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New database is aimed at improving law enforcement response to missing and murdered Indigenous people

Wilma Fluery holds a picture of her son Willy Pepion.JPG
Aaron Bolton
Montana Public Radio
Wilma Fleury holds a picture of her son Willy Pepion as she talks about the investigation into his death during a demonstration in Browning on March 5, 2022.

Dozens of people walked across Browning on Thursday to commemorate a national day of awareness for missing and murdered Indigenous persons.

The walk comes as the local college is launching a database that aims to help resolve unsolved cases.

Rhonda Grant-Connelly’s nephew Matthew Rattlesnake Grant was found dead in 2016.

“Our family would leave the comfort of their warm homes to search in blizzard conditions," she recalled. "We searched for our nephew for two weeks without help from the Blackfeet PD, sheriff’s department."

Wilma Fleury shares the frustration that cases fall through the cracks due to jurisdictional issues between tribal, county and federal law enforcement.

She says the people who murdered her son Willy Pepion won’t be brought to justice.

“I never got justice on my boy," she said. "They dropped the federal charges against the people that did it because not enough evidence. So they turned it over to tribal. All tribal could do is do misdemeanors.”

A new database could help families connect to law enforcement agencies more quickly after a loved ones go missing.

Blackfeet Community College Extension Agent Drew Landry says families can log onto and report a missing person, including their last known location anywhere in Montana.

“If we get a report of a missing person, it’s also carbon copied to tribal police and we’re working on having all the tribal nations on board by the end of this summer," Landry said.

Landry says the site will even help connect families with law enforcement off reservations or even in other states. He hopes to have a report later this year on how many cases reported into the database have been solved.

Aaron is Montana Public Radio's Flathead reporter.