Local, state officials gather in Hardin for forum on ‘Bordertown Discrimination’

Photo by Gary Rood

Bureau of Indian Affairs Police Chief Jose Figueroa speaks last Thursday at the Hardin Middle School auditorium during the Community Forum on Bordertown Discrimination in Montana. Pictured from the left are Big Horn County Sheriff Robert Simpson, Rosebud County Sheriff Allen Fulton, Figueroa and Big Horn County Justice of the Peace Leroy Not Afraid.

Last Thursday’s Community Forum on Bordertown Discrimination in Montana, held from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. in the Hardin Middle School auditorium, brought together multiple panelists to discuss the subject, from local law enforcement to tribal leaders. A “bordertown,” in this case, refers to any such area sharing a boundary line with an American Indian reservation – in this case, Hardin and the Crow Reservation.

Northern Cheyenne President Jace Killsback noted the Northern Cheyenne Reservation – which includes Busby in the eastern part of the county – also falls under this category in a sense. Many Northern Cheyenne kids, he continued, attend Hardin schools and must contend with the city’s rules, such as the need for driver’s license registration.

According to Leroy Not Afraid, who serves both as justice of the peace for Big Horn County and chief judge for the Crow Tribe, it was important to ask: “Does racism exist in our court system? Does racism exist within our law enforcement?” During one of the event’s latter panels, he said the answer to these questions were within the eye of the beholder.

“In terms of the Apsaalooke Nation Tribal Court, I know that Judge [Rod] Souza out of the 13th Judicial District has made great strides in developing an Indian tribal welfare court in Yellowstone County,” he said. ”I know that the Department of Family Services in the state of Montana makes their efforts on behalf of Indian children. However, we have a ways to go.”

Leroy said when dealing with the Indian Child Welfare Act, a federal law that deals with the removal of American Indian children from their families, many jurisdictions are resistant to giving custody to Crow parents.

In terms of law enforcement, nearly all representatives said they had undergone some form of cultural sensitivity training in regards to American Indians. Speakers representing law enforcement ran the gamut from local members – Bureau of Indian Affairs Police Chief Jose Figueroa and Big Horn County Sheriff Robert Simpson – to those in nearby Rosebud and Yellowstone counties.

Nonetheless, the nearby jails from those areas and Big Horn County are filled past capacity with the majority of their inmates being tribal members. Figueroa currently has to transport Crow Reservation inmates nearly 90 miles to Lame Deer. A jail in Crow Agency – the reservation’s seat – is in the works, he said, but is overdue.

Killsback stated many people don’t consider Lame Deer’s Rosebud County Jail as the building’s proper name, electing instead to call it the “Cheyenne County Jail” in reference to the majority of its denizens.

When considering these issue in the future, Crow Chairman Alvin “A.J.” Not Afraid said, they should remember a quote from Chief Plenty Coups: “With education you are the white man’s equal; without education you are his victim.”

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