A Day in the Life
in Indian Country
FBI Special Agent Doug Klein works violent
crime cases on two reservations in Montana.
July, we traveled to Montana to spend time
with FBI agents who work in what’s called
Indian Country—federally established
reservations set aside for Native Americans.
Today, 114 special agents from 21 different
field offices investigate cases on some 200
reservations nationwide. There, we work closely
with a range of partners, particularly the
tribal police, who know their communities
so well. Our exact role varies from
reservation to reservation, but we are generally
responsible for the most serious crimes, including
murder, child sexual and physical abuse, assaults,
drugs and gangs, corruption, and major thefts.
you’ll see, life in Indian Country—where
we have been part of the law enforcement picture
since at least the 1920s—is often a
hard one for Native Americans and for the
agents and officers who serve and protect
them. But one thing is clear from all
the agents we talked with: our work there
does make a difference.
Agent Doug Klein sat back on his heels and
spoke quietly to the young woman. It was important,
he said, that she answer a federal grand jury
summons to testify about the brutal beating
she allegedly suffered at the hands of her
looked down at the cigarette burn that partially
covered the tattoo of a man’s name on
her left hand. “Will he go to jail if
was another hot, sunny afternoon on the Northern
Cheyenne Indian reservation. Klein—one
of three agents who works in Indian Country
out of our Billings, Montana, office—paused
a moment. Across the dusty street, five kids
dropped the hose they were playing with and
took turns pushing each other down the road
in a wheel chair.
depends on a lot of things,” said Klein,
a nearly eight-year veteran of the Bureau
who cut his teeth working gangs and drugs
in Albuquerque, New Mexico, and got his first
feel for Indian Country on an Evidence Response
Team there. “He might go to jail for
a long time. Or he might get a plea bargain
and get a lighter sentence.” A friend
of the victim pulled back the tattered curtains
and looked through the dusty window at Klein
and the woman talking on the stoop.
Country agents are some of the FBI's most
experienced criminal investigators. Agents
are required to respond to a wide variety
of criminal matters and work them from the
ground up, to include conducting victim,
witness and subject interviews, crime scene
investigations and analysis, fugitive investigations,
as well as taking cases through prosecution.
Indian Country work can be difficult and
challenging but agents who work it have
a real impact on the community."
Supervisory Special Agent Jennifer Leonard,
head of the Indian Country/Special Crimes
Unit, FBI Headquarters
point is, if you don’t show up for the
federal grand jury, the judge will swear out
an arrest warrant and I’ll have no choice.
I will have to arrest you,” Klein said.
“And I don’t want to do that.
You’re the victim here.”
woman had already missed two prior meetings
of the federal grand jury in Billings. She
missed the last one, she told Klein, because
she ran into the parents of her boyfriend
the day before she was to testify. She claims
they didn’t threaten her.
woman considered. “I’ll probably
be gone by the time he gets out anyway,”
she said. “Can I get some gas money?”
Jobs—and cash—are hard to come
by on the reservation, where unemployment
runs above 60 percent. Crime rates are
told her he couldn’t give her gas money
for the 200-mile roundtrip, but gave her the
name and phone number of the FBI’s local
victim assistance specialist. The specialist
would help arrange a ride, he said. She could
also explain more about the grand jury system
and what to expect next.
against a man who beat you severely may seem
like an easy call, but decisions like these
are more complicated in Indian Country, where
relationships are close-knit and victims often
know or are related to their attackers. Crime
and violence are often cyclical, with victims
sometimes turning into suspects themselves.
Klein’s talk has paid off: the
woman has decided to testify. It’s
a small victory, but given how complex Indian
Country cases can be, he’ll take it.
He hops back in his truck and heads to his