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MMIW Cold Case Office Opens In Billings

Olivia Reingold
Yellowstone Public Radio

A federal office to investigate cold cases of missing and murdered Indigenous people opened in Billings on Aug. 6.

The office is part of the Trump Administration’s Operation Lady Justice Task Force.

Montana is one of seven states to get a Cold Case Task Force office aimed at solving the high number of cases involving missing and murdered Native American people. It’s the latest step in slow moving systemic change spurred by grassroots efforts in communities with significant Native American populations, like Billings.

Missing and Murdered Indigenous Peoples advocate Charlene Sleeper, who’s Southern Cheyenne, Arapaho and Crow, says she’s thankful the office is available.

“I’m hoping in the long term that it achieves some sort of healing for the families that have cold cases and that it facilitates community healing because we suffer from the grief at a level that we all feel it in within our tribes," Sleeper said.

She says she’d like to see the office connect with Native American communities to ensure open communication and sensitivity to the tribes’ cultural differences.

ACLU Indigenous Justice Organizer Angeline Cheek, who’s Dakota-Lakota of the Fort Peck Assiniboine & Sioux Tribes of Montana, says it’s important that the Cold Case Task Force office make local connections.

“I hope that they’re able to solve a lot of cases, but again there are community leaders who have been doing this for a long time and they need to be recognized and they need them to ask them to help," Cheek said.

According to Bureau of Indian Affairs spokesperson David Conrad, two BIA special agents will be assigned to the Billings office. He says they’ll coordinate with state, local and tribal law enforcement agencies as needed to cover cases in the Rocky Mountain region.

The office is part of the multi-agency initiative President Donald Trump established by executive order last year. The other states chosen for office locations are Alaska, Arizona, Minnesota, New Mexico, South Dakota and Tennessee.

Copyright 2020 Yellowstone Public Radio

Kayla Desroches reports for Yellowstone Public Radio in Billings. She was born and raised in Brooklyn, New York, and stayed in the city for college, where she hosted a radio show that featured serialized dramas like the Shadow and Suspense. In her pathway to full employment, she interned at WNYC in New York City and KTOO in Juneau, Alaska. She then spent a few years on the island of Kodiak, Alaska, where she transitioned from reporter to news director before moving to Montana.
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