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New MMIP task force fully staffed a year after its renewal

A sign from a Jan. 9, 2019 missing and murdered Indigenous women vigil in Missoula.
Josh Burnham
/
Montana Public Radio
A sign from a Jan. 9, 2019 missing and murdered Indigenous women vigil in Missoula.

Montana's Missing Indigenous Persons Task Force has re-formed with new staff. The group has existed in Montana since 2019, but it hasn’t met since lawmakers funded an expansion of their work within the Department of Justice last year.

The new task force members met for the first time last week. The group has existed in Montana since 2019 but it hasn’t met since lawmakers funded an expansion of their work within the Department of Justice last year.

The bill was carried by Democratic Representative Tyson Running Wolf, from Browning.

“We're still in the dark about, you know, how it's going to function, but at least we got the task force in place and we got that position filled. It's better late than never,” Running Wolf said.

The Department of Justice hired Justin Kambic this spring to be the group’s full time coordinator. Kambic previously worked in search and rescue and law enforcement for Cascade County.

MTPR made multiple requests to interview Kambic earlier this year, but the DOJ either declined to make him available or didn’t respond.

Lawmakers last year signed off on the agency spending $60,000 to train Missing Person Response Teams. But as of last week, the agency said that money hasn’t been spent.

Montana has one of the highest rates of Missing and Murdered Indigenous Persons, or MMIP, in the nation. Indigenous people make up around 7% of Montana's population, but 26% of the state's missing persons cases, according to the state Department of Justice.

This new group is made up of representatives from tribes, state and federal offices, and Montana Highway Patrol.

Haley Omeasoo is one of the new members. She's a University of Montana PhD student studying forensics and the founder of a company that investigates missing person cases.

“I'll basically just kind of be the person that brings the forensic science aspect to the task force. I'm kind of hoping that I can be that person that will start to do, like, the actual case work. For some of these missing and murdered indigenous persons cases,” Omeasoo said.

The newly expanded task force plans to meet quarterly going forward.

Ellis Juhlin is MTPR's Rocky Mountain Front reporter. Ellis previously worked as a science reporter at Utah Public Radio and a reporter at Yellowstone Public Radio. She has a Master's Degree in Ecology from Utah State University. She's an average birder and wants you to keep your cat indoors. She has two dogs, one of which is afraid of birds.

ellis.juhlin@mso.umt.edu
406-272-2568
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