Blackfeet Community College introduced a new statewide Missing and Murdered Indigenous Persons database and reporting portal at a Saturday event at the University of Montana.
The online database, known as MMIP Montana, is scheduled to launch to the public in about a week or two.
It is a comprehensive website designed to streamline the process of reporting missing Indigenous people in Montana, according to a news release from MMIP Montana Director Drew Landry. It also will be a catalog of every open missing Indigenous person case.
The site includes a form where a reporting party can provide details about a missing person. Information about the circumstances of the missing person’s last contact, the person’s physical description and specifics on where they live and what tribe they belong to are all details the form requests to help locate the person.
Reporting parties can also easily upload photos into the report.
The Blackfeet Community College team worked with Dillon Software to develop the site.
Dillon Software President Sean Dillon spoke about how the team wants to facilitate and encourage families to report their missing loved ones to law enforcement.
“We’re trying to make it easier for people that aren’t exactly sure what to do,” Dillon said. “We want to make it dead simple for people to be able to report a missing person with as little friction as possible.”
When a report is submitted, a site coordinator will contact the reporting party to gather as much additional information as possible.
From there, the report and photos will be emailed to as many law enforcement agencies as have been configured by the site for that person’s particular tribal relation or region, Dillon said.
MMIP Montana will also notify the reporting party when law enforcement agencies have received the report.
The site is designed to be as accessible as possible, Dillon said. This included ensuring its ease of use on phones so reporting on the go is simple.
A section dedicated to missing Indigenous persons cold cases will be another component of the database. Skye Gilham, a forensic anthropologist and Blackfeet Community College instructor, has spearheaded developing this portion of the website.
“This part is really still in its infancy, we’re still in the planning stages, but it’s a step I’ve been wanting to pursue for some time and see it as a very crucial one,” Gilham said.
In 2017, students at Blackfeet Community College built a website to demand justice for former student Ashley Loring HeavyRunner, a 20-year-old who disappeared from the Blackfeet Nation in June 2017, Landry said. The college then received a Department of Justice grant included in Montana Senate Bill 312, the Looping in Native Communities Act, to create the database and portal on the website.
AT&T matched the Department of Justice grant to further help in building the site.
“We are fortunate to have great partners,” Landry said in the news release. “AT&T’s generous support and Dillon Software’s talent in redesigning our reporting portal and database has been integral in launching this critical resource. The new platform is scalable and easy to operate.”
Right now, the Blackfeet Reservation and Confederated Salish and Kootenai Tribes are the two nations participating in the portal. The coalition hopes to have all eight of Montana’s tribal nations participating by the end of the summer.
“CSKT is so honored to share in this day as the second tribe being added to the network,” CSKT Tribal Council Member Ellie Bundy said.
Bundy is looking forward to the CSKT’s participation in the database and hopes this new tool can address the larger issue of finding missing and murdered Indigenous people.
As of May 11, there are 179 missing persons in the Montana Missing Persons Clearinghouse, Bundy said. Fifty-seven of those are classified as Indigenous.
U.S. Secretary of the Interior Deb Haaland submitted a video speech to the event congratulating the team behind the database.
“Your work is a testament to what it means to organize, strategize and advocate on an issue that matters to you. I want to commend you all on the commitment and perseverance it took to get to this point,” Haaland said.
She also spoke about the importance of prioritizing the missing and murdered Indigenous persons crisis and how it has been swept under the rug for too long with a lack of urgency, attention and funding.
“The rates of missing persons cases in the American Indian and Alaskan Native communities are disproportionate, alarming and unacceptable,” she said.
Family members of missing Indigenous people also spoke at the event, including the grandparents of missing 3-year-old Arden Pepion and Kimberly Loring, sister of Ashley Loring HeavyRunner.
Loring shared her family’s experience with Ashley’s disappearance and spoke about the gap between when Ashley went missing and when her case was reported to law enforcement.
“Ashley’s story is not unique. It’s the same as so many other stories,” Loring said. “We need to use these stories as examples so we can rise above.”
The website is at mmipmt.com.