerning.”

Highlighting statistics on how many police calls involve alcohol leave important details up to the imagination. Was a suspect drinking? A victim? Was it one drink, two drinks?

For Ellanna, this does little to inform any solution.

“The use of substances is a symptom,” she said. “It’s people numbing out because they’ve experienced some trauma, or many traumas. Or many generations of trauma.”

The correlation between alcohol and violence is inconclusive, said Andre Rosay, associate dean of the College of Health at the University of Alaska Anchorage. He previously headed up the university’s Justice Department. He’s also the author of a 2017 report on the prevalence of violence for Alaska Native men and women. The study does not mention alcohol.

“Is it a cause of violence? We tend to believe that it is not a cause,” Rosay said. “Yes it does tend to co-occur, but we don’t believe that it’s a cause of the violence. If we were to eliminate or address the alcohol issue, the violence would still be there. And so we must do more than that in order to prevent violence.”

If a person reporting a sexual assault shows signs of intoxication, it can work against them many ways. It influences decisions by police, medical staff and the prosecuting attorneys.

This project relied on production and editorial oversight by Koahnic Broadcasting Corp. Producer Monica Braine, Native Voice One Network Manager Bob Petersen, and KNBA Producer Tripp Crouse. Music is by Torin Jacobs. The executive producer is Art Hughes.

The post In Nome, a legacy of mistrust, outsiders promise change appeared first on National Native News, by Art Hughes.


For years, Nome sexual assault reports go unanswered

September 12, 2019 - 11:40am

Clarice “Bun” Hardy stands on the beach with her dog in the Native Village of Shaktoolik, Alaska. Hardy, a former 911 dispatcher for the Nome Police Department, says she moved back to her village after a sexual assault left her feeling unsafe in Nome. (AP Photo/Victoria Mckenzie)

This series is in partnership with the Associated Press. It is supported by the Pulitzer Center and the Fund for Investigative Journalism. Read the AP in-depth reporting here.

By Victoria Mckenzie

Clarice Hardy opens the door to her mother’s bright-red house in Shaktoolik, Alaska, just yards from Norton Sound, a bay in the Bering Strait. She enters a warm, open kitchen and a living area with large sofas against the back walls. The sun is starting it’s low arc over the sea. Hardy is Inupiaq. Everyone here knows her as ‘Bun’.

“I call this my mom’s ‘Wall of Bun,’” she said as she points to an array of photos and mementos. “That’s me my senior year. We went to State and we played Wainright for the championships and lost by three points. We played three games at State and within those three games I scored 93 points”

This house and the history inside is a sanctuary for Hardy. She moved back to Shaktoolik last December because she said she no longer felt safe in Nome.

“Here in Shaktoolik we’re a pretty tight-knit family, one big family,” she said. Part of the reason why I came back, too, is to heal for myself, to be at the roots of where I started. If I’m going to start over, this is where I want to start.”

Hardy says she needed to start over after a series of injustices at the hands of the people entrusted to protect her and other Nome residents. The criminal justice system, her work colleagues, her union and even those she thought were close friends, all betrayed her.

“I went from being a very active person, going to every community event, helping out, volunteering, to being scared to be in public,” she said.

Hardy is just one of the few women to speak publicly about her alleged sexual assault. But she is one of many women in Nome who reported sexual assault and found their cases stalled, dropped, or never investigated in the first place. Together, the police department and city officials made up a system of neglect and incompetence that has left countless women and girls feeling isolated and traumatized. Some are hospitalized over worries they will harm themselves. Each points to the assault and the inaction that followed as the source of continuing duress.

Deidre Levi carries her basketball as she walks to work in St. Michael, Alaska. Levi says she spoke up about being sexually assaulted because she wanted to be a role model for girls in Alaska. (AP Photo/Wong Maye-E, Feb. 17, 2019)

In Nome, community outrage has forced city and police leaders from office and new leaders promise a new era of trust and transparency. But the promise of reform faces a skeptical public, especially among Nome’s Alaska Native residents who say they encounter indifference from an overwhelmingly non-Native power structure.

“The guy that drugged me and raped me, and his girlfriend and her friend that broke into my apartment and assaulted me later, are still walking the streets,” Hardy said.

Hardy was a 911 dispatcher for the Nome Police Department. One morning in March 2017, after a night out with some friends, she woke up to her work colleague banging on her front door. She had overslept and was late for work. She was naked from the waist down, her head was splitting, she was achy and bruised. She didn’t remember getting home the night before.

In the following days, other people filled in the missing details, including multiple reports from people who saw a video and photos on Snapchat of a man who seemed to be sexually assaulting her while she was unconscious.

One of those people was Tomas Paniaataq, at the time a Nome Community Services Officer.

“From what I saw it looked like Bun was completely passed out with her face down…honestly, it looked like she was sleeping,” Paniaataq said. “And (name withheld) was on top of her having sex with her.”

It took a day or two for Hardy to realize she needed to file a police report. She turned to her friend, Nome Police Lt. Nick Harvey, who worked in the same building. She gave him her account and a list of witnesses—including those who said they saw the Snapchat video and pictures. She said he told her he was going to talk to the witnesses and collect evidence.

“Big relief off my part, knowing something’s going to happen, you know,” Hardy said.

But as the months passed, Hardy said it became clear the lieutenant had not investigated the allegations or interviewed witnesses, some of whom were friends of hers. She said the alleged sexual assault and the subsequent inaction by authorities started to take a heavy emotional toll.

“I started drinking every day, to where I needed it,” Hardy said. “Soon as I would wake up, that was the first thing I would look for, was something to drink just to numb myself. I’ve never dealt with what I call trauma. I didn’t know how to deal with it. I felt so alone.”

At work a year after her alleged assault, Hardy answered an emergency call. On the other end of the phone was the voice of the man she accuses of rape. He needed help with an emergency. And she did help him. But Hardy had a strong reaction hearing his voice. As soon as she hung up the phone, she remembers breaking down in tears. She went to the Nome police chief and told him about her situation. He seemed surprised, she said, and asked her to re-write her complaint because they couldn’t find any original police report. Hardy says the police chief told her he was forwarding her case to the Alaska State Troopers (AST) to investigate, and that she should hear back from them in a week.

“So another big relief, like okay, something is going to happen, thinking that I’ll finally get somewhere,” she said. “The rest of March passed, April passed. Half of May, gone. Still no word from AST.”

Hardy finally called the state troopers’ office in Nome. She said they told her they never received any report of her assault allegation from Nome police.

“It was still sitting on (the police chief’s) desk when he called me in, saying ‘You called AST?’ Like, he was mad that I did it. He was furious. Even his voice was shaky.”

Hardy kept going up the chain of command. She reported to the department’s human resources representative, the regional union manager and, eventually, Alaska’s Office of Victims Rights. She said that only angered the police chief–her boss–even more.

Shortly afterward, she got a personal visit at work from Harvey, the police lieutenant who originally took her complaint. He had just been in a meeting with a group of other Alaska Native sexual assault survivors who, by this point, had organized and were bringing their concerns about the lack of police enforcement to the attention of city officials.

“He knows that I talked to chief, I talked to the union, I’m talking to Alaska State troopers,” Hardy remembers. “He knows everything. All I remember is him just wiggling his leg, looking at me. And I was like, ‘well, L-T…‘what’s going on?’ And he was, like, ‘oh, I just got done dealing with those f**ing c**ts.’

“I turned around and I just started crying, because I know he’s referring to me. I haven’t gone back to work. That was my last day.”

Hardy again talked to human resources. She was put on administrative leave, then medical leave. The city eventually fired her. The lieutenant remained on the force.

National Native News reached out to Nick Harvey for comment. He declined to be interviewed for this story. As of March 15th, he is no longer employed by the Nome Police Department

Seventeen months after Hardy first reported her assault to the NPD, she followed up with the District Attorney’s office, two blocks down from the State Trooper headquarters. They never received a report, and didn’t even know about her case. The region’s lead prosecutor decided not to pursue the case, telling Hardy that he didn’t have enough evidence that a crime occurred. By then, the photos and video had disappeared. She wrote to the Alaska Office of Victims’ Rights, but she says she never received a response.

Hardy finally spoke out publicly at a town hall meeting in Nome organized by the group of citizens frustrated by the lack of police enforcement of sexual assaults and other violence. Her willingness to speak openly about something so personal and traumatizing inspired others to also come forward.

Twenty-two-year-old Deidre Levi is a basketball coach. She’s Yup’ik from the Native Village of St. Michael. She said she also reported an assault to Nick Harvey last August. She was at the Nome hospital for a sexual assault exam when he came to interview her.

Levi said Harvey insisted on getting a Glass warrant—a court authorization to secretly record a conversation with accused assailants to see if they might implicate themselves in some way. In Alaska, these recording are a tool favored by prosecutors and police when investigating sex crimes. It’s usually the very first thing that Nome’s district attorney asks for when he learns of a sexual assault report. Most often, it’s the victim who has to face the accused perpetrator on the phone.

“I was very angry because nothing had happened, since my only option was to get a glass warrant,” Levi said. “It was me and my mom and my mom’s best friend. We were very consistent about the Glass warrant, which never happened. “At my perpetrator is trying to get in contact with me. He was asking my friends for my number.”

Harvey warned the family not to get a restraining order, said Levi’s mother,. Priscilla Washington.

“I flew to Nome. I saw my daughter and then I went to the cops,” Washington said. “I went to Harvey and asked him what’s going on and he said it’s just accusations right now. I spoke to him three times and he just said it’s an ongoing investigation. I asked him if I could do the Glass warrant and he kept saying, ‘No I have to type it up first.’ They just said we’re still working on it. Then I called two weeks later, asked if I could do it and they said they’d let me know. And they never called back.”

Levi got frustrated and took her story public on social media.

Another woman, Susie, also lives in a village only accessible by air. She’s Alaska Native, and doesn’t want to use her last name because she is afraid her perpetrator will retaliate. She was moved to talk after reading Hardy’s and Levi’s accounts in the newspaper.

She reported her rape to Nick Harvey and another officer in 2013. She waited days in Nome for the Glass warrant, but eventually had to go back home. She called the police over and over for the next two months until she said she eventually gave up. She was too scared to tell anyone else what happened to her. She learned her accused rapist told police the encounter was consensual. Court records show he was convicted of three assaults before Susie’s rape accusation. She still travels to Nome for medical appointments, but going there causes severe anxiety because she’s afraid of encountering the man she reported.

Nome’s lead forensic nurse told National Native News that in 2017 she was shocked to find that police were still weeding out possible victims in the field, without even bringing them to the hospital.

For every person like Hardy, Levi and Susie willing to talk openly about their struggle, there are many more afraid to talk or not willing to risk further trauma or retaliation. At least eight women talked to National Native News, saying they reported assaults to the Nome police. None ever learned what happened to their cases, much less why they never made it to court.

This project relied on production and editorial oversight by Koahnic Broadcasting Corp. Producer Monica Braine, Native Voice One Network Manager Bob Petersen, and KNBA Producer Tripp Crouse. Music is by Torin Jacobs. The executive producer is Art Hughes.

The post For years, Nome sexual assault reports go unanswered appeared first on National Native News, by Art Hughes.


Wednesday, September 11, 2019

September 11, 2019 - 11:47am

Hate crime amendments recently passed the Oglala Sioux Tribal Council with LGBTQ protections, but not without pushback. (Photo-South Dakota Public Broadcasting)

Couple reacts to hate crime ordinance passed on Pine Ridge reservation Métis veterans receive official apology and promise of compensation Canada ordered to pay Indigenous children denied welfare services

The post Wednesday, September 11, 2019 appeared first on National Native News, by Antonia Gonzales.


Tuesday, September 10, 2019

September 10, 2019 - 12:29pm

Misty LaPlant and Tina Chamberlain are Montana’s specialists named to work on the issue of missing and murdered Indigenous and women and girls. (Photo-Montana Department of Justice)

Montana hires specialists to help address missing and murdered Indigenous women Seattle approves resolution to address missing and murdered Indigenous women Seminole Tribe of Florida assists in Hurricane Dorian relief efforts for Bahamas

The post Tuesday, September 10, 2019 appeared first on National Native News, by Antonia Gonzales.


Monday, September 9, 2019

September 9, 2019 - 11:55am

Mauna Kea press conference to announced intent to sue. (Screenshot-Big Island Video News)

Group of Native Hawaiians say they plan to sue over the road to Mauna Kea Wisconsin tribe joins environmental groups in opposing a gas plant project

The post Monday, September 9, 2019 appeared first on National Native News, by Antonia Gonzales.


Friday, September 6, 2019

September 6, 2019 - 11:56am

Navajo Nation Council. (Photo-Navajo Nation Council, Facebook)

Advocates see Navajo lawmakers support of Equality Act as step toward legalizing same-sex marriage Water issues raise concern about education of students at BIE school on Northern Cheyenne reservation

The post Friday, September 6, 2019 appeared first on National Native News, by Antonia Gonzales.


Thursday, September 5, 2019

September 5, 2019 - 12:08pm

Participants at a missing and murdered Indigenous peoples conference list risk factors for sex trafficking. (Photo-Olivia Reingold)

Conference explores link between human trafficking and MMIW Americans for Indian Opportunity regrets involvement in Dior ad Canadian court agrees to hear appeals of Trans Mountain pipeline

The post Thursday, September 5, 2019 appeared first on National Native News, by Antonia Gonzales.


Wednesday, September 4, 2019

September 4, 2019 - 12:13pm

Bison herd. (Photo-National Park Service)

Northern Cheyenne crews count 80 or more coal seam fires Emergency declaration issued for Seminole Tribe of Florida Grand Canyon National Park to begin bison removal plan

The post Wednesday, September 4, 2019 appeared first on National Native News, by Antonia Gonzales.


Tuesday, September 3, 2019

September 3, 2019 - 12:18pm

Nina Berglund and Nancy Deere Turney attend the Frank LaMere Native American Presidential Forum. (Photo-Antonia Gonzales)

Native youth say their voices are important in the political process Diné College and University of Arizona to offer neuroscience training Dior fragrance ad featuring Native culture pulled from social media

The post Tuesday, September 3, 2019 appeared first on National Native News, by Antonia Gonzales.


Monday, September 2, 2019

September 2, 2019 - 9:00am

The album “Sprit Line” with songs, poems and interviews was created by women in New Mexico to raise awareness of missing and murdered Indigenous people. (Photo-Antonia Gonzales)

Native women create album to raise awareness of missing and murdered Indigenous people Outgoing Miss Crow Nation talks about the importance of the title to be role model for youth

The post Monday, September 2, 2019 appeared first on National Native News, by Antonia Gonzales.


Friday, August 30, 2019

August 30, 2019 - 12:03pm

More than 100 paper bag luminaries lined the back of a conference room in Pablo, Montana. The luminaries represent missing and murdered Indigenous Montana women dating back to the early 1900s. (Photo-Aaron Bolton)

Montana tribes hold missing and murdered Indigenous peoples conference Virginia tribe’s reservation to nearly double with land agreement with state Cherokee Nation council confirms appointment of Congressional delegate

The post Friday, August 30, 2019 appeared first on National Native News, by Antonia Gonzales.


Thursday, August 29, 2019

August 29, 2019 - 12:23pm

A bison is released on the Fort Peck reservation in Montana. (Photo-National Park Service, Jacob W. Frank)

Testimony on proposed uranium mine in South Dakota to take place through Friday NCAI calls on President Trump to stop using the name Pocahontas as a political jab 55 male bison transferred to tribes in Montana after finishing quarantine program

The post Thursday, August 29, 2019 appeared first on National Native News, by Antonia Gonzales.


Wednesday, August 28, 2019

August 28, 2019 - 11:51am

A hearing in Rapid City, South Dakota will examine a cultural study for a proposed uranium mine site near the Pine Ridge reservation. (Photo-Black Hills Clean Water Alliance)

Suicide prevention grant focuses on Native communities in South Dakota Oglala Sioux Tribe seeks cultural resources study for proposed mine site Native students at UNLV seek removal of Western frontiersman statute

The post Wednesday, August 28, 2019 appeared first on National Native News, by Antonia Gonzales.