Attorney General Tim Fox pledged his help Thursday morning to boost safety for Montana’s Indian tribes.
Speaking in Billings to the Montana Indian Nations Working Group, Fox, who took office in January, invited the roomful of people to work with him in improving life for the state's Indian population.
“I hope that you will partner with me to explore the possibilities and find ways in which we can work together to make Indian Country a better, safer place to live, work and raise our families,” Fox said, speaking at the downtown offices of the Montana-Wyoming Tribal Leaders Council.
Fox said that having grown up in Hardin, he was immersed as a child in the culture of the Crow and Northern Cheyenne people. He and his family attended powwows, hand games, rodeos, horse races and parades, and he had friends who were tribal members.
His father was adopted into a clan of the Crow Tribe, Fox said.
But that closeness also let him see the difficult side of reservation life.
He saw how substance abuse and poverty impacted the lives of his American Indian friends. The “islands of contrast” that existed back then are still in place today, Fox said.
“Just because a person might be born or live in Indian Country, he or she has a much greater risk of being a victim of crime, of suffering abuse or domestic violence, of abusing drugs or alcohol, of dropping out of school, of living in poverty or of suffering the consequences of racism,” he said.
Fox said he’d like the Department of Justice to assist tribes to help improve the quality of life for all members. He was quick to point out that his department has no jurisdiction or authority over sovereign tribal nations.
But he offered ideas of how the DOJ might partner with tribes to improve conditions on the reservations. The Montana Highway Patrol already has cooperative law enforcement agreements with the Fort Peck, Confederated Salish and Kootenai and Blackfeet tribal governments.
“We’d like to have them with all of our Montana tribal governments, and I will work toward that goal,” Fox said.
A cooperative agreement can vary by tribe, but it might mean giving the MHP the ability to arrest suspects and detain them until tribal police arrive or serving as the primary agency at a crash scene.
The MHP is training its troopers to handle active-shooter situations using simulations. Fox said he would be happy to work toward exporting that training to tribal law enforcement departments in Montana.
The DOJ has conducted on-site training for tribal law enforcement on interview techniques, DUI laws and prescription drug abuse, “and we’d like to do more,” Fox said.
Six tribal governments are implementing sexual offender registry programs, and Fox offered the expertise of the Division of Criminal Investigation to aid them. He also said he would be glad to advocate in Washington, D.C., to give tribal law enforcement more resources.
On Thursday evening, Crow Chairman Darrin Old Coyote said through a spokesman the tribe would not be entering into an agreement with the MHP. He said the tribe doesn’t want any state involvement with tribal jurisdiction issues on the reservation.
Fox also said he has met with Superintendent of Public Instruction Denise Juneau about partnering on school safety in Indian Country.
Later in the year, Fox plans to travel to meet with tribal leaders, tribal law enforcement and tribal members.
“My goal is to make a positive difference in the lives of those living in Indian Country,” he said.