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Matthew Lone Bear

Matthew Lone Bear is still waiting for answers into the death of his sister Olivia Lone Bear after her body was recovered in a submerged pickup in Lake Sakakawea on July 31 near New Town. Olivia Lone Bear, 32, was last seen alive on Oct. 25, 2017. 

Since her body was found last summer, no new information has been made public about Olivia Lone Bear's disappearance and death.

"For me, there are still a lot of questions needed to be answered," said her brother, Matthew Lone Bear.

"She’s home, and that’s what we wanted in the end is for her to be home, regardless of the circumstances," he said.

Olivia Lone Bear, a 32-year-old mother of five children, was last seen Oct. 25, 2017, driving in New Town. Her body was found inside a submerged truck located by sonar and recovered July 31 from Sanish Bay on Lake Sakakawea. Her remains were identified by tattoos.

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Tire tracks are visible on the shore of Sanish Bay on Aug. 1 where a pickup was recovered from Lake Sakakawea. The truck, a Chevrolet 2500, contained the remains of Olivia Lone Bear, who was reported missing in October 2017. 

A valiant search effort

Matthew Lone Bear led volunteers in combing the Fort Berthold Reservation, using drones, mobile camps and fanning volunteers throughout North Dakota cities to search for the truck connected to his sister’s disappearance.

Tribal entities, such as the Three Affiliated Tribes Police Department and the Bureau of Indian Affairs, also participated in the search, as well as North Dakota agencies, such as Highway Patrol and Game and Fish.

Matthew Lone Bear has criticized law enforcement searches for how it approached water searches on the massive lake. He also pointed out heavy turnover in BIA investigators. 

Since Olivia Lone Bear's body was identified Aug. 1, there’s been nothing new from the related investigation.

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Olivia Lone Bear

Kevin Smith, spokesman for the Minneapolis FBI, said the investigation is ongoing, "with nothing to be released to the public at this time."

"We have nothing new to report," Smith said Wednesday.

Matthew Lone Bear said he has received no new information from the FBI or BIA.

"All I was told is it was an ongoing investigation, and the forensics have not come back on the truck yet," he said.

Matthew Lone Bear added he’s considered driving to the State Forensic Examiner’s Office in Grand Forks to ask for answers in person as to the cause of his sister’s death.

"We’re just trying to find answers now, and we’re not trying to wait on the FBI or the BIA to tell us anything," Matthew Lone Bear said.

It's frustrating after all the search efforts to have no answers now, he added. A tip line remains open at 701-226-3433.

The Tribune in October requested an opinion from North Dakota Attorney General Wayne Stenehjem for the availability of the report of death for Olivia Lone Bear, under the state’s open records law. The State Forensic Examiner’s Office would not release the report of death upon request.

Seeking protocol

After several recent deaths in the family — six in total, counting his sister — Matthew Lone Bear and his family have made drafting a missing persons protocol for tribes a priority.

The search for his sister got off to a slow start and was fraught with issues, according to Matthew Lone Bear, who said he hopes a protocol will address issues specific to what he and others encountered during the search.

"We want to take it to other tribes in the state of North Dakota and unify them so that everything is on the same terms, because a lot of times what we were hearing from law enforcement was, 'Well, that’s different (on another reservation),'" he said.

Matthew Lone Bear said the protocol would be forwarded to tribal emergency management. In addition, he said he also wants to train law enforcement on how to do an efficient search, which he said the volunteer search team developed after months of scouring land and water.

With no new information in the investigation into his sister’s death, Matthew Lone Bear said he plans to start a petition seeking answers.

"We want to get this petition going to see if we can get this case moving, because, right now, it just feels really stagnant," Matthew Lone Bear said.

The forthcoming petition would gather the signatures of North Dakota residents looking for answers and would be forwarded to North Dakota’s congressional delegation.

More resources in Indian County

In addition to the missing persons protocol on which Matthew Lone Bear is working, North Dakota Indian Affairs Commissioner Scott Davis said his office also has developed a draft template on "best practices" for searching for a missing person in Indian Country.

Scott Davis

Davis

Davis said, about a week after Olivia Lone Bear's body was found, there was a debriefing held with various entities involved in the search to discuss what was done right, suggested improvements and additional resources needed.

He said his office then completed a "draft template" tribes can use in the event of a missing person. The draft has not yet been finalized, but will in about the next month or so, he said.

Lone Bear's disappearance resulted in a roller coaster of emotions for Davis, who serves as the liaison between tribal governments and the state.

"It's hard to keep your emotions really stable, because I have daughters," Davis said. "Nothing compared to the family, obviously, but it hits me."

Though he has no updated information on the investigation, Davis said he continues to find ways to assist tribes, counties and the state in future missing persons cases. With a "checkerboard of jurisdictions" for most of the tribes in the state, he said it's important for these entities to undergo training on how to work together.

Two months after Olivia Lone Bear's body was found, North Dakota U.S. Attorney Chris Myers' office and the Department of Justice announced additional resources for the Fort Berthold Reservation.

The Bureau of Indian Affairs announced it would increase its staffing levels from one to two investigators on the reservation, and the DOJ and Department of Interior also stated they would "deliver training to improve the quality of investigations and coordination among law enforcement agencies and jurisdictions in Indian Country," according to the Oct. 1 news release.

Davis welcomed the improvements, as did Matthew Lone Bear. Davis and Lone Bear have also signaled support of the federal bill Savanna's Act, which would would improve data collection on tribal victims and create guidelines for responding when someone’s reported missing.

The U.S. Senate unanimously approved the act earlier this month, but it remained stalled in the House as Congress adjourned last week. Sen. Lisa Murkowski, R-Alaska, however, has announced she plans to bring back the bill next year.

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Reach Jack Dura at 701-223-8482 or jack.dura@bismarcktribune.com.

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Capitol Reporter