PABLO — Not long after a young Flathead Reservation woman was reported missing from Missoula, Confederated Salish and Kootenai tribal leadership and concerned citizens started brainstorming solutions to confront a crisis that has plagued Native communities for decades.
Since the June 2018 disappearance of Jermain Charlo, family, community members and law enforcements have conducted searches in the Missoula and Flathead Reservation areas. Currently, the Charlo investigation is ongoing with CSKT Tribal Law Enforcement, Lake County, Missoula County, Flathead and Sanders County.
“The question was asked ‘how do we get into a position to react or respond to Missing and Murdered Indigenous Woman and Girls cases?’ ” said CSKT Tribal Council Rep. Charmel Gillin.
“Not everyone can be out there or go to the marches. We wanted to develop a network to be able to respond immediately with a system in place when someone from our community comes up missing,” said Gillin.
Talk began of developing work groups across the Reservation boundaries where concerned community members would be empowered to come up with ideas and plans to remedy the MMIWG crisis. “A work group would empower people to lend time and help make a difference,” said Gillin.
On Friday, January 4, Jami Pluff, CSKT policy analyst; CSKT Law and Order, Louis Fiddler; and CSKT Tribal Council support, Tom Johnson gave a report on Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls at the Tribal Council Winter Quarterly Meeting. The team showed a video clip about 20-year-old Browning-resident Ashley Loring Heavy Runner’s disappearance, and the unsolved 1978 case of seven year-old Monica Still Smoking.
The MMIW presentation team said the Federal Bureau of Investigations (FBI) reported 633 women missing nationally. The Montana State Department of Justice reports 72 women missing of whom 22 are Native. The team described efforts and legislation that is ongoing state-wide and nationally.
CSKT Tribal Council directed Pluff to continue tracking the MMIWG issue and provide education to the public and to follow up on the request for a resolution outlining the CSKT response to MMIWG report. Gillin requested the resolution include the formation of a work group and committee with representatives from each district and funding for committee operations.
CSKT Tribal Council moved rapidly on the request and on Tuesday, January 8, the CSKT Resolution 19-072 to establish a work group to address the issue of missing and murdered indigenous women and girls passed unanimously. The motion was by CSKT Rep. Shelly Fyant and seconded by CSKT Rep. Anita Matt.
The CSKT resolution 19-072 reads that CSKT wants to promote education and awareness for young women regarding sex trafficking and to collaborate with grassroots organizations and groups to promote a greater awareness of MMIWG and its correlation with domestic and sexual assault, runaways, and drug activity. (Read the entire resolution below.)
The CSKT resolutions ends stating, “CSKT will create a work group to address MMIWG issues and assist in funding the work group operations to develop CSKT action plan and provide outreach to other tribes and organizations.”
Last week, a letter from CSKT Tribal Council Chairman Ronald Trahan invited tribal and non-tribal community members to upcoming meetings to discuss MMIWG. The formation of the work groups hopes to develop community-based efforts to promote education and awareness, to support pending legislation regarding MMIWG, and to create an action plan.
All who are interested in participating are urged to attend the upcoming meetings in the Ronan/Pablo, Arlee and Elmo communities.