By Richie Richards
Native Sun News Staff Writer
SIOUX FALLS –– The law does not forgive a person who is in a blackout during the commitment of a crime in South Dakota, especially when the victim is viciously beaten to death.
After a long day of drinking in Martin, Blue Bird and his mother Lenora had gone to Herb Tech’s home. This is where mother and son’s version of the events of that fateful evening separate. Blue Bird claims he was struck by Tech with a wooden object when asked to leave his home and in his retaliation, although he claimed not to remember, is when Tech died during the fight that ensued.
Originally charged along with Blue Bird, his mother Lenora, taking a plea deal, testified against her son. She claimed she witnessed her son punch and beat Tech until he lay lifeless. And that she returned with her son to check on Tech, when they noticed he was in fact dead, Blue Bird attempted to burn down the home to hide the evidence.
The autopsy showed that Tech died of “blunt force trauma” to his head, chest and abdomen.
Blue Bird was 24 at the time of his arrest. In an interview with Native Sun News in June, Blue Bird discussed his life as a young adult, free man.
“I partied a lot. I used to like to do heroin and other drugs. I drank a lot too,” he said. “On the night I got in trouble and ended up here, I don’t remember much.”
This incident led to a subsequent guilty plea to first-degree manslaughter and a sentence of life in prison without the possibility of parole for Blue Bird.
Although Blue Bird has exhausted all of his appeals this incident which landed the Lakota man from Allen in prison for nearly his entire adult life, he hopes to have his sentence commuted someday. During Blue Bird’s speech at the Cultural Conference and Pow wow at the Jameson Annex in June, he said:
“I’m tired of being here. I want to go home now. I want to go and be with my family before I die… I want to eat fried potatoes and onions. I want some raw kidneys with salt… I want my freedom again.”
These days, Blue Bird spends his time doing his artwork, teaching others Lakota history, and providing mentorship and guidance to younger inmates. Along with fellow inmate, Robert Horse (Lakota), Blue Bird would like to work on a documentary about life inside the South Dakota state prison system in hopes of dissuading young Native Americans from choosing a life of crime. “This is no place for young Natives,” he says.
The difference between now and the time Blue Bird was sentenced, is the social activism and societal awareness which is putting attention on justice reform across the country. This would include focus on the harsher sentences for Native Americans in South Dakota.
As of Aug. 31, 2015, the Native American population in the SD state prison system totaled 992 for both male and female inmates. The total population for white inmates, both male and female, was 2,001 at this same time, according to the South Dakota Department of Corrections website.
For a state whose Native American population hovers right around 9%, the Native American population in the state prison system is at 41%, according to the information provided by SD Department of Corrections website.
This is an extremely high incarceration rate for Native Americans compared to other ethnic groups in the state. George Blue Bird is one of thousands of Native American men and women in South Dakota, who claim to be the victims of a racist justice system which historically has been giving tribal members stiffer sentences and harsher probation terms.
Blue Bird may not legally be forgiven by the laws of the state, but his hopes of being forgiven by the governing body of the state of South Dakota are still a possibility.