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Task force looks at Montana's missing Indigenous people, CSKT works to finish response plan

Task force looks at Montana's missing Indigenous people, CSKT works to finish response plan

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The Confederated Salish and Kootenai Tribes are wrapping up a federal project to create a tribal community response plan for missing Indigenous people.

Once completed, the response plan created by the CSKT, its tribal police, and federal partners will be used as a blueprint for guidelines for other tribes catered to their community's specific needs.

“We felt ahead of the game, but were able to find gaps in our plan,” said task force member and CSKT council person Ellie Bundy, during a virtual Missing Indigenous Persons Task Force meeting on Thursday.

“The biggest piece from law enforcement is that all of those agencies are willing to have one plan in place, so we don’t have 10 different protocols when someone goes missing,” Bundy said. “They all agree to work on CSKT’s plan.”

Ernie Weyand, Montana's federal missing persons coordinator, said groups worked over a two-day period to develop response plans to create guidelines for law enforcement's initial response to cases, communication with media, the public and family of missing loved ones, and guidelines on providing victim services. 

The tribal community response plan is just one of Montana’s burgeoning projects to combat the high rate at which Native Americans go missing.

Native Communities coordinator Tina Chamberlain gave an update on a website created on the Blackfeet Reservation, which aims to act as a go-between for family of missing Indigenous persons who are not comfortable reporting a missing person directly to law enforcement.

Kinks on the new website, which launched in October, are still being addressed, Chamberlain said. Primarily, the team is still working to quickly alert law enforcement when a missing persons report is filed on the website.

Developers are also working to create mobile capabilities for the website, because many who live on the Blackfeet Reservation rely solely on cell phones for internet access.

Snapshot of Montana's missing

After a spike in reported missing persons in Montana over the summer, the number of missing people remains steady.

From February to August, Montana saw a 22% increase in missing person cases.

As of Wednesday, there were 179 active missing persons cases, down from 189 in mid-August.

Of the 179, about 52 of the cases, or 29%, are Native American, said LINC coordinator Tina Chamberlain.

In Montana, Native Americans make up about 7% of the population, but consistently account for more than 24% of the missing persons cases.

A little more than half of the 52 missing Indigenous individuals were age 21 years or younger. Chamberlain said 22 of the juveniles were reported as a “runaway,” and 17 have been missing for more than a year.

“That is an increase of one since our last few meetings,” Chamberlain said.

Mildred Old Crow, 8, of the Crow Reservation was reported missing in November, although she was last seen on the reservation in March 2019. The FBI and Bureau of Indian Affairs are investigating the case. 

She brings the state’s total of people missing for more than a year to 17.

Anyone with information about Mildred’s whereabouts can call BIA Law Enforcement at Crow Agency at (406) 638-2631 or the FBI at (801) 579-1400.

Change in leadership

Melissa Schlichting, the deputy attorney general, announced during the Thursday meeting that she would be stepping down from the Task Force as the presiding officer. She has taken a job with the U.S. Attorney’s Office.

Schlichting has acted as the presiding officer for the task force since its creation. Bundy, who sits on the Confederated Salish and Kootenai Tribal Council, was voted to be the next presiding officer.

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