January 27, 2022

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Veterans Answer Call to Provide Self-Defense Training to Native Americans Threatened by KeystoneXL Man-Camps

Veterans Offer Self=Defense Training to Native American Women under Threat

Man-Camps have a history of increasing abductions near reservations. The women of Cheyenne River decided to fight back by learning how to protect themselves, their families and their communities.

The Southwest corner of the Cheyenne River Sioux Tribe Reservation in South Dakota is under threat and the people are preparing for the increased threat of abduction, rape, violence, and murder that nearby Keystone XL Man-Camps pose to Native American Women and Girls.

NEWS – Eagle Butte, CRST – 12 March 2020
Fran Carr

The Southwest corner of the Cheyenne River Sioux Tribe Reservation in South Dakota is under threat and the people are preparing for the increased threat of abduction, rape, violence, and murder that nearby Keystone XL Man-Camps pose to Native American Women and Girls.

The first time Chris Duesing walked into the Cheyenne River Sioux Tribe (CRST) Chairman’s office in February 2017 he came face to face with a long hallway covered with handmade posters of missing people. He remembers looking at the posters and thinking, “Oh, my God. It’s real.” He had heard that rates of kidnap and murder are higher for native people but it was hard to comprehend. He thought, “This is America. How is this possible?” Three years later Duesing is a resident of Promise, SD, and the president of Veteran Service Corps. He’s spent a lot of time thinking about why and how native people are targeted and wondering what to do about it.

On Sunday evening, February 23, a large group gathered at the Veterans Center in Eagle Butte for the first in a series of self-defense trainings led by members of Veteran Service Corps. People came from Bridger, Eagle Butte, Timberlake, Sans Arc Valley, Takini and Cherry Creek. Over the last few years, Veteran Service Corps has been asked by women on the reservation to create such a training. It’s the first step in bringing together a coalition to address human trafficking on CRST and to equip residents, both women and men, with the tools to defend themselves.

The urgency of the problem is clear. “We don’t have time. These men are not going to wait. We’ll probably be lucky if the man camps aren’t up and running by first thaw. They’re not going to wait to hunt. So we can’t wait to start this,” said Brett Curry, a VSC volunteer and one of the instructors, speaking of the threat the Keystone XL pipeline poses to the people of Cheyenne River and neighboring reservations. “We need to learn self-defense now. The human traffickers are more organized than we think. These people don’t care about you. All they see in you are dollar signs. You are not human to them.”

Jasilyn Charger, who attended the training, agreed. “The community will have to be more united. Four thousand people are coming to our community in the southwest corner of the reservation. It will change the family dynamic. There won’t be as much playing outside or hitchhiking to get places. Men and women will go to work and leave their kids with aunties and grandmas knowing there’s going to be that influx of population.”

Duesing reflected that, “It’s outrageous that we allow this stuff to happen and how long it’s been going on.” Veteran Service Corps is leading an effort to look into how the traffickers are funded and to study their tactics, techniques and procedures so the people of CRST will be able to identify where the dangers are, know who the enemy is and modify their behaviors. “We are going to have to look into things that will turn your stomach. It’s important to look into the patterns of abuse that present themselves. While we do that we still have to keep our spirits in a good place.”

Lavae H.E. Red Horse brought her husband and two teenaged granddaughters to the training. She shared her story of being chased while she was driving home. Her granddaughters were a little hesitant to participate at first but she said, “You never know when this will happen. It will be when you least expect it. So ask questions. Ask Brett!” Curry showed the girls where to hit in the neck, nose and groin and how to be aggressive.  He told them, “Sure you’re going to be afraid. Do your best to keep yourself out of a vehicle. Don’t give up! Use your fingernails and bring home an eyeball!”

“A handgun is still the most effective way to defend yourself. A firearm is the great equalizer.”

Bret Cury – Self Defense Instructor – US Army Veteran – Volunteer – Veteran Service Corps

The most central part of the training is the correct use of handguns. People in this rural area already have exposure to rifles for hunting. Duesing says handguns are a different matter. “There is a fear of handguns that comes from not having firearms safety training. There is a stigma around handguns that is well-deserved because most firearms-related crimes use a handgun, especially domestic crimes. Many people have family members who are victims of handgun crime. But a handgun is still the most effective way to defend yourself. A firearm is the great equalizer.” He wants the women of CRST to be armed with the knowledge to make the decision for themselves if they want to carry a handgun.

Red Horse echoed his comments. “I know how to shoot a rifle, I’ve gone hunting. But I’ve never shot a handgun before. I wouldn’t even know how to unlock or load it.” Duesing brought an assortment of handguns for participants to get comfortable with. “Some were kind of heavy. I was wondering which one I would be able to hold up. I found one that was light and easy for me to handle. It didn’t take long to learn how to lock, aim and shoot.” If participants decide to purchase a handgun, the program will work with them to gain confidence on the gun range and provide expertise on fireare safely so children and other family members won’t have access to it.

“We all have a responsibility to follow these rules wherever a firearm is present.

Captain C. Duesing,

The goal of the firearm safety part of the program is to provide familiarity with handguns and give women the confidence to handle one safely. Duesing says they will follow the four basic rules of firearm safety

  • Captain Duesing’s 4 Basic Rules of Firearm Safety
    • 1. Always treat firearms as if they are loaded.
    • 2. Never to point it at anything you are not willing to destroy.
    • 3. Don’t put your finger on the trigger until you have acquired your target and are ready to fire.
    • 4. Be sure of your target and what is beyond it.

That sense of community responsibility for safety is also a message of the program. The organizers know that if they make it harder for the women of Cheyenne River to be taken then the traffickers will move on to other reservations. For the program to be effective, it’s not enough to have a decrease in activity here. “That’s our opportunity, to develop this program and replicate it in every community that needs it,” says Duesing.

Veteran Service Corps decided not to wait for funding to show up before creating the program. Instead, they are going to continue offering classes and develop the program moving forward. The content will be a collaboration between the instructors and the women who attend. The curriculum includes situational awareness, use of social media, hand to hand combat and effective ways to stay out of dangerous situations. 

Duesing continued, “If there’s an increase somewhere else, I feel a responsibility to help that community, And the next one. Until we don’t have any more women at risk. We will create the program here and iterate it in the next community. I am not the most qualified person to do this, but I am willing. I am willing to train others so they can do the same thing in their communities. As a community we need to be of service to other communities, just as individuals we try to be of assistance to others in our own community.”

Charger was eloquent on this same point. “These kinds of trainings need to be made accessible to outlying communities which are going to be heavily affected by the pipeline. When we arm our women and our community, it gives us more strength. We start to ask what other proactive things can we do to protect our community. When we see who’s at these trainings, we see who we can go to for help. It’s a platform to be unified on.”

“As Indigenous People we face things differently. The community stands together. Our women stood behind our men when invaders came to our community. We wielded weapons to protect our women and our children. We bring that essence into our families and our homes. It’s connecting us into our culture and placing our power in each and trust within ourselves.” -J. Charger

As combat veterans, Duesing and Curry are in a unique position to share their skills and knowledge. Captain Duesing is a medically retired infantry officer. He spent a decade as a professional rifleman in the US Army. He has 10 years of experience in the instruction of soldiers on the effective use of weapons and any tool to kill effectively, including hand to hand combat.

Curry is also retired from the US Army. He was a weapons repair specialist in a combat support unit. Curry taught ranger battalions and special forces groups. Over his lifetime he studied taekwondo, karate, jujitsu. He studied a combination style called Michi Budo Ryu developed by Grandmaster Vincent Marchetti. The name translates to “Best of the Street Fighting.”

Curry brings this diversity of methods to his teaching. He admits this type of class is a little bit different than a typical martial arts competition with a ring and referee. Rules and regulations go out the window when you’re about to be taken and raped.

“There are no rules in the street.”

He goes on to say, “There is no magic move I can teach you to get out of a situation. There’s no way to all of a sudden be safe wherever you go. What I can do is give all the pointers I have learned on the streets of Fort Lauderdale and Miami for 30 years. I can teach you how to survive, evade, resist and escape. You don’t want anyone to get within arms’ length. You need to recognize dangerous situations and evade attackers. If they can’t breathe, they can’t attack. If they can’t see, they can’t attack. You need to develop muscle memory. Then don’t panic. Don’t freak out. Your muscles will know exactly what to do.”

Even with the best of training, Curry stresses, “Do carry a firearm. It’s the single most effective thing you can do. It’s the ultimate defense in these situations when you are going to be abducted.”

Recommendations from VSC Self-Defense training:

  • Practice situational awareness.
  • Be careful with social media. You can be physically tracked that way.
  • Use a difficult password for social media accounts. Traffickers can hack into your account and track you without your knowledge.
  • Make as much noise as possible about this program of social media.
  • Use a buddy system when going out.
  • Avoid Hitchhiking!
  • Share your location with close friends and family.
  • Communicate travel plans, events, and timelines with family & friends.
  • Push other women to practice safety because your lives are at stake.
  • Hold each other accountable to develop new habits.
  • Practice what you learn and develop your skills as though your life depends on it.
  • Report suspicious activity to law enforcement. Take pictures and video if it is safe to do so.

You can help support the efforts of Veteran Service Corps by visiting www.vscamerica.org. there, you can volunteer and/or help provide the financial support necessary to develop the VSC programming like the MMIWG Deterrence and Self-Defense Training detailed in this article.

Fran Carr
Fran Carr


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