More than 300 people took part in the first Murdered and Missing Indigenous Women’s march in Billings on Friday.
Marchers gathered on the Montana State University Billings campus and walked down the city’s main drag.
The march is part of a series of such demonstrations across Montana, drawing attention to the high number of missing indigenous people left unfound and murder cases left unsolved.
Shawna Cooper, who’s Northern Cheyenne and active in Billings’ indigenous community, was one of the march organizers.
She said there’s a lack of data about how many women and girls are missing from reservations.
“Data is how you get money to help for issues,” said Cooper. “And so we can bring so much attention to this, but when it comes down to it, we need money to help us with prevention, with tracking and, of course, getting a database and developing a protocol so there’s not moms who are having to wait two weeks to have a response to their missing daughters.”
Some of the marchers are mourning or searching for those they’ve lost and are pleading for a better response from law enforcement.
People held signs with the names and faces of their loved ones.
Frances Knowhisgun, from the Crow reservation, is still searching for her younger sister, Freda Knowshisgun.
She wants law enforcement to do more when they get a report of a missing person.
“I think that when they file the missing person’s report, I think they should like from police department to police department,” she said.
Native American communities are also taking action into their own hands.
Lame Deer activist Dean Wallowing Bull has been organizing marches following the discovery of the body of 14-year-old Henny Scott last year.
Since then, he said, the community on the Northern Cheyenne Reservation has turned to word-of-mouth and social media when someone goes missing.
“People are out there looking now,” said Wallowing Bull. “If they go missing, we’re looking for them.”
Marchers ended in a park downtown.
There, Billings city councillor Penny Ronning encouraged those present to vote and to make change in their communities.
“Get your voice heard there. Elect people on your local community who are gonna help make those changes happen,” she said.
Other speakers, including Republican Senator Steve Daines and a Native issues representative from Democrat Senator Jon Tester’s office, highlighted legislation to address the issue of missing and murdered indigenous people. State lawmakers are considering a bill to establish a missing persons specialist and another making it mandatory to report missing children.