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Friday, October 24, 2008

SOUTH DAKOTA

by Buff Whitman-Bradley


On our way east across America. Stopping one afternoon in Rapid City to see Marletta Pacheco, whose grandmother was a little girl at the Wounded Knee massacre, whose imprisoned nephew hanged himself in his cell when the guards who knew he was suicidal put him in isolation and walked away, whose daughter is in federal prison for 30 years for half a gram of meth because her co-defendants copped a plea and named her as the kingpin and the prosecution figured any Indian would do.

You’re burying my daughter alive, Marletta told the judge when he sentenced her.

Marletta remembers how children were taken away to boarding schools, remembers hearing stories about the beatings for speaking the Lakota language. Her father moved the family off the rez to keep that from happening to his kids. She talks about how whites still take Indians out into the countryside and beat them up for the fun of it and take their shoes so that they have to walk barefoot on the gravel roads back to their homes in town or on the reservation.

Marletta whose heart is a thousand times broken prays to Jesus and goes to prisons to meet with the Native sisters and brothers because Jesus keeps saying, “I was in prison and you visited me.” And she goes to the state capitol and Washington DC to tell the people who think they are the only ones who matter how their criminal justice system is continuing the genocide.

Leaving Rapid City and continuing east across America. Stopping the next morning in Mitchell to look at the Corn Palace and to have breakfast and finding of all things a Jamaican cafĂ©. Scrambled eggs and fried plantains and harddough toast with guava jam. The owner says he left the Caribbean to go college in Boston, met a girl from Mitchell, fell in love and followed her here. The first week he was in town he was stopped every single day by the police. He went to see the chief and said, Look, I’m black and I’m here and I’m planning to stay, and was never bothered again.

It’s not so bad for a black man here, he says. Who I really feel sorry for are the Indians.


Buff Whitman-Bradley is a peace and social justice activist in Northern California. In addition to writing, he produces documentary videos and audios. With his wife Cynthia, he is co-producer/director of the award winning video Outside In, about people who visit prisoners on San Quentin's death row.
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