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Montana Attorney General Names Missing Indigenous Persons Task Force

Montana Attorney General Tim Fox at a podium.
Corin Cates-Carney
Montana Public Radio
Montana Attorney General Tim Fox announcing that the Department of Justice would begin hiring a new missing persons specialist in April 2019.

Montana Attorney General Tim Fox on Thursday announced the members of a new task force that will address missing and murdered indigenous persons throughout the state.

“We must do more to work together to bring home missing persons from Indian Country,” Fox said in the press release.

A member of each of Montana’s 7 reservations and the Little Shell Chippewa Tribe was selected to serve under the bill that created the task force—Senate Bill 213, also known as the Looping In Native Communities Act. State Senator Jason Small from Busby sponsored the bill. It was one of a handful that passed last legislative session relating to missing and murdered indigenous people.

The 11 members of the task force are:

  • Councilman Mark Pollock (Blackfeet Tribe)
  • Councilman Mike Corcoran (Chippewa Cree Tribe)
  • ­­­­Ellie Bundy (Confederated Salish and Kootenai Tribes)
  • Valerie Falls Down (Crow Tribe)
  • Councilwoman Brandi King (Fort Belknap Indian Community)
  • Councilman Jestin Dupree (Fort Peck Tribes)
  • Councilwoman Iris KillEagle (Little Shell Chippewa Tribe)
  • Brandi Beckman (Northern Cheyenne Tribe)
  • Deputy Attorney General Melissa Schlichting (Attorney General’s Office)
  • Montana Missing Persons Clearinghouse Manager Jennifer Viets (Montana DOJ)
  • Sgt. Derek Werner (Montana Highway Patrol)

Deputy Attorney General Melissa Schlichting, who will serve on the task force, says that data is key to its mission. Part of the task force’s responsibilities include awarding a grant to a tribal college to create a database for missing and murdered Native Americans in the state.
“We need to identify what the scope of the missing indigenous persons looks like,” Schlichting said in an interview with Yellowstone Public Radio. “To do that, we need to make sure we have an accurate count of the number of missing people.”

According to the bill, “85% of the Native women and children who went missing between 1900 and 2017 were not listed in the Department of Justice's official database.”

Indigenous people currently account for 23% of missing persons cases in Montana despite only accounting for about 7% of the state population according to the most recent census data.