Belief that the dead should never be mentioned by name inhibits investigation, reportage, & victim advocacy
HOTEVILLA, Arizona; WITCHEKAN FIRST NATION, Saskatchewan––Two hundred years ago and longer, the Cree land now called the Witchekan First Nation and the Hopi tribal village today called Hotevilla marked the northern and southern ends of the great annual bison migrations.
After the Commanche, neighboring the Hopi and Apache, obtained horses from Spanish invaders circa 1630, bison hunters developed and spread the Great Plains horse culture north to Witchekan territory, along the way losing the horses who established wild horse herds the length of the Front Range of the Rocky Mountains.
The 1,640-mile distance from Hotevilla to Witchekan ensured that even with horses, the Hotevilla Hopi and the Witchekan Cree seldom if ever met. Neither people were ever bison herd followers like the many tribal peoples living between them.
But the Hopi, the Cree, the tribes in between, and most of the other tribal peoples of the Americas before European settlement shared the taboo of never naming the dead, detailed by Boston University anthropologist William Buckner in Traditions of Conflict, online at https://traditionsofconflict.com/blog/2018/8/23/forbidden-utterances-naming-the-dead
Four of first 28 dog attack fatalities of 2022 were on tribal lands
Lingering in vestigial form, this taboo today may, indirectly, be a big part of why fatal dog attacks continue to occur on tribal lands at more than 35 times the rate of elsewhere in the U.S. and Canada, accounting for four of the 28 known 2022 dog attack fatalities as of June 24, 2022.
Many fatal dog attacks on tribal lands are incompletely and belatedly reported, if at all. Because these dog attacks are incompletely and belatedly reported, they receive little or no public attention, including on the lands where they occur, where residents often live in isolated villages dozens of miles from each other, barely connected by roads, telephones, and online media.
Because details of fatal dog attacks on tribal lands tends to be suppressed, political response tends to be weak, if indeed there is any response at all.
“Who, what, where, when, why & how?”
Examples came to light on both the Witchehan Nation and in Hotevilla on June 15, 2022––or rather came to partial light, because, as with most fatal dog attacks occurring on tribal lands during the 40 years that ANIMALS 24-7 has logged and published the data pertaining to fatal and disfiguring dog attacks, neither tribal law enforcement nor the families of the victims disclosed many of the essential details––who, what, where, when, why, and how––that go into assembling a news article likely to be read enough to inspire much response.
Announced the Hopi Tribe, headquartered in Kykotsmovi, Arizona, “This weekend a person was tragically attacked by a pack of dogs in the Village of Hotevilla.”
What person? Male, female, old, young? Who was bereaved? Were children orphaned? Did someone lose a child?
Is a business providing employment likely to fail due to loss of the proprietor?
What sort of dogs? Whose?
What sort of dogs? Was this a pack of free-roaming mixed-breed “reservation dogs,” or a hunting pack, or perhaps pit bulls kept by someone suspected of drug-dealing?
Or were the dogs dumped on the reservation by an outsider, as was believed to have been the case in several other recent fatal and/or disfiguring attacks on tribal lands?
Did the dogs attack their owner, a family member, a neighbor, or just a random passer-by?
“This latest attack,” the Hopi announcement continued, “is one of several over the past few months that include dog bites, amputations, and in this latest case, injuries so severe they lead to the victim’s death.”
Why was this information not released earlier? Why are the victims of these previous severe attacks not identified and given voice to make complaints?
“Calculated response” may be irrelevant
“A tragedy such as this affects our entire tribe both on and off the reservation,” said Hopi tribal chairman Timothy Nuvangyaoma. “It has also led us to develop a calculated response in enforcing the Hopi Animal Control Ordinance to help prevent occurrences from ever happening again.”
“The ordinance addresses the threats created by animals that are not restrained,” detailed the Hopi Tribe announcement. “A sub-section allows for euthanizing unwanted dogs who roam the Hopi communities in order to ensure safety of all residents.”
The Hopi Tribe statement went on to urge reservation residents to report stray dogs, have their dogs vaccinated against rabies, and have their dogs spayed or neutered.
But were the dogs involved actually strays, or just owned dogs allowed to roam at large?
Or did the fatal attack occur within the victim’s own home or yard?
Rabid? “Rescue” dogs?
Were the dogs suspected of being rabid, 53 years after the most recent rabies fatality from a dog bite occurring within the U.S.?
Were the dogs possibly “rescue dogs,” already spayed or neutered?
Would keeping the dogs at home, vaccinated, and ensuring that they were spayed or neutered actually have made any difference at all in whether the Hotevilla victim lived or died?
“At this time there are no plans to release the identity of the victim in this case,” the Hopi Tribe concluded. “An ongoing investigation will continue. Any new information is to be released if it is warranted.”
Who decides what “is warranted”?
Who decides what “is warranted”?
Off tribal lands, what “is warranted” tends to be determined by public interest.
Public interest in matters involving health and safety tends to demand full disclosure of the complete who-what-where-when-why-and-how details, without which members of the public are unable to judge for themselves whether an incident––for instance, a fatal or disfiguring dog attack––might happen to them too, or their children, elders, neighbors, and friends, if appropriate preventive actions are not taken.
Silence, under such circumstances, is not being respectful of the dead; it is imposing the gangster rule of “no snitching,” so that no one can see, or object, that justice is not being done.
Silence, in effect, may be perpetuating the Spanish conquistador practice of feeding Native Americans alive to their war dogs, ancestral to today’s pit bulls, Presa Canarios, and Cane Corsos.
Victim’s sister speaks out
Also on June 15, 2022, Giselle Thomas of the Witchekan First Nation broke the tradition of silence, disclosing to Canadian Press that as Canadian Press subsequently reported, her older brother Noel Thomas, 43, “was attacked by two dogs while mowing a neighbor’s lawn.”
Two weeks earlier, Canadian Press explained, “The neighbor’s dogs charged at him from behind and bit his leg and hand.”
Giselle Thomas said, Canadian Press recounted, that “neighbors walking by heard her brother yell for help and had their dogs attack the other dogs to get them off him.
“Giselle Thomas says her brother stood for a little bit and walked around, then suddenly collapsed. She says 911 was called,” Canadian Press continued, “but her brother was pronounced dead at the scene.”
Said Giselle Thomas herself, “[The dogs’ owner] put his life in danger by allowing him to come to their shared yard and having those dogs outside like that.”
Resumed Canadian Press, “The owner of the dogs has apologized to Noel Thomas’s mother, but not to other family members, his sister said.
“The Saskatchewan Coroners Service is investigating and the dogs have been seized,” Canadian Press learned. “In an email, the Royal Canadian Mounted Police said officers from the Spiritwood detachment assisted in a ‘non-suspicious death’ investigation at the First Nation on June 1.”
Why was what logically should be a homicide investigation termed a “non-suspicious death”? Homicide may be either murder or manslaughter, in various degrees. There may be no charges filed if a death is demonstrably a complete accident, but investigation normally precedes a pronouncement of “non-suspicious.”
Continued Canadian Press, “An autopsy has been completed and results will be available in approximately four to six months, the coroners service said.”
Toxicology testing? Why?
That slow an autopsy tends to imply toxicology testing of the remains, which may shed light on how a fatal dog attack occurred, but rarely on the mechanism of death, usually loss of blood or a heart attack.
Is there believed to be actual cause for toxicology testing, or is just a delaying tactic and/or a means of blaming the victim for his own demise, instead of pursuing an actual criminal investigation?
Bear in mind that negligent homicide, the most likely possible charge, would be negligent homicide regardless of toxicology testing results.
The Thomas family are quite rightly not satisfied, and told Canadian Press why.
“They said it isn’t enough that the dogs were seized,” Canadian Press summarized. “They’re hoping charges will be laid and the owner will take responsibility.
“Other attacks involving the dogs”
“The family said there have been other attacks involving the dogs.”
Specified Giselle Thomas to CTV News, “We want the maximum amount of charges because this has happened four times with those dogs. They have attacked four people and this has caused death now.
“Too many people are getting attacked by dogs and nothing is being done, so I want [the owner, believed to be female] to be charged to set an example to the rest of Saskatchewan,” Thomas said.
Unfortunately, despite Giselle Thomas’ efforts, the code of silence apparently still prevails on the Witchekan First Nation.
“We would appreciate receiving, from someone who knows, the breed identifications and ownership status of the dogs who killed Noel Thomas,” ANIMALS 24-7 posted on June 20, 2022 to a Facebook page frequented by Witchehan First Nation members, including friends and family of Noel Thomas, after failing to reach Giselle Thomas directly.
“In particular,” ANIMALS 24-7 asked, after briefly explaining our role in reporting about fatal and disfiguring dog attacks and providing a verification link, “are these dogs whom someone deliberately acquired, or were they free-roaming ‘rez dogs,’ or were they possibly dumped there by outsiders, an increasingly common occurrence contributing to fatalities on Native American land?
“We hope our research is helping to prevent fatal and disfiguring dog attacks, like the one that took Noel Thomas from you. Thank you!”
No one, as yet, has responded.