On episode 10 of Mic Dispatch, correspondent Yoonj Kim investigates the disappearances and deaths of several Native American women in the Bakken area of North Dakota and delves into how multiple law enforcement agencies make these cases difficult to solve. Then, correspondent Evan Ross Katz interviews celebrity favorite and innovative designer Christian Cowan, who at 24 years old is making waves on the runways.
Lacey Hoff, bartender: We’ve had people disappear out of this bar, women being raped when they leave. Living here my whole life, I guess I don’t even know, there’s been so many. I couldn’t even count ’em. A lot of people don’t have to answer for anything on the reservation because they have their own laws.
Rolling: Hey guys, it’s Jordyn Rolling in for Natasha Del Toro, and this is Mic Dispatch. What if women in your community just started disappearing with no explanation? You’d be terrified, right? This is the disturbing reality of our country’s indigenous people. Without an official database, no one really knows just how many Native women have vanished from reservations. But what we do know is that 56% of indigenous women experience sexual violence, with 96% saying at least one of their abusers includes a non-Native. In our first story, reporter Yoonj Kim explores this tragic crisis plaguing the oil boom region of Bakken, located in North Dakota, where 125 Native women were reported missing in 2016 alone.
Yoonj Kim, correspondent (voiceover): Everyone knows someone who’s gone missing at the Fort Berthold Indian Reservation in North Dakota.
Kim: I’m on my way to talk to the brother of Olivia Lone Bear. She’s a Native woman who went missing from this reservation almost nine months ago. She was a mother of five, in her early 30s, and she was last seen on the street.
Matthew Lone Bear, brother of Olivia Lone Bear: This line right here represents the reservation line. Within that square there, that’s almost a million acres.
Kim: How do you know this is the area to search?
Lone Bear: Well, she went missing in this area, so I mean, you gotta start from the ground up. The updated information: She was seen at downtown New Town driving the truck.
Kim: And the truck she was driving, that was owned by an out-of-state worker, right?
Lone Bear: Yep.
Kim: An oil worker?
Lone Bear: Yep.
Kim (voiceover): Across the country, Native American women are murdered at up to 10 times the national average, according to organizations tracking the issue. Missing and murdered Native women cases are especially difficult to investigate on reservations like Fort Berthold, where an oil boom in the late 2000s brought in thousands of non-tribal men to work. Here’s the problem: Tribal police only investigate enrolled Native Americans on the reservation, while the county police only investigate non-Native Americans. This means there are often serious gaps in the investigation if a Native woman goes missing and the suspect may be non-Native.
Kim: I’m out here with Matthew by Lake Sakakawea, and he’s doing the next part of the search here mostly with the drone.
Lone Bear: I’ll be out there searching with the drone if I see something that’s suspicious, and then I’ll go out there and take pictures. I never thought that this, you know, that this would happen to my family, you know.
Kim: When are the water searches going to start?
Lone Bear: When, like, law enforcement’s arguing around about a water search that was supposed to happen three months ago —
Lone Bear: That’s frustrating. Had they had all their ducks in a row, the water search would’ve been halfway done by the time the water got higher, you know.
Kim: Now, the federal government sometimes has jurisdiction in missing Native women cases through the FBI and the BIA. BIA stands for the Bureau of Indian Affairs, and they took over Olivia’s case through a special resolution. But they’ve been heavily criticized for not looking closely enough into these disappearances.
Kim: Did you hear of Olivia Lone Bear?
Shylah Demaray, hair stylist: Yes. I knew Olivia.
Kim: What was she like?
Demaray: She was a fun spirit. Growing up here, I’ve seen how the whole community went through change, and a lot of it’s not changed for the better.
Kim: What can you say about the issue of missing and murdered Native women, especially around here?
Demaray: I feel like it definitely has to do with the oil field. I feel like it’s become so common that a lot of these cases just get pushed under the rug.
Kim (voiceover): An estimated 300 indigenous women in the U.S. and Canada go missing or are killed under suspicious circumstances every year, according to experts keeping track.
Kim: Olivia Lone Bear used to work here, right?
Hoff: Yeah. I didn’t work here when she did. They said she disappeared from here. We’ve had people disappear out of this bar, women being raped when they leave. And that’s from any bar, it’s not necessarily just this bar.
Kim: Right. Bars around town.
Hoff: Everywhere. I had my own company in the oil field. I did safety.
Hoff: I did safety programs and I was attacked, and I just don’t know if I should go back yet or not.
Kim: Like, attacked by who?
Hoff: By a man that I worked with. That’s when I got this. When he got sentenced, I got this.
Kim: So sorry to hear that.
Hoff: No, it’s fine. It’s the way it is out here.
Kim: Was he a local, or?
Hoff: Nope. He’s from Texas or Oklahoma or something.
Kim: Can you say how many cases you’ve heard of Native women disappearing or —
Hoff: I’ve — Living here my whole life, I guess I don’t even know, there’s been so many.
Hoff: I couldn’t even count ’em. It’s kind of like the Wild West still, because a lot of people don’t have to answer for anything on the reservation because they have their own laws.
Kim (voiceover): The oil boom is often directly correlated with the spike in crime. In boom counties in Montana and North Dakota, one study found that violent crime increased nearly 20% over a six-year period.
Kim: I’m going to go talk to the Mountrail County Sheriff’s Department. They have jurisdiction over non-tribal members in the northern part of the Fort Berthold reservation.
Corey Bristol, chief deputy, Mountrail County Sheriff’s Department: We take multiple calls a day on the reservations.
Bristol: And it’s starting to actually pick up again, which is driven by oil price, and the price has been creeping back up so the activity is picking up considerably again.
Kenneth Halvorson, sheriff, Mountrail County Sheriff’s Department: We don’t always get some of the most fair-haired, young individuals here. Basically, they have to hire whoever they have available, even if they have bad backgrounds.
Kim: In regard to the Olivia Lone Bear case, is there anything you wanted to comment on?
Halvorson: Basically, we do what we can to help. Like I said, in the last 40 years, that’s what we’ve been doing here, working with the tribe. And basically, some days are good, some days are bad. And they have the same feeling on their side.
Kim: Has the person who owned the vehicle been questioned a lot?
Bristol: We shouldn’t discuss that, but yes, I mean, those are avenues that have been explored and, are there questions yet? Yes, there are.
Kim: Have you seen an increase in the amount of non-enrolled members perpetrating crimes against Native women on the reservation?
Halvorson: There is a mixture of individuals, non-enrolled and enrolled that, as human beings I guess, attracted each other.
Kim: So that attraction translates to more calls to your department. More domestic violence, assaults.
Bristol: Then we start getting to the jurisdictional issue. If this is on the reservation, then a non-enrolled person and an enrolled person would automatically be a federal offense.
Timothy Purdon, former U.S. attorney of North Dakota: I think most people in the United States have no idea how complicated jurisdiction can be in a reservation community. So I was U.S. attorney as the Bakken oil boom went from an idea to a gold rush. Twenty, twenty-five thousand people moved in, and they were all from out-of-state.
Kim: And tribal PD didn’t have jurisdiction over them, right?
Purdon: If they are non-Native and they are on the reservation, tribal PD doesn’t have jurisdiction.
Kim: So what happens, then, when a Native woman goes missing on a reservation?
Purdon: It is always complex, because you don’t know at the beginning of the investigation whether or not a crime’s been committed. If this happens on a reservation, if I’m a Native American and my daughter is a Native American and she goes missing, do I go to the tribal police, do I go to the county sheriff, do I go to the FBI?
Purdon: Do I go to the BIA? And they would say, “Well, we don’t know if a crime has been committed.” And if a crime has been committed, if she was kidnapped, was that done by a non-Native or a Native? And again, which agency has primacy for investigating turns on that? So it takes a complex investigation and makes it more complex. It’s really important in these situations that federal authorities, state authorities, tribal authorities and law enforcement, that they work together, they have collaborative relationships, they get protocols in place ahead of time so they’re not trying to sort this out in the middle of a tragedy.
Kim (voiceover): About two weeks after I left North Dakota, the truck Olivia was last seen driving was found in Lake Sakakawea by a private search group using their own sonar. Olivia’s body was inside.
Kim: Where did they find Olivia?
Lone Bear: Within a mile of the house — that very first stop right near her house.
Kim: In the lake, right?
Lone Bear: Yeah. We don’t got toxicology back. We don’t got autopsy. We don’t got any of that stuff yet. I’ve been saying from the get-go, “You know what, you’re going to make us do all this work and then she’s going to end up being in that water.”
Kim: So to this day, you don’t know for sure whether or not the BIA or tribal police actually searched that area, the water in that area?
Lone Bear: They claim that they did, but then they claim to do a lot of things that never ended up happening. So there’s also that. There’s no reason why this should’ve went nine months without a water search. We had to jump through so many damn hoops to get anything done, you know. There’s no excuse for that.
Kim, to camera: I’m glad Olivia has been found, but her story is one of many across the country, across Canada, of Native women disappearing and being murdered in huge numbers.
Kim (voiceover): The crisis of missing and murdered indigenous women has been happening for years. Since oil production picked up earlier this year in the Bakken, more workers will be coming in from out of state. And amidst the legal loopholes here on the reservation, local women will continue to fall through the cracks.
Rolling: The investigation for Olivia Lone Bear’s disappearance is ongoing. Our next story profiles an up-and-coming designer who’s making waves in the fashion industry. Christian Cowan has styled music’s leading ladies. His designs were even featured on Cardi B’s latest album cover.
Christian Cowan, fashion designer, about Azealia Banks’ album cover in which his designs are featured: I knew at the second they were shooting the album cover, I was like, “This will be an iconic photo.” I was like, “It will be famous forever. It will be the biggest thing.” Just because I know how good she is. It’s just really exciting. I was just super excited to be part of that.
Evan Ross Katz, correspondent: Hey guys, what’s up. I am going to be joined today by 24-year-old designer Christian Cowan. Christian is getting ready for his fourth season as part of New York Fashion Week. I’m going to try and name from memory right now some of the celebrities that this designer has outfitted. So here it goes. So we have Lady Gaga, we have Beyoncé, we have Cardi B, we have Janelle Monáe, we have Ariana Grande, we have Issa Rae, we have Dua Lipa, we have Olly Alexander, we have — hold on, there’s — Rita Ora — don’t help me yet — other people that he’s outfitted… Miley Cyrus, we have — that’s 10. I named 10 of 10.
Cowan: That’s a lot.
Katz: All that and he’s just, again, 24 years old. I can’t wait to follow Christian today to learn more about his design process and to find out if he thinks fashion is doing enough to create an inclusive atmosphere within the industry.
Cowan: I wanted to be an entomologist up until I was 12. I was obsessed with insects. I loved them the most, along with exotic lizards, because they were the brightest and the most colorful forms. The armadillo was one of my additions to the house. I’m obsessed with David Attenborough and all things nature.
Katz: So let’s talk about this FW ’18 collection. I feel like this collection really put you on the map.
Cowan: Thank you.
Katz: Can you talk us through some of your favorites?
Cowan: Should we talk about sequins here for a second?
Katz: Please, yes.
Cowan, to his dog, Miss Mango: Oh, Miss Mango! Relax.
Cowan, to Katz: Sorry.
Cowan: I’m constantly trying to think about how to take something that people have seen before many times and then show it to them in a different way that they don’t recognize. Look, so you can see that — in some medieval tombs, when people die, they would encrust their skeletons with crystals and gems. And so I was like, “Well, let’s just take a piss out of that, essentially, and just turn it into an opera-length glove of watches.” This one is a bit closer to some inspirations in the natural world.
Katz: So when you start to envision a garment like this, do you see the entire garment in your head?
Cowan: I always have an exact idea. I know the whole look. It just comes into my head and I’m like, “I need to draw that now.” I draw a human figure, I scan it in, put that into the computer, print it out transparent. And then I draw a hundred times over top of them, then I scan that in and then I put the color in.
Katz: Do you think you would’ve been able to do your first collection in Paris in terms of the ease of which you’re entering fashion week?
Cowan: No, absolutely not. I think there’s a huge difference between European and American culture when it comes to young talent. They’re more like, “You’ve got to struggle for years and years and years and then maybe we’ll recognize you, and you’ve just got to somehow magically get here,” which is why a lot of, for example, Italian brands such as — for people who’ve had a lot of capital to begin with. I think a large part of it is Europe is behind on the diversity thing. Like, none of the Italian shows have any diversity at all if you look at them. They’re really bad with that. Same with Paris. London is a bit better. But New York is the best by far. Most of the established houses are in Europe and I think they need to improve at that.
Cowan: I didn’t see you coming up. How’s it going?
Duckie Thot, supermodel: Hey!
Thot: How are you?
Cowan: I really wanted Duckie to be in my show and so I was DMing, being like, “Babe, how can we make this happen?”
Thot: Yeah, he was messaging me and really wanting me and he’s like, “Fashion show.” And I was like, “OK.”
Cowan: With models, it’s tricky because I said to every casting director I work with, I was like, “It has to be such a diverse runway.” Like, I couldn’t stand — I hate whitewashed shows and stuff, it’s disgraceful. But then it’s also, at the same time, I find it very hard to book any plus-size models. They’re always very expensive. There needs to be more, agencies need to improve their roster of trans and plus-size models.
Katz: We’re joined by Nat. Christian, can you tell us who Nat is?
Cowan: So Nat is studio-manager-slash-man-of-all-trades, Renaissance man. He does a bit of everything.
Natthias Mitchinson, studio manager at Christian Cowan: So it’s difficult being young because we don’t have the budget to do everything for free. So if someone really glam says, “Oh, I want a custom look,” it’s like, I’d love to give them that for free, but we don’t have the budget. First is the budget, versus the budget of Chanel.
Katz: How often would you say celebrities expect free clothing?
Mitchinson: Every day.
Cowan: Every day. It doesn’t matter even if I love them. Sometimes we simply can’t take on that cost of making —
Mitchinson: Because it’s expensive. Looks are expensive. Thousands and thousands of dollars to produce it, let alone to get a profit from it.
Cowan: People go bust. I’ve seen young designers go bust because of it. I won’t mention who, but I did a job for a singer and they haven’t paid us and for things like that to young designers, it’s pushed our whole production by a whole month for a whole show. People have always wanted to dress celebrities, but I don’t know whether it’s always been such a thing to tie it into the DNA of the brand. The heart and soul of our brand is not celebrity dressing.
Katz: Do you remember what it was like seeing Lady Gaga wearing your clothing for the first time?
Cowan: I was so excited. I’d just turned 18 and I’d made some outfits. She requested all of them somehow. She saw them online, and then she wore my pink glitter tuxedo, this giant hat. Should I model the hat?
Cowan: This was a hat I created with ASA, the computer company, and it was to promote their tablet. I was such a fan to then her being the first person to champion my clothes. Melania Trump is a big topic in the fashion world.
Katz: I’m curious where you fall in that camp.
Cowan: I wouldn’t dress Melania. I’m pretty certain of that one. It’s just, I couldn’t as a person dress a woman who stands for some of the things they stand for. They’re against my own community. The whole thing with the coat, I just thought that was so disgraceful. Like, it’s just unacceptable.
Drew Elliott, Cowan’s partner and president and creative director of Paper magazine, to Miss Mango: You look like a stunt dog.
Elliott, to Katz: Oftentimes I have to remind Christian, you know, “This is your third collection. I know how fast you want to go and I know what — I know you see the North Star, but there are some things that you have to learn fundamentally, that you have to put together organizationally, that you have to create a process for.” But that said, you know, he’s on a sprint and not, you know, a jog.
Cowan: Whenever I’ve been in situations where I’m the youngest person and someone’s even said a comment or something about me being younger and I “don’t understand” or, you know, pretending like they’re horrified when they find out my age, my method is just to totally ignore them, just act like they said something fabulous and just carry on being fabulous and fun with them. So I am standing up for freedom and equality. Like, my first show was George Michael: “Freedom,” you know, gay pride flags, but my clothes are really more of an escape from all of that. It is to remind people that there’s fun and joy to be had.
Rolling: That’s it for tonight’s show. Head to the Mic Dispatch Facebook page and leave a comment letting us know your thoughts on our stories. As always, thanks for watching, and we’ll see you next time!
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