Summary and Speculative Statement on N.D. Native murders [Hunter Gray]

Hunter Gray hunterbadbear at
Sun Dec 22 14:23:04 MST 2002


I'm asked, with increasing frequency, to give my thoughts on the North
Dakota Indian murders. I lived and taught in Grand Forks and the state for a
generation, was head of the Grand Forks Mayor's Committee on Police Policy
for years and, too, was Chair of the City's Community Relations Committee
until we left to return to the Mountain West in the Summer of '97.  In 1989,
I was honored by the State King Commission and then Governor George Sinner
with the annual North Dakota Martin Luther King, Jr. Award for historical
and contemporary social justice activities. I am a retired Full Professor
[and former Chair] of American Indian Studies at University of North
Dakota - where I was also on the Graduate Faculty and served a stint as
Chair of Honors. I'm presently Regional Organizer for DSA Anti-Racism
Commission and Chair of the Native American Commission of SPUSA.

What follows are personal thoughts and some speculation on the North Dakota
Native killings of 2001-2002.  First, the factual situation - and then, for
whatever they may be worth, my thoughts:

Four Native men - Turtle Mountain Chippewa [Ojibway] have now been murdered.
Robert Belgarde [40] and Damian Belgarde [19], father and son, were killed
near Grand Forks -- shot -- in  September, 2001, and at virtually the
same point in time, Jerome Decoteau [50] was murdered in his Grand Forks
apartment, bludgeoned. In mid-July 2002, 19 year old Russell Turcotte,
hitch-hiking through to his home in Wolf Point, Montana, was reported
missing at the Forks and his body was eventually found in early November,
just off Highway 2 near Devils Lake, North Dakota.

There have been no arrests in any of these killings.

The response to the Belgarde murders by the Grand Forks County Sheriff's
office was to claim at several points that they were drug-related in some
fashion - and hence of presumably minimal concern to the general run of
citizenry. [These claims have now stopped, at least publicly.] There have
been leaked hints for months that arrests in this matter are forthcoming. No

Little has been said by the Grand Forks Police Department in the killing of
Jerome Decoteau. Several months ago, a leaked hint spoke of forthcoming
arrests. No action.

In mid-October, 2001, I wrote an angry statement about the Belgarde and
Decoteau murders, the growing deterioration and mounting lack of sensitivity
within the Grand Forks Police Department, and the general breakdown in race
relations occurring in and around the town itself. The Grand Forks Herald
ran this as an editorial [signed by me] and asked the police chief to give
his response. He declined to do so.

Subsequently, efforts by people nationally and internationally to elicit
information or at least a response from the mayor of Grand Forks, Michael
Brown, have netted Zero. The mayor simply doesn't respond.

For awhile, the governor's office - that of John Hoeven - did at least
acknowledge communications of concern. Apparently no longer.

For months after Russell Turcotte's ominous disappearance at Grand Forks in
July 2002, laconic North Dakota lawmen in the Forks area took the very
strange position that it was officially a matter relating to his then
residence, Wolf Point, in eastern Montana. In October, thousands of
dollars and hundreds of person hours were fruitlessly spent by a private
Texas-based search organization which insisted on looking for him in the
immediate Forks area. At the request of the Turcotte family, we had strongly
advised [advice obviously not taken] searching for him west of Grand Forks -
well along the vast Highway 2 stretch. And his mostly nude body was finally
 found much later just off Highway 2 near Devils Lake, about 90 miles away -
though he could have been actually murdered closer to the Forks. Labeled a
homicide, it's presently being investigated primarily by Ramsey County and
North Dakota State lawmen.

Only a day or two after Russell Turcotte's body had been finally found - and
only accidentally so - I received a very strange communication from Ramsey
County State's Attorney Lonnie Olson - trying without success to get me to
remove all Turcotte material from our website. I then wrote a special letter
to Governor John Hoeven and to the State Attorney General, Wayne Stenehjem,
about the Olson letter and request. But I received no answer of any kind
from those officials. This is particularly interesting and intriguing since
Wayne Stenehjem and I do know each other personally.

It's obvious that both Grand Forks and the state of North Dakota itself are
going downhill fast in the matter of race relations. Never any bed of roses
by any means, all of this now is a far cry into the negative side from where
it was when I came to Grand Forks and the state in 1981 to teach for 13
years at the University of North Dakota - and then live in the Forks for
three years thereafter.


We certainly - with all logical people everywhere - recognize that all leads
in these murders must be followed and that any possibly relevant information
should be reported immediately to law enforcement officials.

I see the Belgarde murders and that of Jerome Decoteau as directly related
in some way. They occurred on virtually the same September 2001 date in the
same setting. Lawmen do not appear to see a relationship. But I [and others]
do, and I strongly believe the murderers are in the basic Grand Forks

I do not see the Turcotte murder as related to the Belgarde and Decoteau
killings. Russ Turcotte was in the Forks late at night. His mother had wired
him train and expense money which he did not collect. It seems obvious that
he caught a ride westward that fateful night on Highway 2 - the road to
Montana and his home at Wolf Point. It's highly likely he expected to arrive
there shortly after dawn. An obviously sharp kid, who would not want to be
stranded at night along a lonely highway, it's quite unlikely that he would
have gotten into a car with North Dakota license plates - but would have
checked to make certain that his ostensible host was obviously going all the
way through.

I do not see the Turcotte murder related to the racially problematic setting
of Devils Lake, North Dakota - where we fought many significant Indian
rights struggles in the late '80s into the '90s. I believe this was simply
the setting in which his body was dumped. Again, it's possible that he was
actually killed further east - on or just off Highway 2 and closer to Grand

I do see, as any logical person would, the possibility that Russell
Turcotte's murder may be linked to those situations of this past fall
in Minnesota and western Wisconsin - where several young Anglo
men, about the age of Russ, have suddenly disappeared without a trace.

But, if I were guessing, I'd say Russell Turcotte was murdered by a lone
pathological and psychopathic predator -- passing through Grand Forks on the
way to, say, Seattle.  This could well have racist connotations.

And I'd say the Belgarde and Decoteau killings have strong racist

We are vigorously planning appropriately creative approaches designed to
keep the fires burning on all of these tragic issues - and to increase the
degree and scope of the constructive heat.

Hunter Gray [Hunterbear] Micmac / St Francis Abenaki / St Regis Mohawk -
Regional Organizer, DSA Anti-Racism Commission; and Chair, Native American
Commission, SPUSA - at Pocatello, Idaho on December 22, 2002

Hunter Gray  [Hunterbear]
Protected by Na´shdo´i´ba´i´
and Ohkwari'

In our Gray Hole, the ghosts often dance in the junipers and sage, on the
game trails, in the tributary canyons with the thick red maples, and on the
high windy ridges -- and they dance from within the very essence of our own
inner being. They do this especially when the bright night moon shines down
on the clean white snow that covers the valley and its surroundings.  Then
it is as bright as day -- but in an always soft and mysterious and
remembering way. [Hunterbear]

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