Montana Public Radio

Native Americans

Crow Tribe.
Josh Burnham / MTPR

The Crow Tribe ordered its members to lock down for two weeks beginning Friday, as tribal leaders moved to slow a sharp spike in coronavirus cases and deaths on yet another reservation in the country.

MMIW Cold Case Office Opens In Billings

Aug 7, 2020

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.

State officials are worried a new sped up federal deadline could jeopardize Montana’s chances of getting an accurate census total. The once a decade count has large implications for the Treasure State.

In April, the U.S. Census Bureau announced it would push the counting deadline back a month to Oct. 31 because the coronavirus pandemic had halted field operations across the U.S.

Monday, the bureau said counting will end Sept. 30 after all.

The Supreme Court recently decided McGirt v. Oklahoma, a case many are calling one of the most important decisions for Native Americans in US History. The ruling signifies a shift in how the federal legal system recognizes tribal nations at a time when tribes are pushing for similar consideration in Montana courts.

On July 9, the Supreme Court ruled 5-4 in a decision that effectively determined the majority of eastern Oklahoma is rightfully Indian Country.

In Ronan, Montana.
Tailyr Irvine

Dating in small-town Montana can be tough. For Native Americans, a government-imposed tribal enrollment system dating back to the 1900's has made the dating pool even more complicated.

Salish and Kootenai photojournalist Tailyr Irvine explores the ties and binds of love and identity in “Reservation Mathematics,” an exhibit showing at the Smithsonian through October. The 2019 National Geographic Explorer and We, Women artist spoke with YPR News' Kaitlyn Nicholas about her exhibit and work.

The most recent data analysis this week by Montana’s Department of Health and Human Services revealed more about COVID-19’s impact on Native Americans. 

New analysis from the state health department shows Native Americans account for less than 7 percent of Montana’s population but were 36 percent of the 22 people who had died from Covid-19.

The report from Montana’s Department of Health and Human Services also found that Native Americans represent 15 percent of the state’s total cases, more than double their representation in Montana’s population.

Last weekend, Montana saw its biggest spike yet in COVID-19 cases. YPR reports how the disease is impacting Native Americans across the state.

Shonda Buchanan can tell a story like no other. Her writing pulls at the thread of truth with deep compassion, grace, and humor. In this conversation, she shares what it means to be Black Indian both within intimate family relations as well as in the broader cultural and historical contexts. Her work is prescient and her voice is disarming: “This is our country and we have a right to stay. We have a right to be here and we have a right to fight. . . For me, writing is fighting.”

Cheryl Eagle (L) with Indian People's Action, and Geoff Gallus (R) with the Butte Area Rising Coalition, comfort Miki Chessmore (M), who's house was spray painted with racial slurs in early June. June 15, 2019.
Nora Saks

Over the weekend, the Butte community rallied in response to an incident in early June where a resident’s home was vandalized with racial slurs targeting Native Americans.

Vanessa Fields, planning team leader for the National Bison Range, presenting at the public meeting in Polson May 1, 2019.
Nick Mott / Montana Public Radio


The latest step in a years-long process laying out the future of the National Bison Range Monday night dredged up questions of race and public land ownership that have lingered since a failed 2016 proposal to transfer the refuge to the Confederated Salish and Kootenai Tribes. 

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