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Blackfeet woman named Montana Corrections Department liaison

Helena, Montana (AP) 12-07

Myrna Kuka, who has worked in the corrections field for 22 years, is the new American Indian liaison for the Montana Department of Corrections, the agency said Monday.

Kuka, a member of the Blackfeet Tribe, takes over as the department’s fourth liaison Jan. 2. She replaces Jim Mason, who resigned in late August after almost three years in the job.

Corrections officials say the position is critical as the agency strives to meet Native cultural needs through appropriate offender programming in both community corrections services and secure facilities.

American Indians make up a “disproportionately large” segment of Montana’s offender population, accounting for about 18 percent of all inmates, the department said in a news release. In contrast, American Indians represent about 6.3 percent of the state’s total population.

Besides handling cultural issues within the corrections system, Kuka will work on new initiatives to boost the number of American Indian employees in the department, particularly among probation and parole officers.

Kuka, 60, was born in Browning and holds a bachelor’s degree in native American human services and an associate’s degree in chemical dependency.

For the past year and a half, she has worked as the department’s first Native cultural officer, a position aimed at helping address the cultural and communication barriers encountered by Indian offenders, the release said.

“Myrna brings a strong understanding of the cultural needs of American Indian offenders within the correctional system,” said Steve Barry, administrator of the human resources division that includes Kuka’s office. “Through her work in development of the Native cultural officer program, she has built strong relationships with tribal and department officials and is widely respected for her work ethic and commitment to the department and native community.”

Kuka said she is looking forward to handling correctional issues on a statewide basis and resolving American Indian cultural problems that arise in the corrections system.

“This job is important in bridging the differences between cultures that show up as misunderstandings and communication gaps,” she said.

 

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