MISSOULA — This month's First Friday in Missoula will be working to raise awareness of the issue of Missing and Murdered Indigenous Persons (MMIP).
MTN News talked with artist Jen Buckley whose work is bringing awareness to the issue across Montana and is already on display at Float Missoula.
Buckley says the MMIP issue impacts everyone: "I think all of us as Indigenous people are impacted. And I think even if you're not Indigenous, I hope you are impacted."
The Montana Community Foundation reports that while Native Americans make up 6.7% of the state population, they account for 26% of missing persons cases.
"It's really important to me as an Indigenous woman to really spread the word and get it out there that this is a real issue in our communities, and it needs to be talked about all the time," Buckley said.
The part-time photographer and owner of Tveraa Photography uses her downtime to spread awareness about the issue — including Jermain Charlo, reported missing from Dixon Agency in 2018.
"I've gone on a search for Jermain with The Lifeguard Group. That was really when I knew that I had to try to figure out what skill I had that I could even use to contribute. And I thought photography is the only thing I got — so that's what I did."
Now, she’s working on a photo series she hopes to do on every Montana reservation. Buckley — who started the series in Polson over the summer — says her goal is to get people involved.
“Just bringing that awareness to the forefront of people’s minds, just having them want to help, want to get involved, and really speak out for those that are going missing," Buckley said.
You might have seen her billboards all over Montana. Her next one will go up in Great Falls on December 6.
"It's expensive. Lamar Advertising has been awesome, getting up billboards across the state," Buckley noted. "Unfortunately, I usually can only do one at a time, for a month, unless I find people that want to sponsor them."
Her photographs are on display at Float Missoula, and you can see them for yourself this First Friday.
"There's been a ton of people coming in and wanting to see her work and see her art because a lot of people do see it on the billboards," Float Missoula owner Emmie Purcell observed. "So it's been really cool to have people coming through the space and just kind of finding out about sensory deprivation, as well as the cause."
The photos were also on display all of November, and Purcell said she's honored Buckley chose her business as she's passionate about helping MMIW.
"Not too long ago there was another Indigenous artist that displayed his artwork here. So I reached out to them to see if they'd be interested in displaying these photos to raise awareness — and they have been amazing," Buckley said.
Buckley’s photos will be on display and on sale at Float Missoula this month and you can follow along with her work at Tveraa Photography online.
"Prints are for sale. All the money goes directly to putting up billboards, raising awareness. I'm not making a profit off of it, it goes right back in to raising awareness," Buckley concluded.