The Montana Department of Justice announced plans Tuesday to hire a new specialist focusing on missing persons cases in the state. The position was created during the last legislative session amid public outcry over the high rate of Native American women and girls who are murdered or go missing.
Attorney General Tim Fox says applications for the job are being accepted starting Tuesday and the DOJ plans to have the missing persons specialist on staff by July 1.
"One of the most pressing concerns we hear about is the disproportionate number of indigenous people who go missing both here in Montana and across the county. And this is unacceptable," Fox says.
As of Friday, Native Americans made up 32 percent of Montana’s Missing Persons list. Indigenous people make up about 7 percent of the state’s population.
The 2019 Legislature passed five bills aimed at changing the way the state goes about creating data about, and searching for, missing persons, with an emphasis on missing indigenous people.
The new missing persons specialist was created and funded through a bill known as Hanna’s Act. Other bills included the Looping in Native Communities Act, which will create a missing indigenous persons task force to study the issue and organize efforts.
"Last Wednesday letters were sent out to each of the tribes from my office to the chair or president of each tribe in Montana asking for nominations to that taskforce," Fox says.
The first task force meeting is planned for June 11 in Helena.
Fox says it’s too early to tell how much impact the new laws will have in reducing the number of missing persons in the state. He says one of the problems is that there’s a lack of understanding about how to best address the high rate of missing persons.