The Blackfeet Nation will host the first-ever Murdered and Missing Indigenous Women (MMIW) tribunal in the US over the weekend of October 4 and 5 at the Blackfeet Community College in Browning, Montana. The two-day Blackfeet MMIW Tribunal will record public testimony from MMIW survivors and victims’ families, as well as providing private sessions for witnesses who may be hesitant to share their accounts in a public forum.
“We welcome witnesses from the Four Directions to attend and share their experiences. This is not just a Blackfeet or Montana tribes’ tragedy, it is an Indian Country tragedy, and a national and international disgrace. This is a multi-generational epidemic the federal government has done nothing to address – even less than the Canadian government – which was found to be complicit in ‘deliberate race, identity and gender-based genocide’ by its own National Inquiry into MMIW,” said Chairman Tim Davis of the Blackfeet Nation.
The Blackfeet Nation is uniquely positioned to host this first of its kind MMIW tribunal in the lower-48 states. The Blackfeet Tribe (Amskapi Pikuni), a member of the Blackfoot Confederacy along with its three sister tribes – the Piikani, Blood and Siksika, located in Alberta, Canada, stands in solidarity in combatting the issue of MMIW (MMIP) in Indian country. “The truth is that we live in a country whose laws and institutions perpetuate violations of basic human and Indigenous rights. These violations amount to nothing less than the deliberate, often covert campaign of genocide against Indigenous women, girls, and 2SLGBTQQIA people,” wrote Chief Commissioner Marion Buller in Reclaiming Power and Place, the final report of Canada’s National Inquiry into Murdered and Missing Indigenous Women and Girls published on June 3, 2019.
“We are not divided by the border we are united in our grief. Many women and children stolen from our communities are trafficked back and forth between the US and Canada,” explained Chairman Davis.
Tribal members constitute seven percent of Montana’s population, but the state identifies some 26 percent of missing persons as Native American. Available evidence suggests that may be a low estimate. Last year’s Urban Indian Health Institute Report identified Montana as the state with the fifth highest incidence of MMIW cases. Billings, which had the same disturbing ranking among cities, is a known-hub on the I-90 corridor through Crow, Cheyenne and Lakota-Dakota country to Minnesota, along which indigenous women and children are trafficked into sex slavery. The western “track” runs from Missoula to Seattle, Washington. As of spring 2019, Montana had not submitted any MMIW data to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. “For those abducted into sex-slavery, the I-90 corridor is a second ‘Highway of Tears,’” said Chairman Davis, drawing a comparison to the infamous highway in British Columbia cited in Reclaiming Power and Place.
The Blackfeet MMIW Tribunal is being held in conjunction with the Global Indigenous Council (GIC) and is endorsed by the Rocky Mountain Tribal Leaders Council (RMTLC). The Blackfeet Tribal Business Council credits the work of both organizations in partnership with the Great Plains Tribal Chairman’s Association (GPTCA) in raising the profile of the MMIW tragedy and the GIC-RMTLC-GPTCA alliance’s relentless efforts to secure meaningful MMIW legislation on Capitol Hill (www.mmiw-gic.com).
The alliance worked closely with Senator Jon Tester (D-MT) on the Studying the Missing & Murdered Indian Crisis Act which directed the Government Accountability Office (GAO) to conduct a full review of how
federal agencies respond to MMIW/MMIWP reports and to recommend solutions based on their findings. Since passage in the House, the GAO has committed to undertake the review without further legislative action. Senators Tester and Murkowski are among numerous lawmakers to commend the alliance’s national MMIW billboard campaign that arrived on the Blackfeet Nation this summer.
Senator Tester expressed his dismay at federal law enforcement’s failures to adequately respond to the MMIW epidemic during last December’s Senate Committee on Indian Affairs hearing into the crisis. Among the witnesses was Kimberly Loring Heavy Runner. Kimberly’s sister, Ashely, went missing June 12, 2017, on the Blackfeet Nation. “Unfortunately, Ashley's story is not unique, but the same as many other MMIW. Ashley had dreams and she had goals; being a Missing and Murdered Indigenous Woman was not one of them. Don't forget Ashley, remember her name. Ashley Loring Heavy Runner is important. Our people are important,” Kimberly testified.
“We were grateful that Kimberly had the opportunity to offer an overview of Ashley’s case and the family’s ordeal. It was powerful testimony that resonated. We were also grateful that Congressman Ruben Gallego, Chairman of the HNRC Subcommittee for Indigenous Peoples of the U.S. held the first-ever MMIW hearing in Congress this year, but we are still waiting for federal MMIW legislation. Now Congress has returned into a full-blown election cycle. We cannot allow the MMIW legislation that is pending to be lost in the hubbub – and this tribunal will help to ensure that it isn’t,” insisted Chairman Davis.
The Blackfeet Nation will extend invitations to Members of Congress from both sides of the aisle, including 2020 Democratic Presidential candidates, and members of the Trump Administration. The invitations and responses will be posted on the tribunal website for full transparency. Among the 2020 Democratic Presidential field, Senators Elizabeth Warren, Cory Booker, and Kamala Harris have supported the GIC-RMTLC-GPTCA alliance’s drive for MMIW legislation. Attorney General William Barr, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, and Senate Indian Affairs Committee Chairman, John Hoeven (R-ND), are among the Republican luminaries on the invitee list.
“Senator Tester and Senator Daines from Montana have been steadfast in supporting our combined efforts on MMIW. This is a human rights issue. This is a life or death issue. This is not a right or left issue. No witness can express their experiences in five minutes in a Congressional hearing. We invite the lawmakers to share their words with our people, but more importantly, to come and listen to the witnesses. That is the least the victims and their families deserve,” concluded Chairman Davis. The tribunal panelists will be announced September 25.
Where: Blackfeet Community College, Browning, Montana
When: Friday, October 4 and Saturday, October 5