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POPLAR — As part of the legal process after the death of 13-month old Kenzley Olson played out here Tuesday, men on horses gathered across the street from the school in Poplar with an eagle staff.

They were waiting for Kenzley’s body to be driven to town from Wolf Point so they could escort the procession to the Poplar Culture Center, where the community would gather for a wake service before Wednesday’s funeral.

Among the riders who escorted the line of dozens of cars on Highway 2 was Thomas Denny, who said he echoed Tribal Chairman Floyd Azure in tying Kenzley’s death to methamphetamine use on this reservation of about 10,000 in northeastern Montana.

He said drug abuse, meth specifically, has grown to be "out of control. We need to bring attention to it. We need some help."

Speakers at the evening wake cited meth and called for the community to work to address the problem. 

Groups of men in the back of the gym played in a drum circle as about a hundred people gathered for the wake, which ran several hours and included singing from people who knew the family and a song composed for Kenzley and her extended family.

Janelle Red Dog, 42, pleaded not guilty in the alleged beating death of the toddler Tuesday in tribal court.

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Raymond Olge, who said his grandchildren called Kenzley their half-sister, attended the wake. He said he’s seen meth become more and more of a problem in town.

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"You can just tell when people are on it," he said. "They're skinny, too skinny."

He said Poplar is suffering because the younger generation is spending their money on drugs and not at local restaurants and other stores.

"Used to be kids would get a dollar and go out and buy a hamburger, now they get $3, $5, and they buy drugs. Everyone knows who the dealers are, where you can get it."

Olge said drug use has been more and more common as generations age, and now you have older adults using meth.

"A lot of users are grandparents now," he said. "And grandkids think 'It must be OK because my grandpa is doing it.'"

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Reporter covering statewide issues for The Billings Gazette.