MISSOULA — What started as an initiative by the Blackfeet Nation in north-central Montana has expanded to include the Confederated Salish & Kootenai Tribes (CSKT).
Information on Missing and Murdered Indigenous Persons (MMIP) cases can be hard to track, due to a lack of a central location for information and challenges to inter-agency coordination. But that's starting to change with the help of a reporting portal and database which has recently launched as an expanded program.
Saturday afternoon, a gathering in Missoula provided updates to the community at the University of Montana, including a video message from the U.S. Secretary of Interior Deb Haaland.
Haaland, who is the first Native American to serve as a cabinet secretary and a member of the Pueblo of Laguna tribe, stated in the video, “I know what it’s like to worry for my mothers, my sisters, my child, my relatives, because we are at increased risk of disappearing without warning.”
The website mmipmt.com is intended to serve as a go-between for those reporting cases and all levels of law enforcement. Members of CSKT and the Blackfeet Nation can currently both use the portal to report missing persons in their communities.
In 2017, students at Blackfeet Community College built the website after Ashley Loring HeavyRunner, a 20-year-old student, disappeared.
Her sister Kimberly Loring attended the Missoula gathering on Saturday. She said that her family did not report the disappearance as soon as they could have: "When she went missing there was a gap of when she was reported missing because we had that trust thinking that she was going to be okay,” Loring explained.
The reporting portal aims to simplify reporting for victims in tribal communities.
Ellie Bundy, CSKT Tribal Councilwoman and MMIP Task Force presiding officer, told MTN News the goal is to expand the portal to all eight of the tribal nations in Montana as soon as possible. “It’s another resource that can help us address the issue. It’s going to provide an option for folks who may have an issue with reporting. Hopefully it captures that group of people and they have a way that they feel more comfortable with reporting,” Bundy said.
As data accumulates for the victims and their families, cold cases will also be included in the portal.