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CSKT seeks public input to protect indigenous women, girls

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FLATHEAD INDIAN RESERVATION – In the past year, disappearances of native women have prompted the Confederated Salish and Kootenai Tribe to seek solutions to the problem of missing and murdered indigenous women. The tribe will hold three public meetings in February to gather input from the community on the issue.

“The reality of the problem has hit so close to home with the loss of Darlene Billie Adams and the currently missing status of Jermain Austin Charlo,” said Tribal council member Charmel Gillin. “Both of those ladies are members of our community and are very important to us.”

The high rates of violence, murder and kidnapping of Native American women has recently received national attention. While the issue is recognized as an epidemic, there isn’t much data on how or why Native women disappear or are murdered. In the last few years, researcher Annita Lucchesi has developed the first database of MMIW, which identifies 1,662 cases of missing and murdered indigenous women in the United States. According to the Montana Department of Justice, there are 22 missing Native American women in the state.

Gillin said she asked CSKT’s policy analyst to research action that is being taken to address the crisis across Indian country. She found that while there have been individual efforts to support those impacted, there wasn’t any formal system to find women who were missing, seek justice or to keep indigenous women safe.

“As the tribal government, I see us as having a unique role because we have the opportunity to affect legislation and create an environment that supports people in need,” Gillin said.

On Jan. 8, 2019, the tribal council approved a resolution to establish a workgroup to tackle the issue. According to a letter to tribal members, the workgroup will be “a collaborative, community- based effort to promote education and awareness of missing and murdered indigenous women and girls and its correlation with domestic and sexual assault, drug activity and sex trafficking.” As part of the workgroup, three community meetings will be held to garner input on the topic from the public.

Gillin said she hopes the workgroup will draw on the experience and education of the tribal and non-tribal community to come up with solutions to the problem.

One thing Gillin herself wants to pursue is developing an educational program to prevent future cases of MMIWG. She wants to increase awareness for the situations that might lead to violence against women and develop systems to help women get out of those situations. Gillin said she also hopes the workgroup yields a plan for financially supporting families while they search for missing women.

“Families who are experiencing these losses need to be supported right away,” Gillin said. “I think that’s the commitment the tribe is making with this resolution.”

The first meeting will be held Feb. 6 at the Ronan Indian Senior Center starting with a meal at 6:30 p.m. The next meeting will be Feb. 13 at 2:30 p.m. at Elmo Hall. The last meeting will be Feb. 20 at the Arlee Indian Senior Center at 5:30 p.m. Questions can be directed to Jami Pluff, CSKT policy analyst, at 406- 675-2700.

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