CROW AGENCY, Mont. (AP) — Nearly two months after a woman was found severely burned on the Crow Indian Reservation, the tribe is still seeking information about the case from federal investigators, tribal leaders said.
The victim was found on April 17 in a field near the border between the Northern Cheyenne and Crow reservations with burns over most of her body, The Billings Gazette reported (http://bit.ly/28qcUKZ). Doctors told the woman's family she had walked about 3 miles before collapsing, said Crow Sen. Shawn Real Bird.
The FBI and the Bureau of Indian Affairs say she is being treated for her injuries and they can't comment because the investigation is ongoing. The agencies wouldn't confirm the date and location of the incident, or say how the burns occurred.
Reservation residents believe the woman was set on fire.
Tribal attorney Dawn Gray told members of the Crow Tribal Judicial Committee on Thursday that the lack of disclosure likely violates the 2010 Tribal Law and Order Act, which in part guaranteed the tribes the information they need to ensure public safety. The act also sought to decrease violence against Native American women, to encourage hiring more law enforcement officers for Indian lands and to encourage collaboration among federal, state and tribal law enforcement.
Real Bird said when a crime like that happens on the reservation, the tribal government must be kept informed. He called for a congressional hearing on the matter.
"If this had happened to a non-Indian in any other community, it would have made 'Good Morning America,'" Real Bird said.
It's time for people on the reservations to speak out about the violence, Real Bird said, noting he has felt pressure from the FBI not to speak to the media about crimes against his family members.
"If we can't communicate with the press, that's martial law," Real Bird said. "We need to protect ourselves and we need to raise awareness."
When asked if FBI agents ever pressure victims' families not to talk about cases under investigation, FBI spokeswoman Sandra Barker told the Gazette that the agency had no comment.
State Sen. Sharon Stewart Peregoy said she was frustrated with the lack of investigation into crimes on the Crow Reservation, as well as the lack of prosecution, saying that without the ability to enforce laws, crime will run unimpeded on the reservation.
Democratic U.S. Sen. Jon Tester of Montana wrote to Interior Secretary Sally Jewell expressing concerns about the responsiveness of the Bureau of Indian Affairs to press inquiries about crime on Indian reservations.
"In one instance, a news organization couldn't get information about an alleged murder, leaving many residents concerned that a suspect was on the loose," Tester wrote. "The matters, while sensitive and under investigation, need to be immediately communicated to the public."
Republican U.S. Sen. Steve Daines said he believes it's critical that "we hold the FBI and BIA accountable in order to ensure people feel safe and secure in tribal communities."
BIA spokeswoman Nedra Darling said Friday that it is the policy of the U.S. Attorney in Montana for law enforcement not to speak to the press on active, open investigations.
The victim's family and other tribal members plan to march on June 16 to raise awareness about the incident. The march is scheduled to start at 8 a.m. on U.S. Highway 212 near the Little Bighorn Battlefield.
Information from: The Billings Gazette, http://www.billingsgazette.com