Following Deaths at Northern Cheyenne, Tester Pushes for Answers, Accountability from FBI and BIA

Tester: “The loss of these individuals has rippled through the community, as has alarm at the growing number of cases”

Following an increasing number of deaths on the Northern Cheyenne Indian Reservation, U.S. Senator Jon Tester is pushing for answers and accountability from federal law enforcement.

In a letter to the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) and the Bureau of Indian Affairs (BIA), Tester expressed concern over the ongoing public safety crisis on the Northern Cheyenne Indian Reservation, and urged the agencies to take steps to investigate the deaths and improve safety on the Reservation.

“Over the past few months, multiple Northern Cheyenne Tribal members have been found dead on the Northern Cheyenne Reservation, including Christy Woodenthigh, Kymani Littlebird, and Lonnie Flatness,” Tester wrote. “My office has been in regular contact with the Bureau of Indian Affairs (BIA) and Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) in hope of bringing more resources and greater transparency to these tragedies. It is clear that more attention and resources are necessary.”

Tester pushed the FBI and BIA to direct all available resources towards investigating the deaths, and called on them to improve communication with the Tribe and the families of the deceased while addressing the public safety crisis in Indian Country.

In a separate phone call Wednesday, Tester also spoke with Northern Cheyenne President Rynalea Peña and told her he would push federal law enforcement to work with her to fully and transparently investigate the deaths on the Reservation.

“Tribal leadership and family members of the deceased have raised consistent concerns about the lack of communication from both the BIA and FBI,” Tester’s letter continued. “I urge you to work with the Northern Cheyenne Tribe to ensure family and community members continue to receive regular updates on these investigations.”

As a member and former Chairman of the Senate Indian Affairs Committee, Tester has fought consistently to hold federal law enforcement accountable to Indian Country and improve public safety on Northern Cheyenne. In June, after Tester learned that BIA still had not opened Lame Deer Jail as an 8-hour hold facility despite promises to do so, he wrote BIA Acting Rocky Mountain Regional Director Susan Messerly, urging her to immediately make the necessary repairs to get the facility up and running. In December, Tester pushed BIA to reopen Lame Deer Jail as a 72-hour hold facility and address law enforcement shortages on the Reservation.

Additionally, he recently excoriated the FBI for failing to keep Indian Country safe and neglecting to provide help to local jurisdictions when crimes occur outside of an Indian reservation, and he has criticized Attorney General William Barr for failing to address Montana’s public safety needs and neglecting to address the Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women crisis, human trafficking, and methamphetamine use.

Tester’s full letter is available HERE.