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Crime Victim Advocates Honored For Their Work

Jackie Yamanaka/YPR

Two crime victim advocates were honored by Montana’s top law enforcement officials.  Michele Stewart and Erin Harris were recognized as outstanding advocates of the year for their work helping crime victims, including those on the Crow and Northern Cheyenne Reservations.

The later is a special place for FBI agent Erin Harris.

“This is where my grandparents are going to be buried. This is where I’m going to live forever,” said Harris. “I’m so blessed that I get to work on a reservation that I’m enrolled at.”

While violence against Native women has been covered by some news outlets recently because the pleas are hitting social media, Harris said this is not a new issue to her.

“This is an issue we’ve faced for a long time and we’re not willing to stay silent anymore,” she said. Harris said Native women, regardless of tribal affiliation, are supporting Native women.

Harris is now one of the FBI’s crime victim advocates. Prior to that she was a child protection specialist for the Bureau of Indian Affairs.

“I know that being a victim of a crime is not their best moment but we want to meet them where they are,” she said. Among the services she provides, finding safe housing, counseling and advice on how to navigate the criminal justice system.

“We want to be able to help them get justice and get that in a way that they feel believed, respected and in a way that justice is served and in a way that that crime doesn’t happen to somebody else,” she said.

Credit Jackie Yamanaka/YPR
Erin Harris, left, and Michele Stewart, right.

Harris and Michele Stewart were honored at a recognition ceremony Tuesday morning at the FBI conference room in Billings by state Attorney General Tim Fox and U.S. Attorney for the District of Montana Kurt Alme.

“The enormous volume of Michele and Erin’s work and the great difficulty it entails is unsurpassed,” said Fox in a press release.  “They serve victims of violent crimes and other offenses, including child sexual and physical abuse, human trafficking, and kidnapping.  Their relentless dedication has assisted prosecutors in obtaining convictions in highly complex cases, and helped victims get the support they needed to become survivors.”

Alme said federal officials are committed to working with tribal communities government to government.

He said Harris and Stewart stand out for their knowledge of the law and the criminal justice system, and how much they care about crime victims.

Alme said they “make sure they get counseling. They find safe housing. They find job support. That our victims feel believed and know that there is a safe place for them to turn.” 

He said that is done one victim at a time, one-on-one, one day at a time.

The Outstanding Advocate of the Year Award is named in memory of Matt Dale. For 17 years, Matt directed the Montana Department of Justice’s Office of Consumer Protection and Victim Services. 

“Through Matt’s leadership, Montana instituted policies and programs to protect victims of domestic violence and prevent intimate partner homicides, including those in Indian Country,” said a press release from the Montana Department of Justice. “Over the course of his career, Matt became a national expert on the topic of domestic violence and travelled across the country speaking about Montana’s Fatality Review Team and its work.”

The award was named in his honor after his death this summer.