The Montana Missing Idigenous Persons Task Force hosted a public meeting in Billings Feb. 6. Some community members pressed for Native people to form a task force of their own.
About 50 people piled into a classroom at City College, listening to concerned community members like Paulette Not Afraid.
"We need our own equipment. We need our own station. We don’t have to wait for no one. If we have to do it ourselves, by golly, I think we better start doing that and doing that on our reservation. Let’s do our own thing now," Not Afraid said.
Not Afraid helped raise Selena Not Afraid, a 16-year-old Crow girl who recently was found dead in a field near Interstate 90.
Paulette says she came to the state task force meeting to hold law enforcement accountable.
"When the first response call goes in, we’d like to have a response. Like right now, not wait. Because time is critical," Not Afraid said.
Paulette says some federal agencies like the Bureau of Land Management didn’t help with the search for her grand niece until thirteen days in.
Tribes and municipalities across the state have formed their own task forces, including Big Horn County and the Flathead Tribes. The state task force, which is housed under the Montana Department of Justice, has representatives from six of Montana’s eight tribal nations.
Lorna Knows His Gun says she’d like to see Native people run a task force, not just serve on one. She asked the state justice department for help in getting it off the ground.
"Can we get a building? Can we equip this building with our ATVs or drones? Can we get these trainings? So we don’t have to wait," Knows His Gun said.
Earlier in the night, law enforcement officials from the state justice department explained their role in tracking down missing people.
Gary Sedar from the Division of Criminal Investigation told the audience that his agency assists local law enforcement when they feel out of their depth.
"When we see major things that are going on that we think may be a little bit of extra help would be nice or maybe just a little bit of guidance, we come and we reach out and remind them that, ‘Hey if you need anything we’re here. Please give us a call,'" Sedar said.
Sedar says that his office can provide local agencies with legal and forensic support.
Recently the Big Horn County Sheriff's Office requested help from the Division of Criminal Investigation’s for the Not Afraid’s case. That was after family and tribal leaders pushed the sheriff’s office to request state help.
About five people spoke at the event, talking about things like the effect the construction of the Keystone XL oil pipeline would have on the crisis and prevention campaigns.
The community meeting came after a full day of meetings for the state task force. This is the fifth time they’ve met since state Senate Bill 312 launched the task force last year.
One of their responsibilities is to submit a report with recommendations to the state-tribal relations committee next fall.
Olivia Reingold is Yellowstone Public Radio’s Report for America corps member.