Vern Traversie, a 69-year-old blind American Indian tribal elder who lives on the Cheyenne River Reservation in South Dakota, says that a doctor carved the letters “KKK” onto his stomach during a surgery in the fall of 2011, msnbc.com reports.
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Traversie was first alerted to the scars by a home health care worker who tended to him after the surgery took place. “Oh my God, I don’t know what they did to you,” Traversie said the home health care worker told him.
WATCH Traversie Discuss The Surgery And The Marks Below
The problem, however, is that not everyone is clear on the clarity of the marks or if they are letters at all. Local police and officials at Rapid City Regional Hospital where the surgery took place on Aug. 26, 2011 investigated the claims and say no crime was committed.
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Craig Saunders, a cardiologist at Barnabas Hospital in Newark, N.J., says that incision marks can take on the form of many shapes and sizes, depending on where exactly the doctor needs to cut on the body. Surgical tape, Saunders added, can also leave scars and lesions depending on the patient’s body type.
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These possibilities have not deterred Traversie or his supports from holding strong to their claim that the marks are a clear sign of racism.
“Rapid City … we understand you have been carving up our people. This is going to end today,” American Indian Movement founder Dennis Banks said to a roaring crowd Monday, according to msnbc.com.
“We’re classified as second-class citizens,” Hap Marshall, 69, a resident of the Cheyenne River reservation told msnbc.com. “But when they want our votes, we’re their brother.”
Here is more from the rally that took place Monday on Traversie’s behalf:
The protest was relatively peaceful. Officers from the Rapid City Police Department blocked off traffic as the supporters, many dressed in red shirts and waving American Indian Movement flags, marched to the beat of a drummer riding in a truck leading the way. Passing cars occasionally honked.
A group of about 15 people — including Banks and Oglala Sioux Vice President Tom Poor Bear — met with officials at the hospital, while police prevented other supporters from entering the building.
The march was largely organized by Cody Hall, who lives on the Cheyenne River Reservation, and Chase Iron Eyes, who lives on the Standing Rock Indian Reservation, which straddles the North Dakota-South Dakota border, in an effort to bring attention to what they say is continued mistreatment of Native American people.
“We have organized to send a message for once and for all that we are not going to stand for anymore hate crimes or racial violence in this region. It doesn’t matter where you are from; once you get to Rapid, when an Indian steps out of their car, they are labeled as a target,” Hall told Indian Country Today Media Network.
Supports have created a Facebook page “Justice For Vern Traversie,” that has over 5,300 “likes” and is updated with links to national coverage of Traversie’s story. And one of the YouTube videos that features Traversie has been viewed nearly 100,000 times since it was uploaded on April 26.
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