‘Our Government Should Not Treat People This Way’

The emotional and physical distress BIA officers inflicted upon Lissa Yellow Bird-Chase is severe and traumatizing.

After being pulled over for speeding while driving a client she had rescued from sex trafficking to a rehabilitation center, Untied States Bureau of Indian Affairs officers took Lissa Yellow Bird-Chase to the Standing Rock Detention Center in Fort Yates, N.D.

There she was assaulted, humiliated, and dehumanized as officers forced Lissa to remove her clothes in the main booking area in front of several officers, robbed her of more than $800, stole her prescription medication, and subjected her to inhumane conditions in an overcrowded, unsanitary jail cell without access to food for nearly 18 hours.

The emotional and physical distress these officers inflicted upon Lissa is severe, traumatizing and could only be born out of a fundamental disregard for her humanity and abuse of power by law enforcement officers.

Our government should not treat people this way.

That’s why the ACLU of North Dakota with the law firm of Nichols Kaster, PLLP, filed a complaint against the federal government on behalf of Lissa. Through these officers, the United States violated the Federal Tort Claims Act, which allows individuals to sue the federal government and seek monetary damages.

Lissa is a member of the Mandan, Hidatsa and Arikara Nation. In 2013, she helped start Sahnish Scouts, an organization that helps search for missing and murdered Indigenous people. Since the organization’s founding, more than a hundred families have sought Lissa’s support in cases where their loved ones are unaccounted for. Sahnish Scouts not only publicizes missing persons but also searches for them, assisting or filling in for law enforcement.

Lissa’s experience at the Standing Rock Detention Center highlights law enforcement’s racial profiling and abuse toward Indigenous women, compounding the ongoing crisis of missing and murdered Indigenous women and people in North and South Dakota. This case seeks to hold the United States accountable and draw awareness to the danger Indigenous women like Lissa face in their daily lives.

Lissa has seen all too often how abuse like this can play into the challenges Indigenous communities face.

“BIA officers here have a troubling history of abuse of power and they need to be held accountable,” Lissa said. “When women are at their most vulnerable, they are completely at the mercy of these officers – and I know I’m not the only one who’s experienced this misuse of their authority. We must speak up. This must change. People need to know that this is not OK.”

If you or anyone you know has been victimized by BIA officers, contact the ACLU at northdakota@aclu.org.