Marlys Big Eagle, a member of the Crow Creek Sioux Tribe at Fort Thompson, South Dakota, and former executive director of Missouri Shores Domestic Violence Center in Pierre, was recognized last month in Washington by U.S. Attorney General William Barr for her work as federal victim witness coordinator in South Dakota.
It’s quite an award, given to only 295 Department of Justice employees nationwide recognized by Barr at the 67th Annual Attorney General’s Awards Ceremony, held Oct. 23 in Constitution Hall in Washington.
“The Attorney General’s Award is the most coveted and prestigious national award given to members” of the justice department, according to a news release from U.S. Attorney for South Dakota Ron Parsons. “This annual ceremony recognizes employees and other individuals who have demonstrated exceptional achievements, leadership, and service to the Department of Justice and the American people.”
Barr recognized Big Eagle, an enrolled member of the Hunkpati Oyate Crow Creek Sioux Tribe based at Fort Thompson, southeast of Pierre, “for her exceptional service in Indian Country. “Our greatest strength in our fight for justice is our people – the thousands of men and women who have dedicated their careers, often at great personal sacrifice, to working for justice in America. As we reflect on the contributions of each of the individuals we honor today, we should hold them up as examples of excellence that continue to inspire our own commitment, and also as reminders of the professionalism and the qualities exhibited throughout the Department.”
U.S. Attorney Parsons was at the ceremony for Big Eagle’s award.
“Our friend and colleague Marlys Big Eagle is incredibly deserving of this prestigious honor,” he said. “She is a truly exceptional person and, as this award confirms, one of the brightest lights and most powerful advocates for victim rights and the welfare of those living in Native American communities in the entire Department of Justice.”
On Monday, Big Eagle told the Capital Journal that her career in victim advocacy began in Pierre in 1996-1998 when she was executive director of the Missouri Shores Domestic Violence Center.
“That was my first job in victim advocacy,” she said. “I had a law enforcement background, but had never worked with victims, so it was an eye-opening experience.to see the prevalence of domestic violence in our community. It was an honor to e able to work with victims who came through the doors because they were so strong and the community support for the facility was just amazing. It was a working board of directors at the Center, who used so much more than their knowledge. They were hands on, helping with whatever needs to be done. We were cleaning, we laid the sod. So many things.”
Big Eagle graduated from Crow Creek High School in 1984, has a degree from SDSU in liberal arts and a master’s degree in Lakota leadership and management from Oglala Lakota College in Kyle, South Dakota.
She worked as a dispatcher for the Pierre Police Department, in Chamberlain, South Dakota and in Nebraska. She also worked for a short time as an investigator with the Crow Creek tribal police, Big Eagle said.
Since 1998, Big Eagle has been providing victim services for the Justice Department’s District of South Dakota. She is the principal coordinator who supervises two other providers of services to victim-witnesses. Much of the work is accompanying crime victims to the trials and other court proceedings of those who committed crimes against them.
She’s made a mark, Attorney General Barr said.
“Ms. Big Eagle’s leadership has long been recognized by federal, state, and tribal prosecutors, law enforcement officers, other victim assistance providers, and tribal leaders,” he said in the news release. “Her 21 years of service with the Department of Justice has resulted in an exponential improvement in the delivery of crucial services to Indian Country victims. Her unique perspective as an enrolled tribe member and her wealth of knowledge and experience has made a decisively positive impact in the lives of thousands of Native American women and children who have had to make the complex journey through the federal criminal justice system.”
Her daughter finished high school in Rapid City this past year and they have moved to Sioux Falls as most of her work is in the eastern side of the state, Big Eagle said.
She told the Capital Journal that 20 years ago, victims often were forgotten in the justice system that concentrated on disposing of the cases against those charged with crimes.
“From the time I started working until today, we have come so far with programming and victim assistance. There are a lot more options available for everyone. There are resources available, entire programs in place, trying to eliminate some of those barriers, to eliminate recidivism.”
There’s much more attention now within the federal justice system to what happens to the victims of crime, Big Eagle says. “About what they have lost. We try to do whatever we can to get them as whole as we can.”