HELENA – Members of the legislative Montana American Indian Caucus joined Gov. Steve Bullock to celebrate bills passed by the 2019 Legislature that address Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women, and honor the state’s native heritage and history.
Bullock praised the work and achievement of the lawmakers at Thursday’s signing ceremony.
“Even when a bill was gutted or seemed to die in the process, the caucus never stopped fighting because they knew lives were literally on the line,” said Bullock, “and that to choose inaction was simply unacceptable.”
Five pieces of legislation passed in 2019 which focused on addressing the missing and murdered indigenous women issues affecting Montana.
“These Missing Murdered Bills, HB21 Hanna’s Act, HB20 Missing Children and HB54 Missing Persons send a clear message that the Montana State Legislature will not tolerate the missing, murder and trafficking of our people,” said Rep. Rae Peppers, D-Lame Deer. “This was a bipartisan effort within the Legislative House that supported it wholeheartedly and through the support of the governor’s office, the Department of Justice, state staff, advocates, the people of Montana and most importantly our tribes.”
“The epidemic of missing and murdered Indigenous women is a moral and humanitarian crisis. Just one Montanan missing impacts countless others, including families, loved ones and entire communities. No family should have to suffer this pain,” said Bullock.
Other bills signed Thursday honored the state’s native heritage and history.
HB524 will create a memorial and permanently display the flags of Montana’s eight tribal nations on the State Capitol grounds.
Other legislation created memorial highways named after Native American veterans, Minnie Spotted-Wolf and Louis Charles Charlo, and the first Native American woman elected to the Montana Legislature, Dolly Smith Akers.
This year saw the largest number of American Indian members elected to serve in the Montana Legislature at one time.
Sen. Susan Webber, D-Browning, said the 2019 session will have a big impact on addressing native issues and making sure Native American voices are heard.
“It’s not just for us it’s for all Montanans, but Montana has to start looking like Montana. We have to start including native peoples, we’ve been here a long time,” said Webber. “To have roads named for Native Americans, that’s big. It’s never happened before.”
Story by John Riley, MTN News