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Missing Persons Cases In Montana Up, Task Force Recommends Review Commission

Montana Missing Indigenous People Task Force members review their year-end report during a remote meeting Aug. 13, 2020.
Montana Missing Indigenous People Task Force members review their year-end report during a remote meeting Aug. 13, 2020.

Montana’s Missing Indigenous Persons Task Force on Aug. 13 said the state has seen a 22 percent increase in missing persons cases this year. The task force also decided on four actions to recommend to state lawmakers.

There are 180 active missing persons cases in Montana as of this week, according to state data.

"We have seen a spike in active missing persons cases," said Brian Frost, the task force’s missing persons specialist.

Frost says Indigenous people account for a disproportionately high number of those cases, which have increased dramatically since last winter.

"You're looking at a 22 percent jump from Feb. 14 to August 12. Why do we have a 22 percent jump? Is it weather related? Is it just because the weather is nice? Is it because school’s out? I don’t really know. It’s something, a trend we’re seeing climb and I’m hoping it starts to break," he said.

Ellie Bundy, another task force member, asked if the spike in missing persons cases could be linked to families staying home during the coronavirus pandemic, which could lead to an increase in domestic violence. Frost said this was a “good possibility.”

The task force’s main goal was to finalize a year-end report due to the state legislature on Sept. 1. MIP Task Force Member Tina Chamberlain listed the four actions the report recommends Montana’s legislature should take in response to their findings.

"Those four recommendations are to establish a missing persons review commission, establish a missing person response team training grant program, extend the Missing Indigenous Persons Task Force and extend the Looping In Native Communities Act and grant program," Chamberlain said.

The report also includes: a history of national and state legislation related to missing persons, details of the task force’s meetings, as well as their findings through data analysis and community listening sessions they conducted this past year.

"This report really focuses on a lot of information that helps us understand what missing Indigenous people looks like in Montana," Chamberlain said.

The task force unanimously voted to approve the report and will present it before the State Tribal Relations Committee on August 24.

Chamberlain also presented the task force’s new logo, which the group workshopped last month. The logo features a red handprint, a symbol often associated with the Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women movement, projected over a state map, with yellow dots of various sizes representing the reservations in Montana.

Kaitlyn Nicholas covers tribal news in Montana.