Flashback 2018

Big Horn County News counts down top 10 stories (10-6)
Thursday, December 27, 2018

File photo by Andrew Turck

Alyssa Gets Down greets spectators from atop a car on Friday, Sept. 21 during Lodge Grass High School’s Homecoming parade. She began a dress-loaning operation in March that allowed low-income students in Big Horn County and Billings to attend prom.

File photo by Andrew Turck

Hardin High School Principal Rob Hankins holds up his ID. Similar IDs are now used by staff and students alike to enter the building. On Monday, March 5, everyone looking to come into the school was expected to enter via its Miles Avenue entrance, Hankins said, “so we can have more control over who’s coming and going.”

File photo by Andrew Turck

Raising Places design team member Casaja Fritzler, a family support provider at Bighorn Valley Health Center in Hardin, on Jan. 28 goes over her plan to reestablish Cozy’s Corner, a community hub in Lodge Grass that closed about 20 years ago. Casaja and her husband Elvin are one of four couples who joined the design team.

File photo by Andrew Turck

U.S. Rep. Greg Gianforte, then the incumbent candidate for U.S. House (left), poses for a moment with Crow Chairman Alvin “A.J.” Not Afraid at Crow Agency’s Multipurpose Building. Not Afraid gave Gianforte a buffalo robe as a gift and endorsed the candidate on Friday, Nov. 2 before a crowd of about 100.

Unwinding from the presents and sweets of the Christmas season, the Big Horn County News is counting down what staff consider to be its 10 most important stories of 2018.

In the past, the News ranked stories based on those with the most “reads” from www.bighorncountynews.com. Given the change in website platform, however, this method was not possible. Stories, in a general sense, were chosen this year based on relevance to their subjects, Big Horn County and beyond.

Hardin High School’s three state championships for 2018 in boys’ basketball and tennis, and girls’ cross-country – along with its two state champion wrestlers – will get their own article next week on the “School & Activities” page.

10. Prom dress ‘middleman’ // Alyssa Gets Down acquires donations to help make student proms special (published March 29, 2018)

Lodge Grass High School junior (now senior) Alyssa Gets Down saw a problem in her community: Not all students could afford prom dresses for their upcoming high school dances.

Gets Down had loaned out two of her dresses to fellow students and, as more requests came in, decided to expand upon the concept. Soon, she became the “middleman” for a loaning operation that in March had received 20 dresses and counting.

Students across both Big Horn County and Billings received dresses thanks to the efforts of Gets Down and generosity from local residents such as then Lodge Grass junior Dacee Whiteman.

“There are a lot of girls out there who don’t have a lot and we want to help them out,” said Whiteman, who donated three dresses to the cause.

Gets Down, a candidate for Lodge Grass Homecoming queen in September, said she plans on continuing the dress donation cycle in the foreseeable future and possibly after she graduates from Montana State University.

9. Guilty until proven innocent (published February 15, 2018)

Big Horn County News Publisher Jim Eshleman, in his “Simply Biased” column, examined the conundrum of one local resident who – in the eyes of counselors, caseworkers and law enforcement officers – was deemed guilty without a trial. The resident asked not to be named in the column, but his situation was well-known in the area.

Problems began when the resident decided to foster a 14-year-old child. The child had a history of lying and stealing, though Northern Cheyenne Tribal Social Services declined to tell this fact to the resident or his wife.

Soon, the child told counselors and caseworkers the resident had abused her in his house’s basement that, in real life, didn’t exist. Responding deputies didn’t check this discrepancy.

Over the following weeks, the resident would be arrested twice and spend five nights in jail. He also would be relieved from employment, shunned by his church and have his reputation destroyed.

What saved the resident from further damage was his lawyer, who found video surveillance tapes from a restaurant that directly contradicted the child’s testimony.

Big Horn County’s deputy attorney, in the end, decided to dismiss the case. He found this action “necessary and proper,” he stated, because “further investigation by the Big Horn County Sheriff’s Office revealed that the alleged victim had lied to law enforcement.”

8. Tightening security // Hardin High School updating policies to stop potential shootings (published March 1, 2018)

In response to “scares” both on school grounds and nationwide involving firearms, Hardin High School Principal Rob Hankins on March 5 updated building security procedures.

Hardin High temporarily was shut down Feb. 2 following threats from Uttekaat Birdinground, then a 17-year-old student, who a week previous allegedly brought a gun to school and attempted to steal lunch money from another student. Nearly 2,500 miles away on Feb. 14, a shooter killed 17 students at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida.

Hardin art teacher Nora Block – who temporarily hid Birdinground’s gun – and the Hardin student were arraigned at Big Horn County District Court on Feb. 27. Block was fired and Birdinground expelled. Birdinground’s trial is pending with a warrant and Block is set to be sentenced on Jan. 3, 2019.

Students and visitors now are required to arrive only through the Miles Avenue entrance at the front of the school, and IDs are required to progress into the main building. By 8:20 a.m. each weekday, the school’s Terry Avenue entrance is locked.

“I think we need to take every precaution,” Hankins said, “to ensure we are safe.”

7. Tuning in to community // Raising Places design team utilizes community output in final idea lab (published February 1, 2018)

Design team members, using a $60,000 grant from Raising Places, hosted their final meeting on Jan. 28 in a bid to inspire the Town of Lodge Grass toward social, economic and cultural improvement. Through multiple community workshops over five months, the team had pushed to involve fellow residents in their endeavors.

Design team ideas, and methods to achieve them, were depicted using about 20 handmade posters that hung across the room.

An audience of about 60 crowded into Lodge Grass City Hall to hear the team’s proposals to – among other projects – re-establish the town’s community hub, form a cooperative for artists and explore a life-immersion learning system that integrates Crow tribal experiences. Resident input was encouraged throughout the day.

“[We] think of all of you guys as part of our design team,” said team convener Dr. Megkian Doyle, who taught English and journalism at Lodge Grass High School from 1999 to 2002. “What we really want is for all of us to join as a family and as a community in doing things that everyone wants to see happen.”

Raising Places, a Chicago-based organization funded through the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, was created with the stated purpose of “[catalyzing] local momentum in building healthier communities where all children and their families can thrive.”

6. The Crow Tribe does / does not endorse // Chairman touts Trump’s ‘agenda,’ clashes with legislature and constituents (published November 8, 2018)

Crow Chairman Alvin “A.J.” Not Afraid sparked a protest of about 40 people outside his headquarters in Crow Agency after he endorsed State Auditor Matt Rosendale, the Republican candidate for U.S. Senate. As a sign of solidarity, Not Afraid took a group of tribal members to Lewistown and draped Rosendale in the gift of a buffalo robe.

Big Horn County, whose population is about twothirds American Indian, has not voted for a Republican candidate in the U.S. House, Senate or presidency for at least seven years. County records on the matter do not go back further.

Regarding his choice, Not Afraid took a nonpartisan stance. His endorsements, he said, were not connected to political affiliation. Rather, he continued, “The Apsaalooke go with who pushes the Apsaalooke’s agenda.”

Protester BethYana Pease, who serves as a Lodge Grass city alderman, said the reason for opposing Not Afraid’s decision was that the Crow Tribe, as a whole, has a much larger support base for incumbent U.S. Sen. Jon Tester, a Democrat. Big Horn County, several days later, voted 2,855 to 1,516 in favor of Tester over Rosendale.

“[To] go and do that is like slapping Indian Country in the face,” she said of Not Afraid’s decision. “We’re being called sell-outs. The Crow Tribe is being called [a sellout] by other tribal nations and we’re not. We stand with tribal rights and tribal sovereignty.”

Not to be dissuaded, Not Afraid endorsed incumbent U.S. Rep. Greg Gianforte, another Republican candidate, in his race against Democratic opponent and former state senator Kathleen Williams. From atop a stage in Crow Agency’s Multipurpose Building, he once again draped his chosen candidate in a buffalo robe.

Though Gianforte was victorious statewide, Big Horn County voted for Williams 2,709 to 1,653.

“I am really honored to receive the endorsement of the Crow Tribe,” Gianforte said. “I share the vision with the chairman that we want more jobs, we want prosperity and we want self-sufficiency for the Crow people.”

Next week, the Big Horn County News will wrap up its final five stories of 2018.