Big Horn County News examines final five top stories of the year
Thursday, January 3, 2019

File photo by Andrew Turck

Detective Mike Fuss of the Big Horn County Sheriff’s Office speaks to a crowd of about 100 people late in the afternoon of Thursday, Oct. 11 on problematic living conditions within the current county jail. The jail has a 34-inmate capacity and has been stretched nearly double that limit with 60 people.

File photo courtesy of Crow Language Conservancy

Felice Bigday marks down the results of rapid word-collection efforts on Monday, July 16. By July 20, tribal residents had recorded more than 10,000 words to transcribe a Crow language dictionary.

File photo by Andrew Turck

Pat Alden Jr., speaker of the House for the Legislative Branch, speaks the afternoon of Saturday, July 28 during the Crow Tribe’s general council meeting in Crow Agency’s Multipurpose Building. According to Alden, it’s important that communication channels remain open for tribal operations, otherwise “we’re stuck.”

File photo by Andrew Turck

Chief Judge Leroy Not Afraid speaks to visiting members of the Colorado court system on the Indian Child Welfare Act from his courtroom chambers in Crow Agency on June 19, 2017. Multiple financial issues were cited regarding the Crow Judicial Branch in a January 2018 report from the Bureau of Indian Affairs.

File photo by Andrew Turck

Custer Battlefield Museum Director Christopher Kortlander holds a copy of his April 24 book, Arrow to the Heart: The Last Battle at the Little Big Horn: The Custer Battlefield Museum vs. The Federal Government. Beside him is a headdress that he recovered from the Bureau of Land Management after the agency seized it as part of a nearly five-year investigation where no charges were filed.

Coming into 2019, the Big Horn County News is finishing the countdown of its top 10 stories for the previous year as judged by the staff. Stories, in a general sense, were chosen based upon their relevance to their subjects, Big Horn County and beyond.

Last week, the News covered stories No. 10 through 6 – from an article on a prom dress donation effort in Lodge Grass to one on controversy surrounding the Crow chairman’s endorsement of Republican candidates.

Stories No. 5 through 1 are listed below. The newspaper staff wishes its readers a Happy New Year.

5. Two Rivers: Fish or cut bait? // County officials engage with residents, promote jail expansion (published October 18, 2018)

Big Horn County officials verbally sparred with residents the afternoon of Thursday, Oct. 11 as 100 people packed into the County Courthouse basement to determine the best way to house local inmates.

Officials, it appeared, unanimously supported the construction of an expanded county jail. The current facility is 40 years old and – as of October – housed 60 inmates in a space meant legally for 34. Many residents, however, supported use of the Two Rivers Regional Detention Facility, which contains 464 beds and has remained vacant since January 2016.

“In the private sector, we don’t reap any benefits without taking a little bit of risk and thinking outside the box,” said Gabe Scheidt of Kemph Land & Livestock near Custer, Montana as audience members clapped. “[Think] of this not as a chain around your leg that’s holding us down, but an opportunity for us to bring more jobs into this community, to bring more people into this community and bring more income into this community.”

Construction of the new county jail, according to a PowerPoint presentation by officials, carries an expected cost of $34.8 million over a 25-year period. To renovate and use the Two Rivers facility, it continues, will cost about $47.8 million over that same period.

When Scheidt suggested sub-letting Two Rivers to pay off the difference, Big Horn County accountant Mike Opie said his “largest potential customer,” the Montana Department of Corrections, didn’t “want my services.”

“They’re looking to reduce their service contracts with people already providing services to them,” he said. “They also would be my regulator if I decided to operate any facility at a profit.”

In the Nov. 6 general election, Big Horn County residents voted 2,387 to 1,827 against the county obtaining a $7.3 million loan for its jail’s expansion.

4. 10 days, 10,000 words, one book // Language preservation groups pool resources to create Crow language dictionary (published July 19, 2018)

Little Big Horn College in Crow Agency and St. Charles in Pryor hosted both The Crow Language Consortium and The Language Conservancy beginning Monday, July 16 as the groups brought tribal members in to create a new Crow language dictionary.

Using recordings from tribal residents, the Consortium and Conservancy managed to acquire more than 10,000 Crow words for the dictionary. An estimated 27 speakers arrived for the first day of recordings, with their ages ranging from 40 to 86.

This method of language word collection, according to Language Conservancy communications director Mitch Teplitsky, is “fairly new” and was used previously to preserve the Acoma Pueblo Tribe’s Acoma-Keres language in New Mexico.

“The average age of the Crow speakers is increasing and the number of Crow speakers has been decreasing,” said Wilhelm K. Meya, executive director of the Language Conservancy. “Few young people are now speaking Crow, so it’s important to give them the tools and resources needed to be successful in the teaching and learning of the Crow language.”

The fruits of their labor may be found online at https://dictionary.crowlanguage.org/.

3. A way out // Billings accounting firm attempts to steer Crow Tribe toward financial stability (published August 2, 2018)

Employees across the Crow Nation were hit financially in 2018 by the consequences of the tribe finishing its Fiscal Year 2016 audit nearly a year after its June 2017 deadline. Many, at the time of a Saturday, Sept. 29 meeting of the tribal general council, had been laid off or not paid in weeks.

“When a tribal audit is late, there’s no extension process provided for it by the federal government,” Executive Finance Director Joseph Eve told Crow members during the meeting in Crow Agency’s Multipurpose Building. “What happens is then the tribe is put on high-risk status.

“It’s painful, as tribal members, because payroll gets cut and then families are not able to pay their bills because wages are not coming in. It turns into a very dire situation.”

To regain financial stability, the Crow Tribe hired Eve’s firm in February and through “a painful and timeconsuming process,” he said, his Billings-based company managed to reconcile balance issues from before Oct. 1, 2016 as of August.

Eve, at the meeting, said “the expectation we tried to set” is that tribal finances should be on solid ground sometime between February and May of 2019.

“We can’t move forward without communication,” said Crow Speaker of the House Pat Alden. “Hopefully, the days are coming to an end on those budget difficulties.”

2. BIA REPORT // Judicial Branch struggles with federal contract accountability (published February 8, 2018)

A January report from the Bureau of Indian Affairs found multiple financial issues in their contract with the Crow Judicial Branch for Fiscal Year 2017 and stated a “hostile work environment was being created” for new Associate Judge Michelle Wilson.

BIA’s Rocky Mountain Regional Office outlined 14 main issues in its corrective action plan. These ran the gamut from the Judicial Branch allegedly misusing its “separation of powers” for lack of compliance with Crow management procedure to an alleged misuse of Public Law 93-638 funds for paychecks.

“There is an appearance that the tribe’s general fund is a bottomless pit,” the report states, “and the Judicial Branch can expend without a check and balance system.”

Though – aside from Wilson – the Judicial Branch declined comment for the article, they responded on May 31 in a separate story by University of Montana student Nick Rudow.

Tribal Court Administrator Ginger Goes Ahead stated in a Jan. 29 letter to the Crow chairman’s office that “it quickly became apparent” the BIA “had ulterior motives.” The reviewers, she stated were addressing areas outside the scope of their report to show noncompliance.

“The BIA has gone as far as to try to make a judge change their order,” Goes Ahead stated. “As far as a government-to-government relationship, that really undermines the sovereignty of the Crow Tribe and the sovereignty of the Judicial Branch of government.”

Chief Judge Leroy Not Afraid was removed from office by the Crow Legislative Branch on Oct. 15, an article by Carl Danelski states, with senators citing his use of an unauthorized contract loan program for judicial employees. Associate Judge Kari Covers Up also was removed after pleading guilty in June at Big Horn County District Court to partner or family member assault.

1. Raid, rinse, repeat – Parts I through IV (published April 26, May 3, May 17 and May 24)

In a series of four articles spanning five cases and more than 10,000 words, the Big Horn County News outlined questionable raiding tactics of Department of Interior Law enforcement, especially those from the Bureau of Land Management. Four suicides were cited over the course of investigations by the BLM and millions of dollars lost.

The local connection to this story, Custer Battlefield Museum Director Christopher Kortlander of Garryowen, encountered BLM raids twice in 2005 and 2008. For the 2005 raid, two dozen members of law enforcement surrounded his museum with armaments equivalent to that of a military unit.

In addition to other objects and documents, they confiscated 22 items from his museum including eagle and migratory bird feathers, along with a war bonnet, medicine bag, headdress and shield. He retrieved them in March 2014 following an aggressive legal battle.

He was never charged with a crime by the BLM and therefore didn’t get the “right to a speedy trial” guaranteed by the Sixth Amendment. By the time he was finished, Kortlander stated, his legal efforts had “cost me my health and a large part of my business, to the tune of a million dollars or more.”

He compiled his case – along with those of the Redd family of Utah, Gibson Guitar Corporation of Tennessee and Bundy family of Nevada – into a book on his experiences. Said novel, released April 24, was entitled, Arrow to the Heart: The Last Battle at the Little Big Horn: The Custer Battlefield Museum vs. The Federal Government.

Of those investigated, he wrote, “I’m the only person who did not plead guilty, did not get indicted, did not get arrested, did not forfeit and did not commit suicide.”