Montana delegation calls for awareness after Crow woman's death

Billings Gazette

by Ashley Nerbovig

After the death of Roylynn Rides Horse, U.S. senators Steve Daines and Jon Tester, as well as U.S. Rep. Ryan Zinke, have called for more awareness regarding crimes against Native American women.

On Tuesday, the Montana politicians introduced a resolution in the U.S. Senate to designate May 5, 2017, as a National Day of Awareness for Missing and Murdered Native Women and Girls. Zinke plans to introduce a companion resolution in the U.S. House of Representatives.

The date was chosen to honor the birthday of Hanna Harris, a member of the Northern Cheyenne Tribe who was murdered in July 2013. Her decomposing body was found near the rodeo grounds on the Northern Cheyenne Reservation.

The resolution was introduced to call attention to cases that often go unnoticed by the public, due in part to a lack of information coming from investigating agencies.

“I am heartbroken by the recent murder of RoyLynn Rides Horse,” Daines said. “We are ringing the alarm to this devastating epidemic.”

Tester, who sits on the Senate Committee on Indian Affairs, this year sponsored a bill to extend tribal criminal jurisdiction over domestic violence committed by people with ties to reservations. The bill was approved by the committee and is waiting to be taken up by the U.S. Senate.

“It is critical that we shed more light on the hardships that Native women and their families often face,” Tester said. “But words must be followed up with actions.”

Zinke said there must be more awareness of murdered and missing women and children in Native communities.

“Raising awareness will help save lives and prevent another heartbreaking outcome,” Zinke said.

He said the “attack and murder of RoyLynn Rides Horse shook my soul as a husband, father, Montanan,” and he offered his deepest condolences to her family and community.

American Indian women are killed at a rate more than 10 times the national average. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, homicide was the third leading cause of death among American Indian and Alaska Native women between ages 10 and 24, and the fifth leading cause of death between ages 25 and 34.

Lucy Simpson, executive director of the National Indigenous Women’s Resource Center, and the National Congress of American Indians both “applauded” the resolution.

When asked about the attack against Rides Horse, BIA press contact with the Department of the Interior, Nedra Darling, directed all questions to the FBI.

The FBI released this statement: “The victim is being treated for her injuries” and added the incident was under investigation.

When Tester contacted the Department of the Interior regarding their perceived lack of response to inquires about public safety threats on Montana Native American reservations, the department said it follows the U.S. attorney for the District of Montana’s media policy.

State and Crow legislators have all called for more transparency regarding crimes on Native American reservations.