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Standing alongside a group of protesters outside the Scott County jail on Wednesday, Crow Bellecourt recalled the outrage he felt after learning that Indigenous activist Emmett Eastman Sr. was kept in horrid living conditions provided by his daughter just before his death.

"I wanted to punch the wall," said Bellecourt, who was wearing a shirt honoring Eastman. "How could one of our elders, someone who represented our people not just in the United States but across the world, be treated that way?"

Bellecourt, a longtime friend of Eastman's, was one of 15 people who attended the rally outside the jail. Most carried signs demanding additional jail time for his daughter, Anne White Eastman, 40, who was convicted and then released Wednesday for criminal neglect in her father's death.

In October 2021, New Prague police conducted a welfare check and found that White Eastman's home in squalid condition. Eastman was lying on a bed in a "skeletal" state and his right foot was deteriorating from gangrenous necrosis, according to the criminal complaint.

Eastman, 89, died two days later in the hospital from blood restriction to his leg "complicated by medical neglect." A copy of his death certificate obtained by the Star Tribune lists "homicide" as the manner of death.

Two years after the death, the Scott County Attorney's Office charged White Eastman with criminal neglect. She was arrested Dec. 21 and held at the Scott County jail before pleading guilty and receiving a 120-day jail sentence.

White Eastman's attorney declined to comment on the conviction, and a Facebook message to White Eastman was not returned. White Eastman was given an 18-month prison sentence that is stayed during her four years of probation.

Friends and family described Eastman as a revered Indigenous activist and marathon runner who went to numerous countries to compete and carry the message of his Dakota heritage.

Emmett Eastman, pictured in 2008.
Emmett Eastman, pictured in 2008.

DAVID JOLES • Star Tribune, Star Tribune

Standing outside the jail, Eastman's niece Wanda Blue spoke through a megaphone condemning the Scott County Attorney's Office for not pursuing a more serious charge of manslaughter or murder. Some signs read, "Justice was not served."

In a phone call, Scott County Attorney Ron Hocevar said that while he understands the frustration, his office did not believe there was enough evidence to pursue a more serious charge.

"I wish there was more we could have done in this office in the case, but I have to abide by the laws that are written and what we can prove in court," Hocevar said.

Bellecourt, 51, said he first met Eastman as a singer at local powwows. A couple of Eastman's granddaughters and members of other local tribes also attended Wednesday's rally. Several said they hope his death sparks more awareness surrounding elder abuse.

"This devastated us all," Blue said. "We loved him so much, and I wanted everybody to know what actually happened to him."