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Gov. Gianforte signs pair of MMIP bills

by CAROLYN HIDY
Lake County Leader | April 27, 2021 10:46 AM

Two bills to help address the crisis of Missing and Murdered Indigenous Persons (MMIP) in Montana were signed into law by Gov. Greg Gianforte in April. The bills were sponsored by Sharon Stewart-Peregoy of Crow Agency.

HB35 establishes a Missing Indigenous Persons Review Commission at the Montana Department of Justice to examine trends and patterns of missing indigenous persons cases throughout Montana; educate the public, law enforcement and policymakers about missing indigenous persons; and recommend practices that may encourage jurisdictional collaboration and coordination and reduce the incidence of missing indigenous persons.

The attorney general will appoint members of the commission, to include representatives from tribes, state government, nonprofits, and local, state, federal and tribal law enforcement.HB98 reinstates, for an additional two years, the Montana Missing Indigenous Persons Task Force, on which Confederated Salish and Kootenai Tribes councilwoman Ellie Bundy serves as presiding officer. Bundy said this bill also reinstates the Looping in Native Communities (LINC) grant program the task force administers to create a network in support of efforts by Montana tribes to identify, report, and find Indigenous persons who are missing.

“The intent of this suite of bills is to ensure that gaps in the justice and law enforcement system are filled so that our brothers, sisters, aunts and uncles are found and brought home,” Rep. Stewart-Peregoy said.

“Montana is recognizing the significance of the MMIP epidemic and helping us move forward. I feel like it offers hope to tribes and families who deal with this issue, and we all do in some way,” Bundy said.

Bundy said the task force will hold a strategic planning meeting in June to determine what issues to concentrate on going forward. One of the things she hopes to do at the state task force level is to look more deeply into the issue of runaways.

“Eighty percent of those who were missing between 2017 and 2019 were under the age of 18,” Bundy said. “So we’re trying to figure out what in the heck is going on with our youth and how can we address that and keep them from running. Are they running to something? From something? And is there anything we can do to help mitigate that?”

The review commission established with HB35 will help identify gaps in the process followed when somebody goes missing, Bundy said.

“Are there still issues with law enforcement response time, law enforcement availability, families not feeling heard, communication between agencies, what still needs to be fixed? This will help figure out how we can still improve those relationships and communications.”

“We’re really grateful the legislature did as well as they did,” Bundy said. “It gives me hope that people are listening and they’re recognizing it as an issue. It’s not going away anytime soon, so we’re appreciative that they voted in favor of these bills.”

In his January State of the State address, Gianforte called on the Legislature to send to his desk measures to address the MMIP crisis. “Time is of the essence, and we must act urgently to curb this tragic trend. It’s critical that we bring all voices to the table, and that all voices are heard,” Gianforte said.

In his address, he highlighted facts about the MMIP epidemic: In Montana, Native Americans make up about 7 percent of the population, but they account for about 26 percent of missing persons; between 2017 and 2019, nearly 80 percent of those reported missing were teenagers younger than 18 years of age; Native American women face a murder rate 10 times higher than the national average, and 84 percent experience some form of violence in their lifetime.