As Attorney General William Barr visited Montana to unveil his plan to address the crisis of missing people in Indian Country, a tribe across the state has declared an emergency over what they say is a lack of policing on their reservation.
Attorney General Barr came to the Flathead Reservation in Montana to announce a $1.5 million initiative to beef up the Justice Department’s response to missing persons cases. That’s prompted by the disproportionate rate at which Native American women go missing.
Meanwhile, hundreds of miles away, the Crow Tribe is declaring a state of emergency. That’s because it says the Bureau of Indian Affairs is failing to meet its trust responsibility to provide public safety services.
Acting CEO of the Crow Tribe, Karl Little Owl, says the Tribe is dealing with break ins, theft and shootings.
"Now we’re at the point where the community is scared," Little Owl said.
Two men were injured in a shooting last month at a gas station in Hardin, a town just outside of the reservation border. There have been other shootings in recent years, including one that killed three people in Lodge Grass.
State data puts Big Horn County, where most of the Crow Nation lies, somewhere in the middle in terms of crime rates. Compared to the Billings Police Department, Big Horn County reported about a third of the number of high-profile crimes, like murder and arrgravated assault, last year. But Little Owl says that could be because some Crow tribal members have stopped calling the police.
"The community knows who the drug dealers are. They know who’s stealing property from the community. But they’re roaming around like nothing’s happening. It’s to the point where everyone is frustrated," Little Owl said.
Little Owl says the tribe notified the BIA that it intends to exercise its federal right to police itself last fall. He says controlling the budget would allow the Tribe to staff up, hiring up to 20 officers. Right now, the 2.2million acre reservation is policed by just three officers at any given moment, according to Crow Tribal Chairman AJ Not Afraid.
Democratic Sen. Jon Tester wrote Attorney General Barr a letter ahead of his visit to Montana expressing concerns about the Justice Department's efforts to address cases of missing indigenous people. Tester criticized the agency’s recent decision to reassign its only missing persons specialist to split his time between generalized crimes in Indian Country and missing persons cases.
The Crow Tribe says it’s invited Montana Attorney General Tim Fox, along with Northern Cheyenne leaders and Big Horn County Sheriff staff, to meet Monday about the crisis of missing and murdered indigenous people.
Olivia Reingold is Yellowstone Public Radio’s Report For America corps member.