Federal prosecutors will re-examine the circumstances surrounding dozens of deaths that occurred on or near the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation, many dating back to the 1970s when the reservation was embroiled in political violence, reports the New York Times. The Oglala Sioux tribe has for years sought a Justice Department review of the deaths. In May, tribal leaders sent a letter to Brendan Johnson, the United States attorney for South Dakota, asking that he direct the FBI and the Bureau of Indian Affairs to reopen investigations into 28 deaths — many of which the original investigators had determined were caused by accidents or suicides.
On Tuesday, Johnson said that a team of three federal prosecutors would review 50 Pine Ridge-related deaths that had occurred during the past 40 years. Once the panel writes a report for each case, Johnson said, he will decide whether there are enough unanswered questions to ask the F.B.I. or another investigative agency to assist. Many of the dead were associated with the American Indian Movement. The period from 1973 to 1976 was marked by deadly ambushes at highway checkpoints and gunfights that on occasion lasted for days. Among the casualties during the period were two F.B.I. agents. Leonard Peltier, an AIM member, was convicted of their murders. The strife also included the 71-day standoff between AIM members and federal troops in 1973 at Wounded Knee, S.D.