Tribal leader: Girl’s death should lead to better law enforcement response

Wednesday, January 2, 2019

BILLINGS (AP) — Frustration over the death of a Native American girl in Montana should be a catalyst for speeding up the law enforcement response to reports of missing people in Indian Country, a tribal leader said.

Tribal, state and national agencies should cooperate more closely on such reports, Northern Cheyenne acting President Conrad Fisher said Monday. He also said the Northern Cheyenne should pass a law standardizing its response and starting searches sooner.

The Billings Gazette reports that Fisher spoke after a march mourning 14-year-old Henny Scott, whose body was found Friday on the Northern Cheyenne Reservation, two weeks after she was reported missing.

“This isn’t the first time that this has happened, and this has sort of taken on a monumental significance,” Fisher said. “People are watching us. ... Certainly this is a pivotal time for the Cheyenne Nation.”

Volunteer searchers found Scott’s body outside Lame Deer. The cause of death hasn’t been announced.

Her friends and family have expressed frustration that law enforcement didn’t react faster, and similar concerns have emerged nationally about the response to the disappearance of Native American women and girls.

The Bureau of Indian Affairs says it entered Scott’s name into a national database of missing people on Dec. 13. It was nearly two weeks later, on Dec. 26, when the FBI asked state officials to issue a missing person alert, according to the Montana Department of Justice.

“It seemed like they weren’t taken very seriously by the police,” Dean Wallowingbull, who helped organize Monday’s march, said of Scott’s family. “We’re not being critical, we’re just being thoughtful; with the law enforcement, we want them to be more active when it comes to situations like this.”

Clarice Walksalong, a special education teacher at Lame Deer High School, said Scott’s disappearance brought back the pain of losing her brother, who she said was last seen about 40 years ago at age 16.

“I work at the high school, and I see these kids every day,” Walksalong said. “I just thought of this young lady lying out there in the cold — for how long? Can you imagine? Through Christmas and all that?”

A recent report by the Urban Indian Health Institute said the number of missing Native Americans is probably underreported nationwide. The institute ranked Montana fifth in the country for the number of missing and murdered Native American women.

The Montana Department of Justice found in 2017 that 30 percent of the missing girls and women in the state are Native Americans, although they make up just 3.3 percent of the population.