The remains of a woman from the Flathead Reservation who’s been missing since last October have been identified by a North Dakota sheriff’s office.
The Dunn County Sheriff’s Office announced via Facebook Tuesday they’d identified the remains of Darlene Billie of St. Ignatius, who was reported missing last December. Billie, a Choctaw Native American, was last seen near the North Dakota-Montana Border.
People who knew Billie describe her as thoughtful, kind, joking and laughing.
Dunn County Sheriff’s Deputy Timothy Sul says Billie’s remains were found on September 3 on private property in the northwest region of the county.
"The area she was found is called the badlands area," Sul said. "It's pretty extreme terrain."
Sul says the Federal Bureau of Investigation is involved with the case and that foul play has not been confirmed at this time.
"We're waiting for the medical examiner's report to determine the cause of death," he said. "That will be a pretty big indication on what direction we go with the case."
Dunn County is a 2,000 square mile area in the Bakken region in western North Dakota. Deputy Sul says while he’s unaware of similar missing persons cases in the past five years, a Native American woman was recently found in Lake Sakakawea on the Fort Berthold Reservation to the northwest of Dunn County.
As of this week, 12.5 percent of the people listed on the Montana Missing Person’s Clearinghouse are Native American women. American Indian men and women make up less than 7 percent of Montana’s population, according to the latest Census.
Today The U.S. Justice Department said it will sharply increase the amount of money it gives to tribes in a push to combat the high rates of violence against Native American women. A top agency official says more than $113 million in public safety funding will be doled out to 133 tribes and Alaska Native villages. The announcement comes after The Associated Press reported on the deaths and disappearances of Native American women and girls.
Ivan MacDonald is a Blackfeet clinician at the Missoula Urban Indian Health Center. He’s also produced documentaries about missing and murdered indigenous women.
"I can't think of a single person who hasn't experienced this crisis," MacDonald said.
He says the crisis of missing and murdered indigenous women is exacerbated by a lack of law enforcement resources on Native American reservations and a complicated web of tribal, county and federal jurisdiction that allows these cases to slip through the cracks.
"Tribes are disproportionately affected by what's called major crime: Kidnapping, murder, sexual violence, what the Department of Justice describes as violent crimes," he said. "But they have no ability to prosecute that crime."
Dunn County Sheriff’s Office is coordinating an investigation into Darlene Billie’s case with nearby McKenzie County Sheriff’s Office and the FBI. They’re also in touch with the Confederated Salish and Kootenai Tribal Police.