WASHINGTON, D.C.- U.S. Sen. Jon Tester (D-MT) called the number of missing and murdered indigenous women an epidemic—a growing problem, that he says tribal police, the Bureau of Indian Affairs, and the FBI need to work together to solve.
The deaths and disappearance of hundreds of Native American women in America was the subject of a Senate Indian Affairs Committee Hearing in Washington, D.C. Wednesday.
“You cannot set foot in Indian country without hearing a heartbreaking story about this growing problem and that is why we are here today,” said Tester.
Tester told the Senate committee that at least two dozen Native Americans have gone missing in Montana this year alone.
“Why haven’t we found more of them? What is the problem,” he questioned.
Charles Addington with the Bureau of Indian Affairs answered, saying there needed to be more coordination in the beginning when there is a missing person between everyone involved.
One Montana woman who knows the pain of having a missing relative testified before the committee. Kimberly Loring Heavy Runner’s sister, Ashley, has been missing on the Blackfeet Reservation since June 2017.
She testified that she thought Blackfeet tribal police and the BIA seemed dismissive because the missing woman was 20 years old, a legal adult, and she also claims some key evidence was lost in the case.
“If they would have taken her serious as a person because we are important, I believe that my sister would have been here or we would have closure,” said Loring-Heavy Runner.
Sen. Tester agreed, saying, “We would have a different reaction if this was non-native. I’m just telling you. It would be a different reaction.”
Sen. Tester says the only obvious answer to come out of the hearing is that there needs to be better communication between tribal and federal agencies. He says he hopes there will be another hearing on the subject after the new Congress takes over in January.
“This is a fundamental question about how we value human life and those who are most vulnerable. You can be a voice for those who do not have a voice here today,” US Senator Steve Daines (R-MT) said.
“And I hope that message is received strongly by law enforcement and members of Congress so that we can conduct investigations and find out what happened to Ashley,” he added.
Meanwhile, there is still no word on the fate of Jermain Charlo, a 23-year-old Dixon woman who went missing in the Missoula area back in June.
Police told MTN News earlier this year that they suspect she may be a victim of human trafficking.