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The Confederated Salish and Kootenai Tribes worked with federal agencies to complete a first of its kind plan to address the crisis.
By Jessica Douglas
Two years ago, on a February evening, Ellie Bundy attended a tribal working group in Arlee, Montana, on the Flathead Indian Reservation. Surrounded by local and tribal law enforcement, tribal members and families, Bundy listened as people told stories about loved ones or community members who had gone missing. “What if that were my daughter?” Bundy said. “We say that a lot, but really, what if it were my daughter? What if it were my sister? What if it were my cousins? It is a visual you just can't get out of your head.” The meeting was one of four hosted by the Confederated Salish and Kootenai Tribes to encourage discussion and come up with local community responses to the epidemic of missing and murdered Indigenous people.
Bundy is now a councilwoman for the Salish and Kootenai, as well as the presiding officer of the Montana Missing Indigenous Persons Task Force. For the past five months, she and other tribal officials have participated in a series of working groups with federal, state and local law enforcement and community organizations. On April 1, at a press conference at the tribal headquarters in Pablo, Montana, the Salish and Kootenai joined the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the District of Montana and the Federal Bureau of Investigation in announcing the completion of the first Tribal Community Response Plan to the crisis of missing and murdered Indigenous people.
As the first plan of its kind to be developed, it will serve as a model that tribal governments across Indian Country can adapt to meet their own specific needs. It marks a critical milestone in the effort to resolve the crisis, something that advocates say must be led by tribal nations and supported by the federal government. The new plan comes at a unique time nationally, after the passage of federal legislation including Savanna’s Act and renewing the Violence Against Women Act, coupled with executive-branch initiatives, such as Interior Secretary Deb Haaland’s new unit in the Bureau of Indian Affairs, which was created specifically to investigate crimes involving missing and murdered Indigenous people.