PABLO — The Confederated Salish and Kootenai Tribes have launched a new pilot program that could set the model for dealing with the nationwide crisis around Missing and Murdered Indigenous Persons (MMIP).
U.S. Attorney for Montana Kurt Alme joined the CSKT leaders in announcing the Tribal Community Response Plan which will target MMIP cases.
The effort follows Savanna's Act and other federal measures but directly responds to the still-unsolved disappearance of Jermain Charlo, who vanished two years ago -- as well as other cases on Montana Reservations.
CSKT Tribal Chairwoman Shelly Fyant said the issue has been a learning experience for everyone, saying her attention was initially drawn a couple of years ago by Polson High student Marita Growing Thunder, who walked miles to raise awareness.
“You know a lot of it started in Canada. There's, you know, just hundreds of women, men, and children that have gone missing or were found murdered and it goes back several generations. So this isn't a new problem. But we're trying to figure out new solutions," Fyant said.
Cases will coordinate between federal, tribal, and local law enforcement, with "culturally appropriate" guidelines, recognizing differences in each tribal structure. "It gives us each a piece of this puzzle to put together or we have input on how we're going to do this," said Flathead Tribal Police Chief Craige Couture.
Organizers say one of the keys here will be follow-up training for local law enforcement and other agencies to make sure that tribal response plans are put into action.
“So we certainly don't want to go through all this work and develop plans just to have them sit on the shelf somewhere and gather dust," Alme noted. "We need to be sure that not only do they get developed but that people are actively get trained in what they need to know month in, month out, year in and year out. Because when these cases break we all know you gotta know where the plan is. You gotta know what you need to do. It isn't a time to sit down and start reading. It's a time for action."
CSKT honored Alme with a blanket gift, thanking him for helping people cope with tremendous loss…
“We have so many families who are suffering. And unfortunately, we have to learn from them, and what they experienced -- and it's sad. It's heartbreaking. You know, we think about Jermain’s family, Selena’s, Henny’s, Kaysera’s, and so, so many others," said Tribal Councilwoman Ellie Bundy.
The tribal council also voted unanimously to increase the reward for information in the Jermain Charlo case to $11,000 while continuing to support a billboard on US Highway 93.