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Confederated Salish And Kootenai Tribes Finalize Plan To Improve Response To Missing Persons Cases

The Confederated Salish and Kootenai Tribes have finalized their plan to improve coordination and agency response when Indigenous people go missing in the Flathead area. The plan is part of a national Department of Justice pilot project and will be used as a model for other tribes wishing to make their own community-specific plans.

CSKT has been developing their Tribal Community Response Plan since December 2020. The plan focuses on identifying and updating policies of law enforcement, victim services, media communication and a log of community resources to streamline what happens when someone goes missing.

Ellie Bundy, a CSKT council member and the presiding officer of the Montana Missing Indigenous Persons Task Force, announced the plan’s completion in a task force meeting Wednesday. She says one major accomplishment is the plan brings all ten law enforcement agencies working with CSKT into alignment.

“Our law enforcement agencies established a common Missing Indigenous Person's response policy, which is huge,” Bundy says.

The plan also establishes a joint file system where law enforcement agencies can view and share information on cases, as well as a media lead for all CSKT missing persons communication.

Bundy urged task force members to remember the people behind the missing persons statistics and policies. She spoke about the life of Jermain Charlo, a CSKT woman who’s been missing since 2018. She also told stories of other missing and murdered Indigenous people, including Ashley Loring Heavyrunner, a Blackfeet woman who’s been missing since June 2017, and Selena Not Afraid, a Crow teenager who was found dead in January 2020.

“And so the numbers I want you to consider today, 16, 18, 20, 21, 22, 23…the ages of these young ladies when they went missing. Think of someone in your family who may be that age,” Bundy says.

Bundy says a particularly important part of developing the response plan was inviting family members of victims to discuss how procedures could be made more efficient based on their experiences.

As of Tuesday there are 174 people missing in Montana. Fifty-five of them are Indigenous.

Kaitlyn Nicholas covers tribal news in Montana.