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The latest news about the novel coronavirus and COVID-19 in Montana.

Crow Leaders Request Federal Support For Law Enforcement, Health Care

Olivia Reingold
Yellowstone Public Radio

Crow tribal leaders met with Montana U.S. Senator Steve Daines on July 17 to request support for the new tribal police department’s operations and novel Coronavirus surge planning.

Senator Daines toured a closed Bureau of Indian Affairs (BIA) jail in Crow Agency with members of the Crow Executive Branch, Crow Tribal Police, BIA Police and high ranking local judges.

The new Crow Police Department, which was formed June 27, is seeking to reopen the Crow Agency Jail.

Crow Tribal Police Chief Terrill Bracken says the time and expense of transporting detainees to Hardin’s Two Rivers Detention Facility is significant and restoration of the jail is critical to the new department’s efficacy moving forward.

"From a boots-on-the-ground perspective, our inability to detain has been debilitating and this really ripple effects out into so many directions, even fuel. The amount of money we would save on fuel alone for not having to transport people to further distances. Drain on the officers, drain on employees, things like that," Bracken said.

BIA Lieutenant Clarice Miner ran the facility from 2006 until it closed in 2014 after a flood. She says it’s currently inoperable due to extensive water damage, black mold and asbestos. The tribe estimates that repairs will cost half a million dollars and are in the process of trying to obtain the title or lease to the facility from BIA.

During the tour, Associate Criminal Judge Michelle Wilson said arrests on the reservation were down to one or two per week, a drastic drop from about fifteen arrests per week before the pandemic.

Dennis Bear Don’t Walk, the chief judge, says the decline in arrests could also be due to a lack of coordination between federal BIA officers and the new police department.

"I don’t believe that the crimes aren’t still happening, I believe that the crimes are happening. However, because of the lack of cooperation, these people are not being held accountable, not being taken to jail, detained. I feel like it’s becoming a huge safety risk for our community and our tribal members," Bear Don't Walk said.

Chairman A.J. Not Afraid and Chief Operating Officer Karl Little Owl also requested Daines’ support in following up with the federal Indian Health Service (IHS) agency to allow more funds to local IHS. Public health officials say Big Horn County and the Crow Reservation have been disproportionately impacted by the pandemic. Little Owl says the clinic needs funding to hire more health workers and develop a surge plan if COVID-19 cases continue to rise.

"Even before COVID we had a lack of staff here at IHS anyways. So, now we just want to make sure that they have a plan and begin deploying resources," Not Afraid said.

The meeting took place in advance of Daines’ return to Washington D.C. this week, where he will be working on the next COVID-19 relief bill. Senator Daines, who is running for reelection, said he wants to achieve two things with the next aid package.

"First of all, it’s extend the deadline of which these funds are to be used past the end of the year into next year, because COVID-19 is going to be here for awhile. I’m hoping for some time, maybe as far as September of next year. Second, we’ll take a look at how the funds have been expended so far, what we think we need between now and the end of the year, into the first half of next year, and we’ll allocate additional funds as needed," Daines said.

Congress is drafting a bill for the next coronavirus relief package, which lawmakers argue could total between $1 and $3 trillion dollars. The bill is anticipated to go before Pres. Donald Trump during the first week of August.

Copyright 2020 Yellowstone Public Radio

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