HELENA — Governor Greg Gianforte hosted a ceremony for the signing of several bills aimed continuing the dialogue about how to deal with what has been called a crisis and an epidemic - Missing and Murdered Indigenous Persons (MMIP).
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. 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.”
Gianforte said, "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 signed Senate Bill 4 into law on Thursday. Earlier in the week, he signed House Bills 35 and 98.
Selena Not Afraid, a 16-year-old girl from Hardin, was reported missing in January 2020; her body was found several weeks later. Horn has since become a prominent activist for missing women. “We’re here because of not just Selena,” Horn said Thursday. “Selena told me, ‘Don’t stop, because there’s other girls standing behind me.’”
SB 4, sponsored by Sen. Jason Small, R-Busby, extended Montana’s Missing and Murdered Indigenous Persons Task Force for another two years. Small said the task force, which launched after the 2019 legislative session, has been key in gathering data and bringing attention to the issue. “There were a lot of meetings, there was huge community buy-in, and it kept the light on, it kept people talking,” he said.
Rep. Sharon Stewart Peregoy, D-Crow Agency, sponsored the other two bills. HB 98 also included language to extend the task force, and it continued the Looping in Native Communities grant program – which provided money for tribal colleges to set up a portal for reporting missing indigenous people. HB 35 will set up a new state commission that will confidentially review missing persons cases and look at what may have impeded the investigations.
“It’s important as Montanans to come together and to be able to ensure that we have our young women, our young men, our people safe, our children safe,” said Stewart Peregoy.
All three of the bills passed the Legislature with broad bipartisan support. However, those in attendance Thursday all agreed the bills are only a first step. They said more work needs to be done, especially at the community level. “No one person can move a mountain by themselves,” said Small. “It takes a group effort.”
Kuhl, an A’aniiih member of the Fort Belknap Indian Community and the governor’s Director of Indian Affairs, emphasized during Monday's bill 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.”