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New members appointed to Montana Missing Indigenous Persons Task Force

New members appointed to Montana Missing Indigenous Persons Task Force
Posted at 5:14 PM, Jun 19, 2024

GREAT FALLS — On Wednesday, Montana’s Attorney General, Austin Knudsen was present at Great Falls High School to announce appointments to the Montana Missing Indigenous Persons Task Force.

In 2023, the Montana State Legislature approved ten more years of funding for the task force, giving its members long-term support to carry out its plans.

“We’ve been able to recognize that in Montana, indigenous people go missing at about four times the rate of other races,” says Special Services Bureau Chief, Dana Toole.

In fact, 31 percent of the 1,386 missing persons reported in Montana in 2023 were Indigenous.
The task forces objectives include reducing indigenous missing persons in Montana while identifying families needs, creating a network of communication between tribal communities, and tracking data on missing peoples reports.

They also exist to break down jurisdictional barriers.

“We have zero criminal jurisdiction on Indian reservations in Indian country. That's jurisdiction that belongs to the federal government. And if they decide not to prosecute, then that jurisdiction passes to the tribal government. And they're bound, and limited by federal law as well,” said Attorney General, Austin Knudsen.

This was the first in-person meeting by the task force since the Legislature’s decision.

“We can keep people on this task force. We can keep eyes on this subject. We can keep having the same people, the expertise,” said Knudsen.

Knudsen ceremoniously presented members of the task force with certificates acknowledging their appointment or re-appointment to the task force.

These individuals are as follows:

  • Alan Doane, Montana Attorney General’s Office
  • Yolanda Fraser, Northern Cheyenne Tribe
  • Brian Frost, Montana Department of Justice
  • Stacie FourStar, Fort Peck Assiniboine & Sioux Tribes
  • Chrystal Hickman, Montana Office of Public Instruction
  • Cheryl Horn, Fort Belknap Indian Community
  • Iris Kill Eagle, Little Shell Chippewa Tribe
  • Danielle Matt, Confederated Salish & Kootenai Tribes
  • Amanda Myers, United States Attorney’s Office
  • Haley Omeasoo, At-large member
  • Dr. Alan Ostby, Indian Health Services
  • Derek Werner, Montana Highway Patrol
  • Jonathan Windy Boy, Chippewa Cree Tribe
  • Sarah Wolftail, representing the Blackfeet Nation

Iris Kill Eagle, Little Shell Chippewa’s representative, said it’s good to have a sense of security and collaboration again. She recognized the good work the task force was doing prior to COVID, citing their efforts in community outreach. At the time the task force was holding education meetings on every reservation, spreading information.
Now she’s ready to hit the ground running again.

“We’re still hearing things about people not taking it serious when they have a loved one missing. Still, the distrust by the families not wanting to go to the local law enforcement. So we hope to be that in between, where they feel comfortable coming to us,” says Kill Eagle.

The task force say they hope to hold an in-person meeting once a year to breakdown their progress and adapt their strategies in keeping Indigenous peoples as safe as possible.

“[We’re] letting our native communities know that they are represented and they have someone they can turn to, to be their voice,” finished Kill Eagle.

The MMIP Task Force was first formed in 2019 after vocal concern from Democratic Representative Tyson Running Wolf of Browning.