Gov. Greg Gianforte on Thursday signed a bill to help address the crisis of Missing and Murdered Indigenous Persons (MMIP) in Montana.
He was joined at the signing ceremony by members of the American Indian Caucus, the governor’s Director of the Office Indian Affairs Misty Kuhl, and Cheryl Horn, the aunt of Selena Not Afraid.
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Recounting the disappearance of her niece last year, Horn said, “I thank everyone else who joined the race behind me, because they knew what to do. I just knew to stand and shout as loud as I could and hope somebody heard me. We’re all here today, because someone did hear Selena.”
Sponsored by state Senator Jason Small (R-Busby and Northern Cheyenne), Senate Bill 4 extends the Missing and Murdered Indigenous Persons Task Force.
"Today the State of Montana stepped forward to sign extremely important legislation not only for Indian Country, but for Montana,” Small said. “Montana is consistently in the top five states for Missing and Murdered Indigenous Persons, and we must continue to move forward and think of ways to combat this epidemic.”
During the ceremony, Gianforte highlighted several facts about the MMIP epidemic. In Montana, Native Americans make up about 7% of the population, but they account for about 26% of missing persons.
Between 2017 and 2019, nearly 80% of those reported missing were teenagers younger than 18 years of age. Native American women face a murder rate 10 times higher than the national average, and 84% experience some form of violence in their lifetime.
“The Missing and Murdered Indigenous Persons crisis has tragically impacted far too many families in Montana, and let me be clear: it must end,” Gianforte said. “The victims and their families deserve justice, and these bills give us the tools we need to track data, raise awareness, and strengthen interagency collaboration to protect Montana’s indigenous persons.”
On Monday, the governor signed two accompanying bills to help address the MMIP crisis in Montana, Rep. Sharon Stewart-Peregoy’s (D-Crow Agency) HB 35 and HB 98. HB 35 establishes the Missing Indigenous Persons Review Commission at the Montana Department of Justice. HB 98 extends the Missing and Murdered Indigenous Persons Task Force and the Looping In Native Communities (LINC) grant program.
Kuhl, an A’aniiih member of the Fort Belknap Indian Community and the governor’s Director of Indian Affairs, emphasized during Monday's signing the need to address the issue.
"There probably isn't anyone in a Native Community who hasn’t been impacted by this crisis. Too many grieve a missing or murdered friend, relative, or acquaintance. Missing and Murdered Indigenous Persons is an epidemic for urban Natives, the Tribes, and Montana. It is crucial the partnership to fight these tragedies continues.”