An Indian medicine man is sitting in a Missouri federal prison, accused of sexual abuse—a crime that critics say is not unusual on Native American reservations but is snarled by a complex legal system, abuse of tribal power, and families who prefer to keep such allegations under wraps, the Washington Post reports. Charles Chipps Sr was indicted last year on 15 counts of rape, sex abuse, and intimidation after he allegedly violated girls as young as 5, including his own granddaughters and daughters. "Don’t tell them nothing about us," he told one girl, per court testimony. But when the case first reached authorities in 2009, the US Attorney in South Dakota found evidence insufficient for prosecution, and refused to share it with tribal authorities. So Chipps was released for another three years.
Finally indicted by a grand jury, Chipps is awaiting trial in a federal prison. But his lawyer says Chipps is plagued with diabetes, high blood pressure, and heart failure, and is not mentally competent to stand trial; if convicted, he could face life in prison and up to $250,000 in fines. Analysts say his case is just one example of sexual abuse in Native American reservations, which dates back to the late-19th and 20th centuries, when more than 100,000 American Indians were forced into Christian schools and subjected to "widespread sexual and physical abuse," Amnesty USA reports. "You compound that with the poverty, socioeconomic and isolation issues in Indian country, and unfortunately that cycle has not yet been broken," says the ex-assistant US attorney in South Dakota.