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A Day in the Life in Indian Country

Indian Country Part 4
A public meeting place on the Fort Belknap Indian Reservation in  Montana.

Part 4 and the last of our continuing series. 

The young Native American boy in a red shirt and yellow shorts looks at an approaching Special Agent John Quinlan and smiles. “I remember you,” the boy says.

“I remember you, too. You were very brave,” Quinlan says and smiles back.

The boy, now about 10 years old, had witnessed a murder on the Fort Belknap Indian Reservation a year ago. Today, he just happens to be leaving a relative’s home with his mother as Quinlan and his partner, Special Agent Jon Edwards, are arriving. The agents have come to take statements from several Native Americans who witnessed an assault that took place earlier this year on the reservation near Havre, Montana. 

It’s about 2 p.m., and another day in Indian Country is quickly passing. Quinlan and Edwards had started their day at around 5:30 that morning with their daily work out with agents from the Border Patrol, before heading to their new office on the second floor of a bank in downtown Havre. 

They wear the uniform of agents who are in the field all day, often in the hot sun: cargo pants, hiking boots, and short-sleeve shirts, no ties. 

That morning, while Edwards typed his interview notes from the day before, Quinlan drove over to the Safe Trails Task Force a couple of blocks away. The task force is made up of local law enforcement agencies that combat drug and alcohol offenses on the reservations. Quinlan discussed budget issues, a possible staged drug buy, and other business with Havre’s representative on the task force. 

“The impact you have here is just tremendous. The crimes we investigate touch people’s day-to-day lives in a very real way—the murder of a friend, kids getting molested by their uncle. That’s why we’re here: to give victims a voice and to remind them that ‘justice for all’ applies equally to everyone in America.”

- Special Agent John Quinlan

He swung back by the office to get Edwards, then drove east a good 50 miles to the Fort Belknap reservation. Their first stop was the judicial center, where they spoke to a couple of different prisoners through the locked doors of their jail cells. 

Later, Quinlan paid a visit to Chief Tribal Judge Richard L. King, asking if he would release a prisoner early from a misdemeanor sentence in exchange for help on our investigations. The judge had to demur:  the prisoner was a third cousin on his mother’s side, and he wanted to avoid any appearance of favoritism. “We’re all related here, one way or another,” he said, laughing. King said he would ask another judge about it. 

At a local diner off reservation, the agents ran into two federal probation officers and talked about tribal members who were on their way home from prison—or going back to jail for violating parole. Then it was back in the SUV and another 30-minute drive into the heart of Fort Belknap, where they ran into the young boy. After talking with him briefly, they approach the home of the family they’ve come to interview. 

A Native American man is sitting outside. His ironed dress shirt is tucked into his jeans behind a huge buckle. A new cowboy hat sits on his head, and a baby girl sits in his lap. 

Quinlan and Edwards introduce themselves and explain why they’ve come. The man turns to the open window behind him and yells inside, “FBI’s here!” 

No one is surprised.

- Part 1 of the Series
- Part 2 of the Series
- Part 3 of the Series

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