Montana Public Radio

Missing And Murdered Indigenous Women Get Attention From US Senate Committee

Dec 11, 2018

Hundreds of Indigenous women go missing under suspicious circumstance every year in North America. A U.S. Senate Committee takes a closer look at the issue Wednesday.

The Senate Indian Affairs Committee may hear startling statistics like this one during its hearing: Native Americans make up about 7 percent of Montana’s population. But according to Montana’s Native American Domestic Violence Review Commission, Native people are involved in 16 percent of all of the state’s intimate partner homicides.

“The crisis is just real,” says Ivan MacDonald, a filmmaker and Blackfeet clinician at the Missoula Urban Indian Health Center.

His cousin, Monica Still Smoking, was kidnapped and murdered in 1979. Another cousin, 20-year-old Ashley Loring Heavy Runner, disappeared from the Blackfeet Reservation in June of 2017.

“Tracking, data collection is very, very hard with this crisis. It happens all around us. We have to have statistics, figures, facts, but the data isn’t always up to par, or really - the data that shows the whole picture.” 

Both of Montana’s U.S. Senators, Republican Steve Daines and Democrat Jon Tester sit on the Senate Indian Affairs Committee.

In separate press releases, Daines said he’s, “Glad to see the committee is treating this issue with the seriousness it deserves.” 

Tester described the known stats surrounding missing and murdered indigenous women as an "epidemic" and vowed to, “Grill the folks who are supposed to be ending it.” 

Ivan MacDonald is glad the grim topic is getting the congressional attention he feels it deserves, but doesn’t expect any overnight solutions.

“How can we really elicit structural change, which is needed, when we’re still just beginning the conversation.”

The Senate Oversight hearing on missing and murdered Indigenous women starts at 12:30 p.m. MST and will be streamed live. Watch the hearing here.

Missoula Women Vote will also televise the hearing at a local event to be held at 129 W. Alder Street. The public is welcome to attend.