calls her Gracie, but don't let the nickname or her diminutive size
Sioux Tribe Police Chief Grace Her Many Horses can intimidate criminals
and powwow competitors alike.
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.
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
grew up with six brothers. I can hang in there with anybody,"
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.
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.
President Rodney Bordeaux feels much the same way.
hired Her Many Horses about 18 months ago and says she has handled
a difficult job with professionalism.
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
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.
fair and honest in her investigation and with her personnel,"
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.
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.
like to be more of a proactive department, but the reality is that
we are a reactive department," she said.
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.
need to support her family -- she has been a single parent for 16
years -- drew her to law enforcement as a career.
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.
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.
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."
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.
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.
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
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.
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.
is a male-dominated profession, and it's very challenging, but for
me, the challenges are what I'm here for," Leasure said. "I
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
always known I'd be here," she said. "I guess it was family.
I just didn't want to leave them."
has never left her other love, either: the powwow circuit.
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.
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
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
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.
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.
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.
enough, one of them, from respected Rosebud elder Christine Dunham
when she graduated from the police academy, is Woman Who Carries