Native Sun News: Tribe threw away late veteran's memorabilia

The following story was written and reported by Clara Caufield, Native Sun News Correspondent. All content © Native Sun News.

Congressman Steve Daines presents Kendra Brownell with a flag flown over U.S. Capitol in memory of the late Veteran Kenneth Brownell. Gladys Yellowrobe, mother, looks on. Photo by Clara Caufield / A Cheyenne Voice

Housing authority trashes Veteran’s memorabilia
Congressman presents replacement flag
By Clara Caufield
Native Sun News Correspondent

LAME DEER, Mont. –– While it didn’t make up for losing all of her late father’s military records and memorabilia, Kendra Brownell, Northern Cheyenne 17 year old high school student, said that receiving a replacement American flag flown over the U.S. Capitol “helped make things better.”

On Wednesday, Oct. 22, Congressman Steve Daines (R-Mont.), traveled to the Northern Cheyenne Reservation to personally present Brownell with an American flag flown over the U.S. Capital in honor of the late Kenneth Brownell, Ojibwa tribal member from Washington State. Brownell was formerly married to Gladys Yellowrobe, Northern Cheyenne. Kendra was his only child. Brownell passed away when she was three years old, thus the military items were extremely meaningful to her.

A small group of family and community members attended Daine’s presentation held at the Veteran’s Park, Lame Deer. The short but moving ceremony included the Congressman’s remarks, a military color guard with 3 gun salute, formal Flag Ceremony presented by two U.S. Army Soldiers in parade dress and remarks by Winfield Russell, Vice-President, and Northern Cheyenne Tribe.

“I hope this flag will help ease your loss,” Daines told the Northern Cheyenne teenager. “The Nation appreciates your father’s service as it does the many Native American Veterans through Montana and the entire country. American Indians produce some of the finest warriors in the land and have the highest rate of enlisted service of any group.”

Daines did not, however, address the events leading up to the presentation of the flag in memory of Kenneth Brownell. His appearance and presentation were instigated by Ataloa Harris Burman, Northern Cheyenne tribal member and friend of the Yellowrobe family.

Burman contacted Daine’s office earlier this year after the Yellowrobe family was evicted from their low-rent apartment in the Muddy Cluster housing community of the Northern Cheyenne Reservation in July, 2014, losing all worldly possessions in the process. The extended family includes Gladys, single head of household, her mother Madeline “Shorty” Yellowrobe, age 84m and four minor children.

Under that eviction, the Northern Cheyenne Housing Authority (NCHA) boarded up the unit where the Yellowrobe family had lived for years and subsequently threw all family personal possessions in trash dumpsters, crushed by the local sanitation truck and hauled to the Miles City Landfill before the family could intervene. Gladys said that this was a “hard blow” to Kendra who idolized her father, now deceased.

“I know that this broke Kendra’s heart,” Ataloa Harris Burman said with tears in her eyes. “That is why I contacted the Congressman’s office to see if they could help in some way. I’m so glad he had the compassion and took the time to bring her a flag in her father’s honor, especially one flown over our Nation’s Capitol.”

Harris also told the Congressman that homelessness is a real problem on the Cheyenne Reservation.

“We have Veterans here with no place to go. In the winter, I worry about them freezing to death. And, the plight of the Yellowrobe family breaks my heart. I was furious when I heard about their eviction, especially when they threw the Brownell flag in the garbage. My husband, Ron, also a Veteran reminds us that there are only two ways to dispose of an American flag: burning or burial with appropriate ceremony. You do not throw a flag in the garbage, like trash.”

Since the eviction, the extended family of six people has split up, seeking refuge with other family members and friends. Kendra, age 17 and a senior at Northern Cheyenne Tribal Schools, Busby moved in with her boyfriend but is still attending school, determined to graduate.

“That’s not the ideal solution,” her mother Glady’s noted, “but there was no alternative. The rest of us are staying with friends and relatives too, because no one could take all six of us in.”

At this point, the Yellowrobe family does not know what to do.

“There is no other housing on the Reservation,” Gladys explained. “I know they won’t give me another NCHA unit and we can’t afford to move off the Reservation, so we will just have to rely on other people to give us shelter.”

The Yellowrobe eviction followed years of dispute (since 2008) between Gladys, a single unemployed mother and NCHA.

“They insisted that I pay $200 a month for the low-rent unit,” Gladys explained. “Even though I am only able to get part-time and temporary work I paid my rent when I could, but often in the winter I couldn’t pay because of the very high electric bills. That unit really took the heat because it was so poorly insulated. I know other people who are employed and only pay $25.00 per month for low-rent units. I also paid for many repairs to the home which NCHA would not provide or deduct from my rent.”

According to Yellowrobe, she tried to negotiate a lower rental payment with NCHA, but was not successful. Key to the conflict was the monthly social security payment (about $1,000) which Kendra receives as the only child of Kenneth Brownell.

“That is her money,” Gladys insists “for her college education. I don’t think her, as a minor should have to be responsible for our rent, although she has helped out. And, I’ve always questioned the eviction policy because our people have no other place to go.”

After years of dispute, the Yellowrobe overdue rentals kept adding up, thousands of dollars which Yellowrobe said she had no hope of paying. When she asked her Muddy District Council member for help, she was told “There is nothing I can do.” Council member, Oly McMakin was apparently not in the office when contacted for comment about this article. No one answered the phone at the Tribal Council offices on several attempts.

Finally, in July 2014 NCHA used the Northern Cheyenne Landlord and Tenant Code to gain a court-affirmed eviction. Section 11-1-3, F of that Code reads: Disposition of Tenant’s Personal Belongings:
Upon termination of the Occupancy Agreement and after the tenant has vacated the premises, the landlord may take possession of the Tenant’s personal belongings left in the unit and at his option either dispose of such belongings or sell them. The tenant shall be responsible for any storage costs incurred by the landlord not to exceed thirty (30) days, and the landlord may file a small claims action for collection of such costs. The receipt of any monies from the sale of such property shall apply first to the costs of such storage and disposal; and secondly to any unpaid rent or to any other bill owed to the landlord by the tenant. The landlord shall have no liability to the tenant for any property which is left in the unit after the tenant has vacated the unit.

At the time, Gladys was working a temporary fire job in the State of Washington. When a friend alerted her about the impeding eviction via cell phone, Gladys contacted a local tribal court advocate who filed an appeal in tribal court, literally hours before the scheduled eviction assuming that would stave it off. NCHA however moved forward. Since then, Yellowrobe says there has been no action on the appeal.

Working frantically at the last minute, Kendra was able to retrieve some personal possessions from the home, including her father’s treasured military records, flag and memorabilia. NCHA then boarded up the low-rent unit, the Yellowrobe family unable to retrieve other possessions.

Having no storage options or transportation, the Cheyenne teenager stacked the few items she had removed in cardboard boxes and left them in the yard, hoping they would be safe. However, in early August, NCHA conducted a community cleanup and the boxes were removed, put into the community trash dumpster, crushed by the local sanitation truck and hauled to Miles City landfill for final disposal.

Following that, NCHA staff removed all of the remaining Yellowrobe possessions from the unit which also eventually wound up in the Miles City landfill, without notifying Gladys.

“We can always get new clothing, furniture and household goods,” she noted. “But, they threw away all of my mother’s pictures, personal items and legal records collected all of her life. Those can never be replaced. That loss is especially upsetting to my mother.”

The boarded up unit continues to be vacant. Yet, recently in its glossy quarterly newsletter provided to postal patrons, NCHA printed the low-rent waiting list, including over one hundred applicants.

Mabel Killsnight, tribal elder related to the Yellowrobe family explained “The only time you would ever do that (throw away all the possessions) is if someone died. I don’t understand this. Don’t they respect our Cheyenne ways?”

On a final note, Kendra will soon receive her father’s ashes from his family members in Minnesota. Gladys noted “These will be kept in a special place and hopefully never lost, like the rest of our treasured possessions.”

NCHA Executive Director Lafe Haugen was not available for comment. Repeated calls to his office requesting comment about this story were not returned.

(Clara Caufield can be reached at

Copyright permission Native Sun News

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