Of the 179 missing persons in Montana, 29 percent are Native American. Montana’s Missing Indigenous Persons (MMIP) Task Force met Thursday for an update and to elect a new presiding officer.
At the task force meeting, presiding officer and state Deputy Attorney General Melissa Schlichting announced she was leaving the position to start a new job with the U.S. Attorney’s office in Helena.
The MMIP Task Force voted unanimously to appoint Ellie Bundy, a task force member and tribal council member of the Confederated Salish and Kootenai Tribes, as new presiding officer.
In an update about current missing persons cases, Tina Chamberlain said 29 missing Natives are under 21 years old, and 17 of them have been missing for over a year.
"We are mindful that this is an overrepresentation when you look at Native Americans in Montana by population. It is keeping in line with what we've seen month to month. I think that last month, at 31 percent, was probably our highest. But this is still a very high number of missing people," Chamberlain said.
The task force said their missing persons reporting website created in partnership with Blackfeet Community College is being updated to work better with local law enforcement. The Confederated Salish and Kootenai Tribes (CSKT) will be the second tribal nation to use the new website once it’s fully operational.
The task force also announced the CSKT finished creating their Tribal Community Response plan. The plan is part of a federal Department of Justice project to develop protocols with tribal nations so federal, tribal and state law enforcement work together more efficiently on missing persons cases.
Ellie Bundy says the CSKT are prepared to assist other Montana tribes in creating their own protocols.
"As other tribes here start working on their plans, CSKT is more than willing to help in any way we can," Bundy said.
The Fort Peck Assiniboine and Sioux tribes will likely be the next tribal nation to join the project.
Kaitlyn Nicholas is Yellowstone Public Radio's Report For America Indigenous affairs reporter.