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Chesie's Journal: Native Americans Are Not Transients

Last week I wrote about how Indian Removal continues today in different forms. Today, I write about a Native American, age 52, being found dead on Tuesday lying under cardboard in a parking lot off Main Street in Riverton. Authorities believe that he likely died of hypothermia.

County 10: Homeless man found dead in Riverton Monday, ‘under cardboard boxes’

Riverton Ranger: Homeless man found dead in Riverton, Officials suspect hypothermia

This tragic death puts up a red flag in two respects. One is the urgency to act. If homeless people have no alternatives to cardboard for shelter, then this will not be the last death this winter. The news coverage has been low key compared to prior years when similar deaths have occurred. Is this no longer alarming? Is it considered just another day in a Rez bordertown?

The other red flag is that the victim was referred to as a transient in the police report. A transient is defined as a person who is staying in a place for only a short time. This is being used to describe people who are indigenous to this land for thousands of years. Native Americans are repeatedly treated as if they do not belong in Riverton. Belonging to this land is key to respecting and understanding Native American’s place in the community.

When the Riverton Peace Mission says, "Never Again in Riverton", it means deaths from negligence as much as deaths from the pulling of a trigger. At one time only a few years ago, the City of Riverton had a detox center where people who are homeless and intoxicated could be taken so that they could be safe and could lead to continuing treatment. That is no longer true. I do not know whether the victim of this death was intoxicated at the time, but I know a positive drug test and intoxication are significant barriers for someone to find shelter from the cold here.

I ask for your support of and engagement with the Riverton Peace Mission in taking on the tough issues bound up in racism and prejudice towards Indigenous peoples and the myriad intersections of injustices as we seek paths to reconciliation and healing.

Fear not. Be humble. Have faith. Be bold. Build relationships. Do justice.

Chesie Lee

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