State, federal officials to sponsor training session on missing persons cases

Montana Attorney General Tim Fox and U.S. Attorney Kurt Alme will sponsor a joint training session next month for local, state, tribal and federal police officers and the public on missing persons cases across the state, focusing on Native Americans.

The workshop, set for June 12 in Helena, will provide a separate session for law enforcement officers on accepting and entering a missing person’s report, use of missing persons alerts and advisories, and conducting missing persons investigations.

In a session for the public, state and federal officials will provide information on how to report a missing person, the missing persons databases and alert systems, and other resources.

“This training will focus on how all of us in Montana’s law enforcement and criminal justice system will work with our federal and tribal partners to find justice for missing indigenous people in our state, and healing for their families and communities,” Attorney General Tim Fox said in a written announcement.

“Because of the jurisdictional divisions in Indian Country, local, state, tribal and federal law enforcement agencies must work together. We’re designing this collaborative training specifically for law enforcement, and for tribal government and members of the public, with educational offerings tailored to each of those groups.”

Hanna Harris and her son, Nelleek, shortly before her death near Lame Deer in 2013. (Family photo)

Fox’s office received authorization and funding from the 2019 Legislature for a new position dedicated to missing persons cases. House Bill 21 was named “Hanna’s Act” after Hanna Harris, who was found murdered on the Northern Cheyenne reservation in 2013. The legislation gives the AG’s office $100,000 a year for the position.

Also passed by the Legislature was HB 20, which lets law enforcement officers file missing persons reports for children who have been taken by their parents, and HB 54, a bill that would allow any law enforcement official in the state to file a missing persons report. As approved, SB 40 will create a photographic directory through the state Office of Public Instruction used for only for locating missing children.

The June workshop builds on those legislative measures, joining state and federal officials in the effort.

“We are pleased to be working with Attorney General Fox, the Federal Bureau of Investigation, and the Bureau of Indian Affairs to provide this first-ever joint training on missing persons resources for all federal state, local and tribal law enforcement in Montana and for tribal councils and members of the public,” U.S. Attorney Kurt Alme said in a written release. “By working together with law enforcement and family and friends to better collect information about missing persons, particularly Native Americans, we can help bring more people home.”

Gerald Gray, chairman of the Little Shell Tribe of Chippewa Indians and chairman of the Rocky Mountain Tribal Leaders Council, added: “There are far too many missing persons in the state of Montana, especially among Montana’s tribes. Therefore, the Little Shell are happy to support the efforts being put forth by the Montana Department of Justice and the U.S. Attorney’s Office with regard to the Missing Persons Training that will be taking place.”

The training workshops will include presenters from a variety of federal and state organizations: the FBI, Criminal Justice Information Services, the Bureau of Indian Affairs, NamUs, the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children, AMBER Alert, and the Montana Department of Justice’s Criminal Justice Information Network, Missing Persons Clearinghouse, and the Montana Analysis and Technical Information Center.

Lucy Simpson, director of the National Indigenous Women’s Resource Center, has been invited to give the keynote address.

“The NIWRC’s main office is located in Lame Deer, and our staff experienced the disappearance and losses of Henny Scott and Hannah Harris directly as members of that community,” Simpson said in a written release. “This localized training of national partners signals a step forward to addressing the disproportionate violence that American Indian people face on a daily basis, including a homicide rate on some reservations that is ten times the national average.”

The training is free. For more information, email dojmmiw@mt.gov or call DOJ’s Office of Victim Services at 1-800-498-6455 or (406) 444-3653. Online registration is available at www.dojmt.gov/mpt.