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(Many Paths)
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Courage, With Grace: Tribal Police Chief Accomplished Dancer, Too
by Mary Garrigan Rapid City Journal
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Everyone calls her Gracie, but don't let the nickname or her diminutive size fool you.

Rosebud Sioux Tribe Police Chief Grace Her Many Horses can intimidate criminals and powwow competitors alike.

Her Many Horses, 53, is the first female chief of police for the Rosebud reservation and a champion powwow dancer. At 5 feet, 2 inches tall, the petite woman is barely visible above the steering wheel of her squad car as she travels the reservation's highways.

But whether she is wearing a police badge and a Glock .40 sidearm or an eagle feather plume and the traditional regalia of a Native American fancy dancer, Her Many Horses has earned the respect of the community she serves.

"I grew up with six brothers. I can hang in there with anybody," she said.

Some on Rosebud joke that people have taken to wearing colorful rubber bracelets printed with "WWGD? -- What Would Gracie Do?" The bracelets rumor is mostly reservation humor, but they speak the truth of Her Many Horses many supporters.

"She helps me out on everything. She's pretty cool," said LaMona Whiting, a reservation resident whose respect and affection for the police chief led her to name her young daughter after her.

RST President Rodney Bordeaux feels much the same way.

Bordeaux hired Her Many Horses about 18 months ago and says she has handled a difficult job with professionalism.

"She's doing good," he said. Her Many Horses faces administrative problems of understaffing that stretch the resources of the RST police force thin, but "she has a lot of courage, a lot of heart," Bordeaux said last week as he waited with his police chief for the grand entry to the 135th annual Rosebud Fair and Powwow to begin.

Her Many Horses brings a wealth of experience to the job, including 15 years in law enforcement. She also has the ability not to bend under the political pressures of reservation life, Bordeaux said.

"She's fair and honest in her investigation and with her personnel," Bordeaux said.

Before assuming the top job in Rosebud, she was deputy police chief of the Rocky Boy's Indian Reservation, a small reservation about 30 miles from the Canadian border in Montana. Before that, she spent years working as a criminal investigator on Rosebud and as an officer on the Pine Ridge reservation.

In her new role, she puts in between 60 and 70 hours some weeks running an understaffed department of 12 officers (there are supposed to be 28, but recruitment of qualified candidates is always an issue). The vast reservation in south central South Dakota -- 21 communities and almost 2,000 square miles -- is also a place where violence is common and death comes often and early.

"I'd like to be more of a proactive department, but the reality is that we are a reactive department," she said.

In one 15-day period this year, her officers responded to 17 suicide attempts and three suicides. Fatal motor vehicle accidents are routine, and many weekends can bring five or more federal crimes, including murder, assault, rape or child abuse. Crimes against children get special attention from Her Many Horses, the mother of three children ages 28, 21 and 17. "I get to help kids in this job. I like that," she said.

The need to support her family -- she has been a single parent for 16 years -- drew her to law enforcement as a career.

"It pays well, and it's a very interesting job. Every day is different; you never know what's going to happen that day. For all the bad things you see, you see a lot of good things, too," she said.

She had role models in her Aunt Violent, an early pioneer as a female officer on the Pine Ridge reservation, and several other women who worked as tribal and Bureau of Indian Affairs officers. "I saw these awesome women as a kid," she said.

Career women run in her family. Her mother and grandmother both worked as registered nurses in Indian Health Service hospitals, but she can trace powerful women all the way back to her great-great-grandmother -- a woman who traded horses with the U.S. Calvary and was the inspiration for the family's name. "When the government needed an English language name for her, they wrote it down as Her Many Horses."

But it was episodes of the 1960s-era crimefighters TV show "The Untouchables" that really hooked her. "I wanted to do that when I grew up," she said.

A graduate of Augustana College, Her Many Horses also has a master's degree in sociology from South Dakota State University that serves her well on the job, she said. She is often the one who notifies families of deaths.

"I'll often step in and help my officers with that. It's tough duty. It never gets easier, but I've done it so many times now," she said. "And I had good role models in law enforcement. They taught me that you never send somebody out to do something you wouldn't do yourself."

She knows there has been "some opposition" to her appointment as chief of police, but whether that is based on her gender, tribal politics or the simple fact that "people don't like it when you arrest them," she can't say.

Her Many Horses is not the only female tribal police chief in South Dakota. Stephanie Leasure is a BIA staffer who has served as chief of police for the Yankton Agency in Wagner for three years.

"This is a male-dominated profession, and it's very challenging, but for me, the challenges are what I'm here for," Leasure said. "I encourage her."

She comes from the large Her Many Horses family. Her parents were both IHS professionals who spent their careers working on Rosebud, even though they are Oglala Lakotas. They had nine children -- college-educated, contributing citizens, said Sandra Black Bear.

Black Bear has known the police chief since she was a baby. Black Bear has been braiding her hair for powwow performances for more than 40 years now, and she claims that Her Many Horses' childhood haircut was the original inspiration for the intricate French braids that now dominate the Lakota powwow circuit.

"Her hair was short so I had to braid it really close to her head. We invented the French braid for powwow. Before that, everybody just wore the plain Indian braid," Black Bear said.

She isn't surprised at her good friend's professional accomplishments, and she credits them to her parents. "They raised them up to be good leaders, all of them," she said.

It is her family that keeps Her Many Horses on Rosebud. Despite her qualifications for jobs elsewhere, she has never seriously considered living anywhere else, she said.

"I've always known I'd be here," she said. "I guess it was family. I just didn't want to leave them."

She has never left her other love, either: the powwow circuit.

Her Many Horses has been claiming dancing titles since she first began competing at the age of 12 in the fancy division. At 53, she can still dance circles around younger competitors, and last week at the 2011 Rosebud Fair and Wacipi (powwow), Her Many Horses took second place in Women's Fancy division.

Her physical transformation from police officer to traditional Lakota dancer takes about an hour. At the Rosebud Fair on Aug. 27, she did it standing in a field next to her squad car, slipping a green silk dress over her head before slithering out of her uniform. "It's a skill you acquire," she said. "I'm really good at dressing in public."

Her Lakota regalia travels in a beat-up, bright pink suitcase that belies the value of its contents. A single hand-beaded traditional set of breastplate, leggings, cumberbund and choker sells for about $2,000, and Her Many Horses has at least half a dozen of them in the suitcase.

The scarlet-toned one she chooses for this wacipi is a sentimental favorite. When she and her older brother graduated from Augustana College in the same year, their parents offered each of them the choice between a car and a set of powwow beadwork as a graduation present.

"My brother took the car, and he crashed it later that same summer. I still have the beadwork. I like to remind him of that," she said with a smile.

Before heading off to dance in an arena that will host 300 dancers, 27 drum groups and thousands of spectators, she attaches long strips of otter fur to her thin braids with leather lashes and wraps them with brightly beaded ropes. She chooses matching earrings and ties an eagle feather plume to her braids as a final adornment. Suddenly, she is no longer Police Chief Grace Her Many Horses but one of the three Native American names that she has been given over her lifetime.

Appropriately enough, one of them, from respected Rosebud elder Christine Dunham when she graduated from the police academy, is Woman Who Carries the Law.

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