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Governor signs two bills addressing Missing and Murdered Indigenous Persons crisis

Jermain Charlo
Sharon Stewart-Peregoy
Posted at 12:20 PM, Apr 21, 2021
and last updated 2021-04-21 14:21:00-04

GREAT FALLS — Governor Greg Gianforte this week signed two bills to help address the crisis of Missing and Murdered Indigenous Persons (MMIP) in Montana.

In his State of the State address in January, Gianforte highlighted heartbreaking facts about the MMIP epidemic. In Montana, Native Americans make up about 7 percent of the population, but they account for about 26 percent of missing persons. Between 2017 and 2019, nearly 80 percent of those reported missing were teenagers younger than 18 years of age. Native American women face a murder rate 10 times higher than the national average, and 84 percent experience some form of violence in their lifetime.

House Bill 35, sponsored by state Representative Sharon Stewart-Peregoy (D-Crow Agency), establishes a Missing Indigenous Persons Review Commission at the Montana Department of Justice. The Montana Attorney General will appoint members of the commission, to include representatives from tribes, state government, nonprofits, and local, state, federal, and tribal law enforcement.

The governor also signed Stewart-Peregoy’s House Bill 98, extending the Missing and Murdered Indigenous Persons Task Force and the Looping In Native Communities (LINC) grant program.

“The intent of this suite of bills is to ensure that gaps in the justice and law enforcement system are filled so that our brothers, sisters, aunts, and uncles are found and brought home,” explained Stewart-Peregoy.

Sharon Stewart-Peregoy
Sharon Stewart-Peregoy

Misty Kuhl, an A’aniiih member of the Fort Belknap Indian Community and the governor’s Director of Indian Affairs, emphasized 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.”

“Montana faces a tragic trend of Missing and Murdered Indigenous Persons, and we must bring all resources to bear in state and tribal government as well as law enforcement to end it,” Gianforte said in a news release. “These new laws equip the state with the tools needed to track data, raise awareness, and strengthen interagency collaboration to protect Montana’s indigenous persons. I’m grateful to Representative Stewart-Peregoy for her dedication to ending this crisis and for her leadership in getting these bipartisan bills to my desk.”