Jermain Charlo – missing for almost a year. Hannah Harris – her body was found decomposed on the Northern Cheyenne Reservation. Ashley Loring HeavyRunner – her family still searching for clues to her vanishing.
These are the names of just a few missing and murdered Native American women from Montana.
President Donald Trump declared May 5 as Missing and Murdered American Indians and Alaska Natives Awareness Day.
“I call upon Americans and all Federal, State, tribal, and local governments to increase awareness of the crisis of missing and murdered American Indians and Alaska Natives through appropriate programs and activities,” the president wrote in his proclamation.
A bipartisan congressional coalition, including both Montana senators, also recently passed a resolution marking May 5 as National Day of Awareness for Missing and Murdered Native Women and Girls.
Senate Resolution 144, introduced May 2, cited overwhelming supportive data to communicate a need for the declaration.
Statistics cited in the legislation include how “American Indian women face murder rates that are more than 10 times the national average murder rate” — as well as the prevalence of homicide among Native American women and Alaskan Native females (it is the sixth leading cause of death for ages 1 to 44).
Hanna Harris, a Lame Deer woman who was found dead on the Northern Cheyenne Reservation in 2013, was specifically cited in the resolution.
Hanna’s Act, a bill passed in the Montana Legislature and signed by Gov. Steve Bullock last week, drew its name from Harris. The state law, also known as House Bill 21, creates a missing persons specialist within the Montana Department of Justice — along with a State Missing Persons Database.
The congressional resolution mentioning Harris calls on the American people to “commemorate the lives of missing and murdered American Indian and Alaska Native women” and “demonstrate solidarity with the families of victims.”
On Sunday evening, both Sens. Daines and Tester released statements to MTN News reacting to the occasion.
“We must acknowledge the existence of an epidemic in order to end it,” Tester told MTN. “That’s why, for the last four years, we’ve introduced resolutions declaring May 5 the ‘National Day of Awareness for Missing and Murdered Native and Women and Girls.’”
Tester, a Democrat, specifically pointed to “domestic violence and sexual assault in Native communities” as areas of concern. He sits on the Senate Committee on Indian Affairs.
“[U]ltimately, we introduced these resolutions to end this terrible epidemic, support survivors, and bring their assailants to justice,” Tester said.
For Montana’s Republican senator, Steve Daines, this year marked the third year in Congress in which he has worked to pass the resolution, to address what he called “a horrible crisis in Indian [C]ountry.”
“We chose May 5th in honor of Hanna Harris, who would have turned 27 today,” Daines told MTN. He also serves on the Senate Committee on Indian Affairs.
“We must fight together to put an end to this tragic reality,” he said.
-Elizabeth Transue and Zach Schermele reporting for MTN News