Yellow Bird Oil, murder, and a woman's search for justice in Indian country

Sierra Crane Murdoch

Book - 2020

"When Lissa Yellow Bird was released from prison in 2009, she found her home, the Fort Berthold Indian Reservation in North Dakota, transformed by the Bakken oil boom. In her absence, the landscape had been altered beyond recognition, her tribal government swayed by corporate interests, and her community burdened by a surge in violence and addiction. Three years later, when Lissa learned that a young white oil worker, Kristopher 'KC' Clarke, had disappeared from his reservation wo...rksite, she became particularly concerned. No one knew where Clarke had gone, and no one but his mother was actively looking for him. Unfolding like a gritty mystery, Yellow Bird traces Lissa's steps as she obsessively hunts for clues to Clarke's disappearance. She navigates two worlds -- that of her own tribe, changed by its newfound wealth, and that of the non-Native oil workers, down on their luck, who have come to find work on the heels of the economic recession. Her pursuit becomes an effort at redemption -- an atonement for her own crimes and a reckoning with generations of trauma. Yellow Bird is both an exquisitely written, masterfully reported story about a search for justice and a remarkable portrait of a complex woman who is smart, funny, eloquent, compassionate, and -- when it serves her cause -- manipulative. Ultimately, it is a deep examination of the legacy of systematic violence inflicted on a tribal nation and a tale of extraordinary healing"--

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  • The brightest Yellow Bird
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  • Oil kings
  • The great mystery
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  • The flyer
  • The church
  • What she broke
  • Sarah
  • The search
  • The gunman
  • Confessions
  • Us against the world
  • The Badlands
  • Trial
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Review by Booklist Reviews

Journalist Murdoch, whose work has appeared in the Atlantic and the New Yorker, spent eight years digging deep into the history of the Mandan, Hidatsa, and Arikara (MHA) Nation in North Dakota, exploring how the ongoing North Dakota oil boom brought with it a slew of non-Native oil-riggers and a related influx of drugs, crime, and social upheaval. One crime victim was a 29-year-old white man, Kristopher "KC" Clarke, who worked for a trucking company on the Fort Berthold Indian Reservation. After Clarke went missing in 2012, Murdoch started investigating and soon met the detective heroine of this story, Lissa Yellow Bird, a member of the MHA Nation, just released from prison for drug dealing. One of the mysteries Murdoch probes over years of interviewing Yellow Bird is why she became obsessed with Clarke's disappearance (her detective work ultimately paid off). In addition, Murdoch examines Yellow Bird's own hardscrabble life and the continual struggles on her reservation. Murdoch's reporting is so exhaustive that it is sometimes slow going, but it's well worth following for Murdoch's, and Yellow Bird's, insights into historical and contemporary Native American life. Copyright 2019 Booklist Reviews.

Review by Library Journal Reviews

With this debut, essayist Murdoch (The Atlantic, VICE) has written a story that expertly blends true crime, environmental drama, and family saga. For a first nonfiction work, Murdoch has outdone herself by telling the story in a beautifully narrative way, allowing readers to watch the scene unfold as Lissa Yellow Bird investigates the disappearance of Kristopher "KC" Clarke from his work site on Lissa's tribal reservation. Murdoch's own experiences lends perspective; her account offers no easy answers and causes readers to face the moral questions involved: resource mining on Native land, hardships caused by the signing and breaking of treaties, and the difficulties faced by everyone during an economic recession. Fans of Michelle McNamara's I'll Be Gone in the Dark will appreciate the accessible style, precise details, fast pace, and lyrical prose. VERDICT Required reading for all fans of true crime, particularly those interested in the intersections of poverty and environmental justice, along with Native studies.—Ahliah Bratzler, Indianapolis P.L. Copyright 2019 Library Journal.

Review by Publishers Weekly Reviews

Investigative reporter Murdoch debuts with a powerful portrayal of an unusual sleuth whose dogged pursuit of a missing person inquiry led to justice. Lissa Yellow Bird received a degree in criminal justice from the University of North Dakota, "though rather than working for the police, she spent much of her adult life evading them." Despite that checkered background and a history of substance abuse, Lissa became an advocate in tribal court and a go-to resource when people went missing on Native American lands. After Kristopher Clarke, who worked for a trucking company based on the Fort Berthold Indian Reservation, vanished in 2012, Lissa became interested in the mystery. Her investigations contributed to the arrest and conviction, in 2016, of James Henrikson, who had feared that Clarke was going to start his own trucking firm and steal Henrikson's employees. Murdoch deepens her narrative with a searing look at the deficiencies of law and order on Native American land, corruption, and the abrogation of responsibility by the federal government. Admirers of David Grann's Killers of the Flower Moon will be drawn to this complex crime story with similar themes and settings. Agent: Kent Wolf, Neon Literary. (Feb.) Copyright 2019 Publishers Weekly.

Review by Publisher Summary 1

Tells the true crime story of a murder on an Indian reservation, and the unforgettable Arikara woman who becomes obsessed with solving it. Map.

Review by Publisher Summary 2

"When Lissa Yellow Bird was released from prison in 2009, she found her home, the Fort Berthold Indian Reservation in North Dakota, transformed by the Bakken oil boom. In her absence, the landscape had been altered beyond recognition, her tribal government swayed by corporate interests, and her community burdened by a surge in violence and addiction. Three years later, when Lissa learned that a young white oil worker, Kristopher 'KC' Clarke, had disappeared from his reservation worksite, she became particularly concerned. No one knew where Clarke had gone, and no one but his mother was actively looking for him. Unfolding like a gritty mystery, Yellow Bird traces Lissa's steps as she obsessively hunts for clues to Clarke's disappearance. She navigates twoworlds -- that of her own tribe, changed by its newfound wealth, and that of the non-Native oil workers, down on their luck, who have come to find work on the heels of the economic recession. Her pursuit becomes an effort at redemption -- an atonement for her own crimes and a reckoning with generations of trauma. Yellow Bird is both an exquisitely written, masterfully reported story about a search for justice and a remarkable portrait of a complex woman who is smart, funny, eloquent, compassionate, and -- when it serves her cause -- manipulative. Ultimately, it is a deep examination of the legacy of systematic violence inflicted on a tribal nation and a tale of extraordinary healing"--

Review by Publisher Summary 3

The gripping true story of a murder on an Indian reservation, and the unforgettable Arikara woman who becomes obsessed with solving it—an urgent work of literary journalism. “I don’t know a more complicated, original protagonist in literature than Lissa Yellow Bird, or a more dogged reporter in American journalism than Sierra Crane Murdoch.”—William Finnegan, Pulitzer Prize–winning author of Barbarian DaysNOMINATED FOR THE EDGAR® AWARD • NAMED ONE OF THE BEST BOOKS OF THE YEAR BY The New York Times Book Review • NPR • Publishers Weekly When Lissa Yellow Bird was released from prison in 2009, she found her home, the Fort Berthold Indian Reservation in North Dakota, transformed by the Bakken oil boom. In her absence, the landscape had been altered beyond recognition, her tribal government swayed by corporate interests, and her community burdened by a surge in violence and addiction. Three years later, when Lissa learned that a young white oil worker, Kristopher “KC” Clarke, had disappeared from his reservation worksite, she became particularly concerned. No one knew where Clarke had gone, and few people were actively looking for him. Yellow Bird traces Lissa’s steps as she obsessively hunts for clues to Clarke’s disappearance. She navigates two worlds—that of her own tribe, changed by its newfound wealth, and that of the non-Native oilmen, down on their luck, who have come to find work on the heels of the economic recession. Her pursuit of Clarke is also a pursuit of redemption, as Lissa atones for her own crimes and reckons with generations of trauma. Yellow Bird is an exquisitely written, masterfully reported story about a search for justice and a remarkable portrait of a complex woman who is smart, funny, eloquent, compassionate, and—when it serves her cause—manipulative. Drawing on eight years of immersive investigation, Sierra Crane Murdoch has produced a profound examination of the legacy of systematic violence inflicted on a tribal nation and a tale of extraordinary healing.