LAME DEER — Undaunted by near-zero temperatures, close to 100 of Henny Scott’s family, friends and other Northern Cheyenne community members marched Monday in the reservation’s largest town to remember the teenage girl who was reported missing two weeks before a search party found her body Friday.
Dozens of the marchers were draped in red blankets or wearing red T-shirts, the color adopted by the movement to bring awareness to the hundreds of missing or murdered indigenous women across the United States.
For many of the bundled-up mourners, it was an opportunity to pressure federal, state and tribal agencies that they feel have been slow to coordinate and compile reports of missing Natives in the state.
Scott was first reported missing Dec. 13, when the Bureau of Indian Affairs says it entered her name into a national missing persons database. Nearly two weeks later, on Dec. 26, the FBI requested state authorities issue a “missing or endangered person alert,” according to the Montana Department of Justice.
Two days later, members of a search party organized by family members and the tribe’s emergency services department found Scott’s body behind a house west of Lame Deer. During a casket ceremony Saturday, some of Scott’s grieving family members asked why it took authorities so long to issue the alert.
“It seemed like they weren’t taken very seriously by the police,” said Dean Wallowingbull, who helped organize the march Monday. “We’re not being critical, we’re just being thoughtful, with the law enforcement, we want them to be more active when it comes to situations like this.”
The cause of Scott’s death remains unknown. An autopsy was completed Sunday, but Big Horn County Coroner Terry Bullis said Monday afternoon he is still awaiting official results from the state medical examiner.
Clarice Walksalong teaches special education at Lame Deer High School, where Scott was a freshman. She said the tragedy brought back the pain of losing her brother, who she said remains missing after he was last seen about 40 years ago at age 16.
“That’s what really gets to me … I work at the high school and I see these kids every day,” Walksalong said. “I just thought of this young lady lying out there in the cold — for how long? Can you imagine? Through Christmas and all that?”
Many marchers braving the cold Monday shared a common experience: they were related to a missing or murdered Native relative. Among those marchers was Bree Deputee, a freshman at Montana State University.
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Walking with the group as they neared the tribal council building, she wiped away tears as she thought about her aunt, Roylynn Rides Horse, who in 2016 was beaten, lit on fire and left to die in a field on the adjacent Crow Reservation. Rides Horse died two months later from her injuries.
The lack of official information about the investigation into Rides Horse's death similarly brought backlash from the Native community at the time, along with calls from Montana’s congressional delegation to increase awareness for crimes against American Indian women. Rides Horse’s murderer and his accomplices were eventually prosecuted in federal court, and the three people convicted in the case were sentenced in December.
“I have a sister who is 14,” Deputee said. “Even though nothing really close happened to me, that doesn’t mean it can’t. That’s why I’m here.”
Concerns have arisen in recent years that Native American women have been vanishing at an alarming rate, and a recent report by the Seattle-based Urban Indian Health Institute found that those numbers are likely underreported. The report ranked Montana fifth in the country for the number of missing and murdered Native women, despite the state’s low overall population.
In Montana, the state Department of Justice found in 2017 that 30 percent of the missing females in the state are Native American girls and women, who make up just 3.3 percent of the population, the Associated Press previously reported.
Monday's march, which began with a prayer at the reservation’s BIA office, stopped for additional prayers at the Lame Deer police station and a park before reaching the tribal council’s headquarters.
After the final prayer, August “Tiger” Scalpcane sang what he called a traditional “Cheyenne women’s song.”
“It’s a song for her mother to stay strong and keep moving forward,” Scalpcane said afterward.
Scalpcane said he knew Scott well, as the high school’s athletic director and the girls’ basketball team coach. He laughed lightly as he remembered the girl asking him to call her mother to get permission to go to basketball games when she was grounded.
“She was always smiling. Her smile was contagious, you know?” Scalpcane said. “Always outgoing, you know, loved life. She had her bad days, but the majority of them her smile would bring a smile to you. She always said ‘Hi’ and was always one of the people that would come up, give you a hug.”
During a town-hall style meeting afterward in the council’s chambers, acting President of the Northern Cheyenne Tribe Conrad Fisher suggested the community's frustration could act as a catalyst for change on the reservation.
He lobbied for increased cooperation between tribal, state and national agencies, and said the council should work to adopt a law creating a “standardized protocol” for quickly reporting missing people on the reservation and beginning search efforts earlier.
“This isn’t the first time that this has happened, and this has sort of taken on a monumental significance,” Fisher said, noting that the problem has increasingly garnered national attention. “People are watching us … Certainly this is a pivotal time for the Cheyenne Nation.”