The remains of a St. Ignatius woman who went missing nearly a year ago have been found in western North Dakota.
Darlene Billie, a 55-year-old member of the Choctaw Tribe who lived on the Flathead Indian Reservation, had last been seen in October 2017 near the Montana-North Dakota state line. Billie’s disappearance prompted months of work by her family members and authorities to locate her.
Those efforts came to an end Tuesday, when the Dunn County, North Dakota, Sheriff’s Office announced that Billie’s remains had been found there.
This grim news comes amid heightened awareness of missing and murdered Native American women and girls. According to a recent report by the Montana Legislative Services Division, “while about 6.7 percent of Montana’s population identifies as American Indian, 25 percent of persons reported missing in the state as of August 6, 2018, were American Indian. The percentage is higher for children at 37 percent. For women and girls, it is 30 percent.”
On the Flathead Reservation, Tribal Police Chief Craig Couture said that Jermain Charlo, last seen in Missoula in June 2017, also currently is listed as missing, and an investigation is ongoing.
Couture characterized Billie’s disappearance as “a little bit different” than others. “It didn’t happen on a reservation. It just turns out there are tribal members involved,” he said.
As detailed in a recent Associated Press investigation, disappearances of Native women often go unsolved — a situation that experts and activists variously attribute to racism, insufficient resources and gaps between the jurisdictions of local, tribal and federal law enforcement.
In this case, Couture commended the Kalispell FBI office for their assistance, but also said that Flathead Tribal Police first learned about Billie’s disappearance from her family in January, nearly three months after she vanished.
He stressed the importance of prompt information-sharing, both between law enforcement agencies and from the general public, to locate missing persons. “The sooner you get better information … the better chance law enforcement has,” he said.
According to the Dunn County Sheriff’s Office press release, Billie's disappearance remains under investigation and has been forwarded to federal authorities.