Police are actively searching for two people of interest in the assault of Northern Cheyenne Tribal Councilwoman Silver Little Eagle and another unidentified 31-year-old male but have not made any arrests or filed any charges.
The 24-year-old councilwoman was attacked at the Crowne Plaza Hotel in Billings on May 16 and was transported to a local hospital for treatment, Billings police said in a press release Tuesday. Additionally, police said she “was missing personal property and her vehicle.” The vehicle was later found in the 1700 block of Montana Avenue, police said.
The persons of interest are a 25-year-old woman from St. Xavier and a 27-year-old female from an unknown town, according to the release.
Unlike claims made in a GoFundMe for Silver Eagle, police said the attack does not appear to be random: “There is believed to be a partner family member association between the 31-year-old male and the 27-year-old female person of interest … it is believed there is some type of association between all parties involved and the crime is not believed to be a random act of violence between unknown parties.”
The release also said there is no indication the incident was racially motivated or connected to human trafficking.
While Silver may have known her attackers, Lauren Small Rodriquez, a victim advocate working with the family, told the Daily Montanan that the attack was random in the way that it was unprovoked and caused by jealousy. “When [the police] are talking about random, they’re talking about, is this a stranger? And that is something they are clarifying,” she said. “Silver had known the attackers. However, it was randomly provoked by jealousy of her beauty, jealousy of her intelligence, and also jealousy of her status as a tribal official.”
The Billings Police Department is investigating the case and said no more information would be released. Rodriguez said the family has complete faith in the detectives investigating the case and said they believe “justice will prevail and the attackers will be charged and prosecuted.”
Little Eagle is the youngest person ever elected to the Northern Cheyenne Tribal Council and was part of a historic 2020 election when five open seats, as well as the Tribal presidency and vice presidency, were filled by women, according to Native Business.
In the release, Billings police walked back comments made by the department Monday saying Silver Eagle suffered non-life-threatening injuries during the assault.
“Regarding previous comments from a BPD Sergeant regarding severity of injury to parties involved: The investigation remains on-going and has not been completed. The BPD will not provide information on severity of injury,” the release said. According to the Billings Gazette, “[Little Eagle] spent a day in the hospital, and is currently recovering with the assistance of friends and family.”
After police characterized her injuries as “non-life-threatening” on Monday, the family responded in a statement posted to a GoFundme for Little Eagle.
“Silver’s injuries were absolutely life-threatening. She was found unconscious and is healing from multiple broken bones, head trauma, and is now facing potentially long-term damage to her vision,” the post read. Rodriguez said Tuesday that she and the family were working with Billings police to get the statement redacted.
“The traumatic incident that Councilwoman Little Eagle has endured will not be resolved or healed within one to three months,” Rodriguez said. “This will be a long-term process in her trauma recovery both medically, emotionally and spiritually.”
The GoFundMe page said the kind of statement made by Billings police on Monday “are part of the problem of violence against Native women in Montana. They only serve to diminish the severity of what happens and make people doubt all of it!”
The page seeking money to help with her medical and legal costs has raised more than $25,000.
Silver’s assault has drawn a lot of attention on social media. Many shared messages of support for the councilwoman, while others accused her of exploiting the Missing and Murder Indigenous Woman cause for her gain.
Addressing the latter of those messages, Rodriguez said, “Within our communities, there is a prevalent dysfunction called lateral oppression. None of us are allowed to dictate who is allowed to fit in any which category of violence against Indigenous women.”
Editor’s note: This story has been updated to reflect that Silver Little Eagle turned 24 on Monday.
Keith Schubert is a reporter with the Daily Montanan. He can be reached by email at [email protected], by text or call at 406-475-2954 and on Twitter @keithsch94.