Montana Extends Programs to Address Tribes’ Missing Persons

The bills are meant to address the crisis of missing and murdered Indigenous people in the state

By Associated Press
A mural behind Bias Brewing by artist M. Growing Thunder in downtown Kalispell on July 23, 2020. Hunter D’Antuono | Flathead Beacon

HELENA – Gov. Greg Gianforte signed this week several bills meant to address the crisis of missing and murdered Indigenous people in Montana, extending programs established in 2019.

Native Americans make up only around 7% of Montana’s population but a quarter of reported missing person cases. And Native Americans are over four times more likely to be victims of homicide than white people in Montana, according to figures from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Gianforte, a Republican, was joined Thursday in a bill signing ceremony by the Native American lawmakers who sponsored the measures. Two bills will extend a legislative task force and grant program with the goal of helping tribes identify and report missing people. Another measure will create a review commission under the state Department of Justice to recommend policies and improve collaboration between law enforcement agencies to address unsolved missing person cases.

“It’s not only an American Indian problem across the state of Montana. It is a problem for all Montanans,” said Democratic Rep. Sharon Stewart Peregoy.

A Republican-controlled committee voted down last week an additional bill sponsored by Stewart Peregoy which would have created a grant to pay for training of law enforcement teams to respond to reported missing Native Americans in the state.

Opponents of the measure said the training can be funded through an existing federal program.

Earlier this month, the U.S. Justice Department announced it was advancing its initiative to create community response plans aimed at enhancing collaboration between law enforcement agencies in Native American communities.

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