More than 120 people, including members of state, tribal and local law enforcement, attended a public training in Helena Wednesday. The daylong training, organized by Montana’s Department of Justice and Montana’s U.S. attorney, highlighted situations when indigenous persons go missing.
Montana's law enforcement and lawmakers are turning more attention to the high rate at which indigenous persons in the state go missing and become victims of violence. Attorney General Tim Fox, who is running as a Republican for governor, spoke at the training session.
“We are here to listen," said Fox. “In the months ahead, it is my hope that with your recommendations, we'll be able to determine the scope of this issue, as well as create a better response to new missing person cases across Montana, and ultimately stop those folks from going missing.”
Bills passed by the 2019 Legislature are pushing the state to hire a missing persons specialist and form the Missing Indigenous Persons Task Force. That task force must report back to the Legislature with policy suggestions on improving investigations of missing persons by September 2020.
Fox announced his office will be interviewing finalists for the state’s new specialist Thursday. The position was created through Hanna’s Act, a new state law created in remembrance of Hanna Harris, a Lame Deer woman murdered on the Northern Cheyenne Reservation in 2013.
During Wednesday’s training session, members of law enforcement and the general public were split up for panel discussions. The groups talked about what to do when a person goes missing, the steps involved in issuing public alerts and the link between missing persons and human trafficking.
Everyone came back together for a keynote speech from Hollie Mackey, a Northern Cheyenne who recently became an associate professor at the University of Oklahoma. Mackey wondered why it took so long for the state to address an issue already familiar to native communities.
“If it’s so important," she said. "If time is so important, and being aggressive is so important, and law is a byproduct of ethics, and ethics really are determined by our values; why is Hanna’s Act passed in 2019 when Hannah was killed in 2013?"
"That doesn’t communicate urgency to me. It actually makes me pretty angry.”
Yesterday marked the first meeting of the newly formed Missing Indigenous Persons Task Force. Along with studying the overall issue, the task force must also award one tribal college a grant for creating a missing Native Americans database.