Wolf Point Herald

Former Poplar Superintendent’s $6.5 Million Lawsuit Dismissed

Dr. Kim Harding’s $6.5 million wrongful termination lawsuit against the Poplar School District was dismissed Tuesday, Sept. 29.
Dawson County Superintendent of Schools Steve Engebretson ruled that the Poplar School District did not violate Harding’s contract when district trustees put Harding, who was the district superintendent during the last school year, on administrative leave in May.
Engebretson of Glendive found that the district had the authority to place Harding on leave, that she was not fired and remains employed by the PSD.
As prescribed by law, Harding filed her suit with the Roo-sevelt County Superintendent of Schools in June, one month after PSD trustees placed her on leave.
Harding has the right to appeal to the Montana Office of Public Instruction.
PSD trustees voted to place Harding on leave following a petition asking the district to remove her was reported to have circulated in Poplar. That followed the Fort Peck Tribes Executive Board voting 9-1 on April 27 to banish Harding from the reservation.
Numerous allegations claimed issues with Harding not getting along with teachers and accusing her of referring to several Poplar teachers as “renegades” in an email dated March 6. A Poplar teacher publicized the email from Harding on March 11.
Harding was taken to task because of historical uses of the word “renegade” that are considered offensive by Native Americans.
Harding told The Herald-News in early May that the email was portrayed in the press [not in The Herald-News] as racist in nature and described situations that had been happening at staff meetings.
There were other allegations against Harding, including one related to a contract given to a company Harding’s husband owns.
A majority of members of the Poplar Education Association, the union that represents teachers, voted no confidence in Harding prior to her being placed on leave.
Engebretson heard the case following the disqualification of contracted Roosevelt County Superintendent of Schools Paul Huber.
Roosevelt County superintendent Jeri Toavs ruled in favor of a motion by attorneys for the PSD for a change in superintendents in early September.
Toavs said n September that no reason was stated for disqualifying Huber and that a reason is not required.
Toavs is the elected clerk of the District Court and county superintendent of schools, which are combined positions and do not require state certification as a superintendent.
The Roosevelt County Commissioners approved a contract for Huber, a former Wolf Point School District superintendent, on June 23 to serve as needed for services to the county superintendent of schools at $45 per hour and $23 per diem.

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Wolf Point Man Run Over, Killed In Crosswalk

A Wolf Point man died Tuesday, Oct. 6, after being struck by a vehicle in a crosswalk with a traffic signal near the southeast corner of Anaconda Street and Third Avenue South.
Fort Peck Tribes Department of Law and Justice chief investigator Ken Trottier identified the deceased man as Albert Comes Last, 72. He would have turned 73 the day after he died.
Comes Last was transported by ambulance to Northeast Montana Health Services - Wolf Point Campus where he later died as a result of blunt force trauma, according to Trottier.
Trottier did not release the name of the driver, because charges had not been filed by late last week. He said the male driver is not from Wolf Point, but does live on the Fort Peck Reservation. Trottier said it appeared accidental, but remained under investigation.
The FPTDLJ and FBI investigated. The Wolf Point Police Department also responded to the scene.

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Former Bank Employee Accused Of Embezzlement Arraigned

Loralee Waxcha Red Dog, 21, of Poplar was arraigned in U.S. District Court in Great Falls Thursday, Oct. 8 before Magistrate Judge John T. Johnston and pleaded not guilty to bank employee fraud, aggravated identity theft and theft from tribal express.
A federal grand jury handed down a three-count indictment against Red Dog on Sept. 3.
If convicted of the most serious charges contained in the indictment, she faces a maximum of 30 years in federal prison, $1 million in fines and five years supervised release.
The indictment alleges that Red Dog, while an employee of Independence Bank in Poplar in December 2014, misapplied or embezzled more than $1,000 by fraudulently cashing checks and withdrew money using another person’s identity. She is accused of taking more than $1,000 from Tribal Express.
The Fort Peck Tribes Department of Law and Justice and Federal Bureau of Investigation investigated the case.

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Deadline Passes For City Council Write-in Candidates

The deadline for Wolf Point City Council write-in candidates to declare their candidacy passed at 5 p.m., Thursday, Oct. 8, with just one person filing for the upcoming municipal election, according to the Roosevelt County Clerk and Recorder’s Office.
Municipal ballots will be mailed Friday, Oct. 16, to all registered voters in the city and must be returned by mail or in person to the Clerk and Recorder’s Office in the Roosevelt County Courthouse by 8 p.m., Tuesday, Nov. 3.
John Plestina, whoM Wolf Point Mayor Chris Dschaak appointed Sept. 21 to fill a vacant seat in Ward 1, is the only person who has filed as a write-in candidate.
The three incumbent council members who are up for election this year all filed to have their names on the ballot prior to the June 3 filing deadline. They are: Laurie Evans, Ward 1; Craig Rodenberg, Ward 3; and Judy Page, Ward 4. All are running unopposed for four-year terms.
Plestina was appointed to serve the unexpired term until the end of the year. Being unopposed, he will serve until the end of 2017. At that time, the seat will be up for election for a four-year term.
Dschaak appointed Vivian Schultz the same Ward 1 seat in November to fill a vacancy that was created when Travis Braaten, who was elected to a four-year term in November 2013, resigned in July 2014. Schultz resigned this June. Braaten and Schultz both resigned because they moved outside the city limits.
Ward 2 council member Ashley Moran did not file in June and did not file as a write-in candidate. Dschaak appointed Moran to fill a vacancy in April 2014. The Ward 2 seat became vacant three months prior when Dschaak resigned after being elected mayor.
Incumbents not up for election until 2017 are: Rollin Paulson, Ward 2; David Block, Ward 3; and Tina Bets His Medicine, Ward 4.

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Fort Peck Tribes Fighting Back Against Youth Suicide Numbers

Thirty-two years ago, Wilfred Max Bear was drunk and suicidal.
As a young man, Bear took to alcohol on the Fort Peck Indian Reservation to weather his depression. Other men, women and children suffered in similar ways, but Bear endured. He found answers in religion and eventually became the director at the tribal vocational rehabilitation program.
Still the thoughts of death lingered. Several years ago, he lost two nephews to suicide within one week. He ministered over both of their funerals.
Over the years, Montana has maintained one of the highest suicide rates in the nation, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Native American youth ages 10 to 24 have experienced twice the rate of suicide than the state average for that age group.
The Fort Peck Reservation spreads across four counties in northeast Montana. Poplar, with 880 residents, is the seat of tribal government. Wolf Point, a community of about 2,500, sets about 20 miles west.
The state 2015 Roosevelt County Youth Risk Behavioral Survey shows that 35 of 221 native and non-native high school students considered attempting suicide over the past year and 28 of 223 students actually attempted suicide at least once. The University of Montana has reported that between 2008 and late-2014, the county had 11 youth suicides, while even more youth tried and failed to kill themselves during the same time frame — at least 123 attempts.
Fort Peck Tribes' executive board members say the overall rate of youth suicide has lowered over the years, but much work remains. Tribal leaders met Tuesday, Oct. 6, at the Fort Peck Community College in Poplar to continue the implementation of the Assiniboine and Sioux Tribes Crisis Response Protocol Team, which formed to combat youth suicides on the reservation.
“Suicide has hurt us for a long time,” Bear said. “We’ve had this happen to us so many times we should be our own experts.”
Tribal leaders have worked with representatives from the Montana Office of Public Instruction to strengthen the delivery of mental health support to youth and families on the reservation. The adop-ted “wraparound” process focuses on developing family-centered teams and plans throughout the reservation-wide school systems to connect students with resources within their own cultural framework. Key elements for success include engaging students and families and teachers, with effective interventions and monitoring.
“This protocol is about youth K-12,” said tribal councilwoman Roxanne Gourneau. “This is useful. We could save a life.”
Suicide is the second leading cause of death for Native Americans of all ages, according to the state Department of Health and Human Services and its “Suicide Among Indian Youth” report released in January. Data from the report showed suicide rates for people of all ages and also included specific figures for youth aged 15 to 24 between 2001 and 2010.
At 37 deaths per 100,000 people, Native Americans on the Fort Peck reservation had the highest rate of overall suicide in the state. The state rate was 25.2 deaths per 100,000 people, according to the report. The Fort Peck reservation also had the highest youth suicide rate among the seven state tribes at 82 deaths per 100,000 people. By comparison, the next highest rate belonged to Northern Cheyenne Indian Reservation at 63.9 deaths per 100,000 people.
In recent memory, five students killed themselves during the 2009-2010 school year at Poplar Middle School. The rise of suicides caused tribal officials to declare an emergency and prompted the U.S. Public Health Service to send emergency teams here to provide counseling and mental health service in June 2010.
No suicides were recorded during the 90-day deployment of the federal health team that left a detailed report with a dozen recommendations, according to the Associated Press. The Indian Health Service declared the crisis passed.
The federal report noted the reservation needed mental health services and had high rates of unemployment, poverty and substance abuse – findings that most people here say they knew beforehand. The report also provided recommendations, but without funding options.
“I don’t judge how it was handled before, but I think it could be handled more humanely,” said Gourneau, whose 17-year-old son Dalton committed suicide in November 2010. “There’s a lot of things that we can predict by indicators, but the one thing that we don’t know enough about is why suicide has come onto Fort Peck.”
Tribal leaders say children and teenagers still killing themselves or attempting to kill themselves here. (Officials say data from their numerous federal, tribal, state and local agencies has been difficult to collect and organize.)
“Because of the rash of suicides that have happened this crisis response protocol team has come forward,” said Courage Crawford, the director of the Fort Peck Medicine Wheel, a cultural-based spiritual healing center designed to help at-risk youth. “The training has come forward.”
Crisis response protocol team members and OPI representatives visited schools last week on the reservation to pitch the wraparound plan and implement training programs for potential volunteers.
Fort Peck Health Promotion and Disease Prevention now seeks to host the first-ever training on mental health first aid Oct. 14 at Fort Peck Community College in Poplar. Dale DeCouteau, newly named suicide prevention coordinator at the HPDP, along with Crawford, both members of the crisis response protocol team, plan to host a two-day suicide intervention workshop Thursday and Friday, Oct. 15-16 at the same location.
During the meeting at the college, Tribal Chairman Garret Big Leggins and others said the “grass-roots” crisis response protocol team has been needed to combat youth suicides and the sensitive and personal cultural issues that affect families. All participants at the meeting stood in recognition of prayer and honor songs for the dead, the suicide survivors and for the families who continue to look for solutions.
“We have to find a way to increase hope into our reservation,” Big Leggins said. “We all know that we have a serious problem and we want to do something about it.”

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