Blackfeet Community College Website Offers Local, Anonymous Missing Persons Reporting
Blackfeet Community College on Saturday celebrated the launch of a new missing persons reporting website created in collaboration with Montana’s Missing Indigenous Persons Task Force.
Blackfeet Community College (BCC) for the last month has been testing the new website, which allows people in Blackfeet Nation to submit missing persons reports that are immediately shared with local police, including Bureau of Indian Affairs, Glacier and Pondera dispatch.
The Montana Department of Justice offered a $25,000 grant for the project in 2019, as part of the Looping In Native Communities Act, to support tribal nations in grappling with high numbers of missing persons. Drew Landry is the USDA extension agent at BCC.
"I saw that there was a Department of Justice (DOJ) grant and that it would actually do the things we wanted to do: move from advocacy and recognizing the problem, to actually helping people report missing persons cases on reservations, that may have otherwise not done it because of red tape or fear or whatever other issue would keep them from reporting a loved one that was missing," Landry said.
Landry says locals are often reluctant to contact law enforcement directly for many reasons: mistrust of government officials, concern about ongoing drug addiction and fear that officials will not act on their behalf. Landry says the website, which features an option to submit reports anonymously, is meant to bridge the gap and is the first of its kind in Montana.
"The thought process is to empower local communities to stand up for themselves and to pass on the tools that we're building right now to other Indigenous communities. Once we're successful in Browning, we believe that this can work for other tribal nations, and that's the whole point of it: to build an infrastructure that can be put into place anywhere," Landry said.
The website team plans to add all other Montana tribal communities to the reporting network within a year.
Landry says this project has been long in coming. He says BCC students and staff feel a personal connection to lower the high rates of missing Indigenous people after Ashley HeavyRunner Loring, a 20 year old Blackfeet woman, went missing in 2017.
"We started a petition and, before we knew it, the petition, just seeking justice for Ashley HeavyRunner, had garnered 55,000 signatures," Landry said.
To date, HeavyRunner Loring has not been found.
Her disappearance reignited a national conversation about missing Indigenous women. But Landry says BCC lacked the resources needed to move from advocacy to action. The DOJ grant and a matching grant from AT&T offered the school a chance to act. Landry says Dillon Software in Whitefish is also providing technical support for the project.
The website launch was celebrated with a virtual concert on Nov. 7. Landry says he hopes this resource and collaboration will make Blackfeet Nation stronger.
"Maybe the community will be able to do some healing and also to make it safer for the next generation. That's all that really matters," Landry said.
Copyright 2020 Yellowstone Public Radio