Sex Abuse Charges Embroil American Indian Spiritual Leader

AP Photo/David Goldman
AP Photo/David Goldman

Charles Chipps, Sr., is a world famous spiritual leader who for decades has inspired members of the Oglala Lakota Nation with his guidance at South Dakota’s Pine Ridge Indian reservation. But shocking charges that he sexually molested a long list of teen girls have divided the community.

Last year, Chipps, 67, was indicted for multiple instances of sexual abuse, going back at least to 2002. For decades, the charges say, he abused young women and young girls–some as young as five–who hoped to find spiritual guidance at his compound in the Pine Ridge reservation town of Wanablee.

Court documents claim that from 2002 to 2007, the South Dakota Department of Social Services and the tribe’s social services agency received over a dozen reports of sexual abuse at his hands. Additionally, some authorities reported that Chipps abused his own children and that he had them in abject fear of punishment.

The spiritual leader was even arrested by tribal authorities for abuse in 2009. Somehow, the whole thing simply went away, however.

But by 2010, Heather Dawn Thompson, a member of the Cheyenne River Sioux tribe of South Dakota, joined the U.S. attorney’s office in Rapid City and began to seriously investigate the charges. It was not long before dozens were lining up to tell her their story.

Finally, as The Washington Post reported, “On July 16, 2013, a federal grand jury indicted Chipps on 15 counts of rape, sexual abuse and intimidation of six minor victims. Besides the children in the indictment, older victims from South Dakota and other states came forward and alleged they were sexually abused by Chipps when they were younger.”

Despite the charges and the growing list of women who stand as accusers, some in the nation are still supporting the aging holy man.

“I know him as a ceremonial leader,” Glenyce Bean, one of Chipps’ relatives, said. “People [look] up to him and he helps people. … He’s uncle or grandpa to almost everyone. I know him to be helpful. He has provided just lots of healing for many, many people, myself included, over many, many years.”

Chipps is denying all the charges and maintaining his innocence, but last year, Chipps’ counsel also entered a plea of mental incompetence.

Attorney Terry L. Pechota filed a declaration stating that Chipps is suffering mental incompetence and cannot understand the charges he is facing. The faith healer’s condition, the attorney said, is a result of a car accident suffered in 2011.

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