'Dances With Wolves' actor appears in court in abuse probe
Rio Yamat/Associated Press
A former “Dances With Wolves” actor accused of sexually abusing Indigenous girls and leading a cult must remain held without bail until his next court hearing, a judge ordered Thursday morning.
Nathan Chasing Horse, 46, faces charges of sex trafficking, sexual assault against a child younger than 16, and child abuse. He has been in custody since his arrest Tuesday afternoon near the North Las Vegas home that he shares with his five wives.
He appeared briefly in court in North Las Vegas on Thursday but did not speak before Justice of the Peace Belinda Harris scheduled a bail hearing for Monday. Chasing Horse has not been formally charged.
On Monday, Harris is expected to address Chasing Horse's custody status as he awaits trial and could set bail after she hears from lawyers, investigators, victims and the defendant's relatives.
Clark County Chief Deputy District Attorney Jessica Walsh told the judge Thursday that Las Vegas police detectives, FBI special agents and victims will speak at the hearing.
Gesturing to the first row in the courtroom gallery where Chasing Horse's family members were seated, public defender Michael Wilfong said he has a “great deal of support." His relatives declined to comment as they left the courthouse, as did Wilfong.
Known for his role as young Sioux tribe member Smiles a Lot in the Oscar-winning Kevin Costner film, Chasing Horse gained a reputation among tribes across the United States and in Canada as a so-called medicine man who performed healing ceremonies.
He is believed to be the leader of a cult known as The Circle whose followers believed he could communicate with higher powers, according to an arrest warrant released Wednesday. Police said he abused his position, physically and sexually assaulted Indigenous girls and took underage wives over two decades.
Chasing Horse was born on the Rosebud Reservation in South Dakota, which is home to the Sicangu Sioux, one of the seven tribes of the Lakota nation.
A 50-page search warrant obtained Tuesday by The Associated Press said Chasing Horse trained his wives to use firearms, instructing them to “shoot it out” with police officers if they tried to “break their family apart.” If that failed, he told his wives to take “suicide pills.”
SWAT officers and detectives took Chasing Horse into custody and cleared the family's home without incident.
Detectives who searched the property and Chasing Horse's vehicles found firearms, 41 pounds (18.5 kilograms) of marijuana and psilocybin mushrooms, and a memory card with multiple videos of sexual assaults, according to Chasing Horse's arrest report released Wednesday.
Additional charges could be filed related to the videos, the report said.
Las Vegas police said in the search warrant that investigators have identified at least six sexual assault victims, including one who was 13 when she says she was abused. Police also traced sexual allegations against Chasing Horse to the early 2000s in Canada and in multiple states, including South Dakota, Montana and Nevada, where he has lived for about a decade.
One of Chasing Horse’s wives was offered to him as a “gift” when she was 15, according to police, while another became a wife after turning 16. He also is accused of recording sexual assaults and arranging sex between victims and other men who paid him.
His arrest comes nearly a decade after he was banished from the Fort Peck Reservation in Poplar, Montana, amid allegations of human trafficking.
Fort Peck tribal leaders voted 7-0 to ban Chasing Horse in 2015 from stepping foot again on the reservation, citing the alleged trafficking and accusations of drug dealing, spiritual abuse and intimidation of tribal members, Indian Country Today reported.
Angeline Cheek, an activist and community organizer who has lived on the Fort Peck Reservation most of her life, said she clearly remembers the tensions that arose inside the tribal council chambers when Chasing Horse was banished.
“Some of Nathan's supporters told the members that something bad was going to happen to them,” Cheek told the AP. “They made threats to our elders sitting in the council chambers.”
Cheek said she remembered Chasing Horse visiting the reservation frequently when she was growing up, especially during her high school years in the early 2000s when she would see him talking with her classmates.
Cheek, now 34, said she hopes Chasing Horse's arrest will inspire more Indigenous girls and women to report crimes and push lawmakers and elected officials across the U.S. to prioritize addressing violence against Native people.
But she said she also hopes the cultural significance of medicine men doesn't get lost in the news of the crimes.
“There are good medicine men and medicine women among our people who are not trying to commercialize the sacred ways of our ancestors," Cheek said. “They're supposed to heal people, not harm."