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State's New Missing Indigenous Persons Task Force Meets In Helena

People carry signs and photographs of missing and murdered women and girls around UM's oval at the Native-led MMIW Vigil, Saturday, Janury 19, 2019.
Josh Burnham
Montana Public Radio
Community members carry signs and photographs of missing and murdered women and girls around UM's oval at the Native-led MMIW Vigil, Saturday, Janury 19, 2019.

Montana’s newly formed Missing Indigenous Persons Task Force met for the first time Tuesday in Helena. The task force of tribal members and state law enforcement gathered less than a month after a bill creating and funding the group became law.

For the next year and half the group will study the disproportionate rate at which Native American women and children go missing, and the coordination among agencies in finding them.

According the state legislation that’s creating the task force, Native women and children are also 10 times more likely than their peers to be murdered, and nine times more likely to be sexaully assulted.

The new task force will administer a grant to create a database for collecting information about missing indigious persons.

Hollie Mackey, who is Northern Cheyenne and an Associate Professor at the University of Oklahoma, led the discussion during the task force’s first meeting Tuesday.

"I don’t know if everyone actually appreciates how remarkable this group is. Because it's not really ever been done before," she says.

Senate Bill 312, which passed out of the last legislative session, says that there is no comprehensive data collection system for reporting or tracing missing Native American women or children, making them more vulnerable to violence.

Before October 2019 the task force will develop a grant program to fund a tribal college to create a new network to collect that kind of information. The state Legislature allocated $25,000 in grants available to tribal agency that provide matching funds.

The Missing Indigenous Persons Task Force will also report back to the Legislature in September of 2020 with policy suggestions for increasing reporting and investigation of missing indigenous persons.

Another new law known as Hanna’s Act is pushing Montana’s Department of Justice to hire a new missing persons specialist.

"We know that this issue of missing persons in general and certainly missing and murdered indigenous people is a problem that has risen to a crescendo where people are finally paying attention," says Attorney General Tim Fox. "And we have an opportunity, as the saying sometimes goes, to strike when the metal is hot."

On Wednesday state, local, tribal and federal law enforcement will meet in Helena for missing persons training.

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