HELENA — Montana’s Missing Indigenous Persons Task Force met Tuesday, with a focus on the future of the program.
During the videoconference meeting, task force members got an update on the state’s missing persons clearinghouse.
Montana Department of Justice missing persons specialist Brian Frost reported the state had 185 active cases as of Tuesday morning. 56 of the missing people were indigenous, and 30 of those were younger than 21.
The task force also discussed proposed legislation on the missing persons issue at this year’s Montana legislative session.
Senate Bill 4, sponsored by Republican Sen. Jason Small of Busby, would extend the task force for another two years. That bill had its first hearing last week and passed through Senate committee.
On Thursday, the House Judiciary Committee will hold hearings on three more bills, all sponsored by Democratic Rep. Sharon Stewart-Peregoy of Crow Agency.
House Bill 98 would also extend the task force, along with the Looping in Native Communities grant program. House Bill 35 would create a review commission to look at cases of missing indigenous people, and House Bill 36 would set up a new grant program for training community-based missing persons response teams.
Task force members said Tuesday they’re hopeful the bills will move forward.
“I feel like as tribal leaders, we have an obligation to our people to help advance this legislation,” said Ellie Bundy, a Confederated Salish and Kootenai tribal councilwoman and member of the task force. “We have the power to influence, if we just step up and let our voices be heard.”
This was the first task force meeting this year, and the first under Attorney General Austin Knudsen, who took over the Department of Justice earlier this month.