BROWNING — On Sunday, families and friends on the Blackfeet Reservation gave a voice to a list of names associated with the Missing Murdered Indigenous People crisis.
Dozens gathered to grieve and remember the many lives cut short.
“The people that did it to him (Willy Pepion) are still walking,” said mother Wilma Fluery. “No justice for my boy; he was only 22 years old starting his life out, that's my baby.”
The pain was shared by all in attendance Sunday.
“He had two little baby girls and we’re still not getting justice for him,” said Justine Steward, sister to Justin Azure, who died in May 2020. “And we really need justice for those girls and our family.”
Now, two more families are having to cope without closure.
“She (Ardie) was just startin’ her life,” said Arbana Pepion. “She was literally just startin’ her life.”
“Leo was a rock to our life, all of our lives, the family he was the rock,” said sister Nicole Wagner of her twin brother. “He completed it, and now it’s just a big hole there without my brother.”
Relatives of 3-year-old Arden, aka Ardie, Pepion and Leo Wagner are taking a stand with others who pray for answers.
“I know we’re all angry, I know we’re all upset, I know we’re all in tears,” said March Organizer and Blackfeet Community Member Belinda Bullshoe. “I know we’re all heartbroken.”
Some at the event said those entrusted to serve and protect aren’t doing their jobs.
“If it was their family- they would push,” said Arbana and Aaron Pepion. “They would push hard.”
“You're representing the Blackfeet for a reason. You can't keep hanging out and being a cop and not want to do your job,” said Wagner. “We all see it. All us loved ones see it.”
A group is forming to keep the momentum moving on the MMIP Crisis, as they put pressure on elected officials for change.
“We need to know what do you want from the Blackfeet Tribal Council, what do you expect from the Tribal Council?,” Belinda Bullshoe asked the crowd of marchers. “They’re our leaders; Blackfeet Law Enforcement Services are our protectors.” she said, “We’re not being radical, we’re not being forceful, we just want answers.”
Blackfeet Tribal Business Councilman Mark Pollock says he understands the community’s anger and frustration.
“We’ve directed BLES to provide us reports on the timelines from when little Arden first went missing and when Leo went missing,” he said.
When it comes to local police, Pollock is hopeful adding more boots on the ground will help address issues that can arise, like call out times.
“It relieves so many things,” he said. “The thing is that the response has to be almost immediate and taken seriously.”
He’s hoping to fully staff the department, which would mean 41 officers providing reservation wide protection 24/7. They currently operate with just over half of that.
BTBC is working towards adding two investigation specialists who will sort fact from fiction and help solve recent cold cases. Pollock believes choosing people that are from the Blackfeet Nation will build public trust.
“Having people that are here that are long term that know the people, that know the country, that as they're working these cases that the FBI agents are working with them.”
Pollock overseas BLES and Tribal Court. He says officers must take the MMIP Crisis, and their professional calling, seriously.
“All police officers, when they take that job in law enforcement, they take an oath: to serve and to protect,” he said. “And when we as a society learn to start honoring those oaths, that's when good changes are going to happen.”
Ardie’s parents told MTN News the 3-year-old vanished while in the care of her grandmother. We will have more information about the situation this week and keep you updated.
- Governor signs two bills addressing MMIP crisis
- Ashley Loring: family still searches for answers
- Face The State: Missing & Murdered Indigenous Women