Andrea Circle Bear dies at 30 from COVID-19 in a Texas prison

The death of a young mother who had just given birth, Andre Circle Bear, 30, leaving her newborn motherless, was easily preventable. According to The Guardian, Congresswoman Ayanna Pressley said in an online discussion hosted by The Appeal, “Andrea should never have been in jail in the first place. Period … That she was there at all is cruel and negligent,” Pressley said, calling Circle Bear one of many people “trapped inside of prison systems because of systemic inequities and a failed war on drugs.”

Who will tell her newborn why her mother died in the hands of the enemy?

by Madonna Thunder Hawk

Dear Friends,

I write to you today with sad news that highlights so many of the layers of injustice we face as Native people.

Here at the Lakota People’s Law Project, we’ve seen a lot and worked hard to address a variety of important issues over the past 15 years – among them criminal justice reform for American Indians. Now, in the coronavirus era, this problem has raised its ugly head again: A 30-year-old woman from my tribal nation, the Cheyenne River Sioux Tribe, died in federal custody in a Texas prison on Tuesday, April 21, just three weeks after giving birth. The cause of her death? COVID-19.

At no point in this process did Andrea have the power to protect herself – an age-old crisis here in Indian Country: lack of sovereignty.

How is it that one of our tribal members was taken from my homelands into custody by South Dakota state officials bent on ignoring the threat of coronavirus, and then shipped to a prison in another state that also ignores science – Texas – where she contracted a preventable disease that killed her?

At no point in this process did Andrea have the power to protect herself – an age-old crisis here in Indian Country: lack of sovereignty. Who will someday explain to Andrea’s infant child how and why her mother died in the hands of the enemy?

For a fuller picture of the circumstances surrounding Andrea’s premature and avoidable death, I encourage you to read this chilling article in The Guardian.

Andrea’s tragic story shows why your attention to our Indigenous communities is so important. In the coming days, the Lakota People’s Law Project media team will work with journalists to ensure they have support on the ground as they uncover what happened to Ms. Circle Bear. 

Moreover, we will redouble our efforts to resist willful ignorance in states like South Dakota and Texas in the face of this pandemic, and we’ll work in every way we can to strengthen tribal nations. We live in poverty and we are vulnerable, but we know how to fight.

Please stay with us. With courage, everything is possible.

Wopila – My gratitude for your solidarity,

Madonna Thunder Hawk is a Cheyenne River organizer with the Lakota People’s Law Project, 547 South Seventh St. #149, Bismarck, ND 58504-5859. The Lakota People’s Law Project is part of the Romero Institute, a nonprofit 501(c)(3) law and policy center. All donations are tax-deductible.