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Meskwaki parent questions actions

May 17, 2013
Toledo Chronicle, Tama News-Herald

Open Letter to the Community:

As a concerned parent in the Meskwaki community, this letter is written to the community at-large, to inform the people of events that took place regarding my son and decisions made by those in positions of power and carried out by incompetent officials. I do this because, yes, I am angry. I am angry and frustrated that the Meskwaki tribal government denied my family its due process right to have a hearing and right to tell our side of the story before adverse action was taken by the Meskwaki tribal council, school board and police department. This letter is to inform the community of the facts surrounding our family's ordeal.

On January 15, 2013, my fifteen year old son, an enrolled tribal member, was physically assaulted at the Meskwaki Settlement School ("MSS") by a fellow student who is an adult tribal member, supposedly arising ftom a false allegation made by a nontribal female student. On January 16, the female made a sworn statement for Meskwaki Police Department ("MPD") Officer Craig Karr, alleging certain events took place five days previously on January 11th. It does not appear that school officials acted on it at that time, although Officer Karr reports he interviews a coach who heard about a possible incident and that the coach did report the incident to the administration.

On January 23, a tribal council meeting is held with a full quorum, at which time, there are two items on the agenda that take place in executive session. The first session involved a discussion regarding the MPD. The second item, "Item J," was the "Settlement School Incident," which involved my son. This executive session lasted for over an hour. The tribal council, however, never afforded me or my son the due process notice of hearing or opportunity to be heard at the time the tribal council considered the incident involving my son. Approximately one minute after the executive session ended, with no further discussion in open meeting, a motion was made to adjourn the tribal council meeting. Thus, it appears the tribal council made a decision regarding the MSS decision in executive session, which is contrary to Article 111, Sec. 1-31-8(c) of the Meskwaki Constitution.

The next day, January 24, 1 receive a telephone call from MSS Superintendent, Jerry Stephens, informing me that the school board made a decision to suspend my son from school, based upon an allegation and that charges would be forthcoming. The school board never talked to my son. I was directed to come to the school and pick up my son. Again, a "Meskwaki tribal entity" made a decision without affording my family the due process notice of hearing or opportunity to be heard. This appears to be a decision made by our tribal government in closed session without due process, and the school board was following their directive. One of the fundamental mandates of our Meskwaki government is that a tribal member's right to receive notice and an opportunity to be heard, as guaranteed by Article X (m) of our Meskwaki Constitution.

On January 25, the following day, without legal paperwork in hand, my son is taken from the safety and security of his home by officers of the MPD and placed in the Eldora detention center. I called the school administrator, Jerry Stephens, to ask how a decision could be made without giving my son a hearing or opportunity to tell his side of the story. Mr. Stephens informed me that he had been directed by the tribal chairman not to speak with me and hung up the telephone. On March 20, my family wrote the MSS school board, requesting a meeting and an opportunity to discuss my son's case. On April 12, the MSS school board wrote us a letter, stating the school board would not grant my family an appearance before the board, would not respond to our questions, and "considers this a closed matter."

On January 25, MPD Officer Craig Karr filed a juvenile complaint in the Tama County Court against my son. Our family was subjected to great turmoil due to these events that transpired without obtaining my son's version of the facts. We were forced to incur the expense of hiring an attorney. Six weeks later, on March 13, the county attorney dismissed the charges because there was insufficient evidence to prove any wrongdoing. Prior to the dismissal, Officer Karr emailed the county attorney and apologized for not being able to move forward with his investigation. It appears that had Officer Karr done a more thorough investigation, he would have found that our son could not have done what he was being accused of.

Obviously, leading up to and during these events, wrongs were committed against my son in the form of rumor-mongering and bullying. Bullying in the form of physical and verbal abuse was directed against my son in school and through various social media sites. Taking part in the bullying were students and school staff members, employed tribal members still maintaining employment, in good standing, at the school. All it took was one unsubstantiated accusation and the gang mentality took over, all the way up to our tribal government. It has been shown that those who participate in bullying, whether it is done by physical/verbal assault or through the social media, have probably been bullied in their lifetime.

Much of the harm caused my family could have been avoided had one council member stood up and declared that according to the Meskwaki Constitution, a decision cannot be made without first serving notice and allowing this young man a chance to be heard. Or, if a school board member or school administrator had stood up and declared that my son, as a student pursuing his education, was entitled to an opportunity to be heard or be allowed to pursue his education undisturbed.

How many times in the history of our Indian people - of our Meskwaki people -has the Federal government perpetrated this type of abuse upon us? And now, we do this same thing to our own children and our own tribal members. My son's grandmother still recalls the days when "outside" authorities came and took our children away to boarding schools. As a result, our tribal leadership, at the time, decided we would educate our children here on the Settlement. The MSS was established as a part of that decision. It is ironic and unfortunate this incident of the past, played out again, as the result of decisions made by our own tribal government, based upon vicious rumor, no factual basis, and without our tribal government giving my family a hearing or the opportunity to hear my son's side of the story.

A government which acts without having all the facts is not good governing. As you can see, it brings harm to many people. I would suggest that our tribal government look at facts before making decisions and, more importantly, know and follow constitutional procedure. This was not done with regards to my family.

We are proud of how our son handled himself with honor and bravery throughout this whole ordeal. He maintained his dignity throughout and trusted his parents to see him through. He has grown from this experience. This is all we could ask of him and maybe some forgiveness for not being there to protect him from the unwarranted attack he experienced at the Settlement school. He has made new friends at his new school and looks forward to a promising future. The Settlement school is all he has known, but now understands that because of what has transpired, he will not be able to return. This certainly is not what our chiefs had in mind for our children. They wanted better for all our children. The damage has been done and now we must heal and move forward. As a tribe, we must somehow come together. We must or we will disappear.

Thank you for your time.

Dean Whitebreast,

parent to Nanaki



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