Native Village
Youth and Education news
Volume 4,  October, 2011

Courage, with grace: Tribal police chief accomplished dancer, too
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Condensed by Native Village

Photo courtesy Denver March Powwow website South Dakota: Grace Her Many Horses is the first female chief of police on the Rosebud Sioux Reservation.  At 5 feet, 2 inches tall, "Gracie" is barely visible above the steering wheel of her squad car as she travels the reservation's highway.

When not wearing her police uniform, Gracie may be dressed in fancy dance regalia.  Her Many Horses, 53, is also a champion powwow dancer.

No matter how she's dressed, 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 the Rosebud reservation joke that people are wearing colorful rubber bracelets printed with "WWGD? -- What Would Gracie Do?" The bracelets rumor is mostly reservation humor, but it speaks the truth of Grace Her Many Horses supporters.

"She helps me out on everything. She's pretty cool," said LaMona Whiting, a reservation resident who named her young daughter after her.

Rodney Bordeaux, the Rosebud Sioux Tribal President, feels much the same way.  He hired Gracie about 18 months ago and says she has handled a difficult job with professionalism.

"She's doing good," he said, "...she has a lot of courage, a lot of heart. She's fair and honest in her investigation and with her personnel."

Gracie must often work 60 - 70 hours per week.  The Rosebud police force is severely understaffed --28 officers are needed. They only have 12. These officers must protect 21 communities and a 2,000 square mile reservation where violence is common, and deaths happen too young and too often.

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

Crimes against children get special attention from Her Many Horses. 

"I get to help kids in this job. I like that," she said.

Grace 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.

Family is what keeps Her Many Horses on Rosebud. Despite her qualifications for jobs elsewhere, she never considered moving.

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

Her Many Horses has been claiming dancing titles since she first began competing at the age  12 in the fancy division. Sandra Black Bear has been braiding Gracie's hair for powwow performances most of those years. She claims it was Gracie's childhood haircut that inspired 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.

Today, Gracie's physical transformation from police officer to traditional Lakota dancer takes about an hour. At August's Rosebud Fair, she did it standing beside 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."

Grace Her Many HorsesGracie carries her Lakota regalia in a beat-up suitcase. The contents are valuable: a single hand-beaded traditional set of breastplate, leggings, cummerbund and choker sells for about $2,000.  Gracie has at least half a dozen of them in the suitcase.

Her Many Horses has a favorite story about her regalia. When she and her brother graduated from college in the same year, their parents gave each a choice for a graduation present: a car or a set of powwow beadwork.

"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," Gracie said with a smile.

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