A view of the Crow Reservation in Montana. Photo: Ivy Allen / U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service
Law | Opinion

Adrian Jawort: Indian families still seeking justice for loved ones

Writer Adrian Jawort, a citizen of the Northern Cheyenne Tribe who lost his younger brother in a shooting in Montana, recently followed up with the parents of Steven Bearcrane-Cole, whose death on the Crow Reservation is the subject of an ongoing lawsuit that was heard by a federal appeals court last month:
Ten years ago my older brother got off the phone after a quick solemn sounding conversation and turned to me with an ashen color on his face conveying shock, fright, and anger all at once. “He’s dead,” he told me, his voice trying to crack. “They killed him. Austin is dead.”

No. No way. It couldn’t be true. Although he wasn’t a saint, my little brother was a popular guy, and well-loved by anyone who had even a brief conversation with him. Are you sure? Yeah, I heard mom screaming and crying hard in the background. My mom had been sick in the hospital due to a blood disease. The poignant, yet distant way he’d said, “heard mom screaming and crying hard,” was all the hard evidence I needed to convince myself it was true as I braced for the reality and let the fact flood over the levee that was my heart like an unexpected midnight tsunami.

I too would get to hear what my brother had already sampled on the phone as we neared the hospital room where Yellowstone County Sheriff Deputies spoke outside of it with my shaken dad. The sound of a wailing, bereaved mother over the death of her youngest baby son most genuinely captures the meaning of heartfelt pain as the mother who carried and cared so much for her baby that she’d die for them without hesitation only wants to trade places.

Such haunting recollections are a personal daily occurrence, but they surfaced even more vividly one day as I recently went and spoke with Cletus and Earlene Cole, Native American parents whose son Steven Bearcrane-Cole was killed by a white man named Bobby Holcomb on a ranch on the Crown Indian Reservation in 2005. After what the Cole’s considered an incompetent if not dismissive investigation after Holcomb was never charged with any crime, they brought a lawsuit against the FBI in 2009 alleging they have “a practice of knowingly providing less law enforcement services to Native Americans than non-Native Americans.”

Read More on the Story:
Adrian Jawort: Steven Bearcrane-Cole Case Hits Close to Home (Indian Country Today 3/5)

More on Steven Bearcrane-Cole Case:
‘Just Another Dead Indian’: Steven Bearcrane-Cole Case Has One More Chance (Indian Country Today 2/7)

9th Circuit Court of Appeals Decision:
Cole v. Oravec (January 10, 2012)

Related Stories:
Crow families can proceed with lawsuit against an FBI agent (2/3)