Ellie Bundy McLeod of the Confederated Salish and Kootenai Tribes (left) and Deputy Attorney General Melissa Schlichting (right)

The Montana Department of Justice’s Missing Indigenous Persons Task Force held its second meeting in Great Falls on Saturday, Aug. 10, and Montana Free Press founder John S. Adams interviewed task force members Deputy Attorney General Melissa Schlichting and Ellie Bundy McLeod of the Confederated Salish and Kootenai Tribes to discuss the results of that meeting, the formation of the task force, and plans moving forward.

Montana’s Indian Country is in the midst of an epidemic of missing and murdered indigenous people, mostly women and girls. The Billings Gazette reports that more than two dozen indigenous women went missing in Montana in 2018, and indigenous women nationwide are being killed or trafficked at rates much higher than the non-Indian national average.

In the last legislative session, lawmakers passed a series of bills aimed at untangling jurisdictional conflicts, developing reporting guidelines, and creating a central repository for data on missing and murdered indigenous people.

“I think the problems have always been there,” McLeod said. “We don’t have the data so much, but we do have the stories … It’s the combination maybe of the drugs, the domestic violence, the runaways. There are just so many things happening, but I don’t think we can blame any one thing.”

One of the Montana bills, Senate Bill 312, created the Looping In Native Communities, or LINC, Act, authorizing Attorney General Tim Fox to appoint a statewide Missing and Murdered Indigenous Persons Task Force. The new task force includes representatives from each Indian tribe in the state, the attorney general’s office, and law enforcement.

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Schlichting said, “One of the main directives to the task force is to determine what the scope of the missing indigenous persons issue is within the state of Montana, to specifically identify any jurisdictional barriers that exist … so that we can all better address the missing persons in Montana.” The task force’s third meeting is scheduled for Sept. 27 in Billings, and will be open to the public. Schlichting and McLeod shared with Montana Free Press a list of additional events, resources, and advice for anyone looking to get involved.

Alex McKenzie has worked with a diverse array of start-ups and nonprofit organizations. He is a former record producer and music journalist, has additional experience working in agriculture and food security, and previously operated his own dairy business. He lives in southwest Montana. Follow him on Twitter.