HELENA — Montana leaders gathered in Helena Thursday to mark their continued efforts to address the crisis of missing and murdered indigenous people.
Gov. Greg Gianforte held a ceremony for the signing of a suite of bills aimed at showing the state is committed to continuing the dialogue about how to deal with what has been called an “epidemic.”
The missing and murdered indigenous persons crisis has tragically impacted far too many families in Montana, and let me be clear: It must end,” said Gianforte.
Gianforte signed Senate Bill 4 into law on Thursday. Earlier in the week, he signed House Bills 35 and 98.
Among those in attendance Thursday were family members of Selena Not Afraid, a 16-year-old girl from Hardin who went missing last January. Her body was found several weeks later.
Cheryl Horn, Selena’s aunt, 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.”