Tester Demands Answers from Feds on Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women Epidemic
Missoula's Kimberly Loring HeavyRunner Testifies at Today's Senate Hearing
(U.S. Senate) - U.S. Senator Jon Tester demanded answers from federal law enforcement officials during today's Senate Indian Affairs Committee hearing on the Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women epidemic.
"You cannot step foot in Indian Country without hearing a heartbreaking story about this growing problem-that is why we are here today," Tester said. "We need to know what's happening and what exactly can happen to solve this problem. Because these are people, these are families, these are communities that our law enforcement agencies need to look out for."
Tester had initially requested the hearing back in August after meeting with tribal leaders in Montana who told him that 20 Native American women had gone missing in the state since the beginning of 2018, but only one had been found.
"Where's the problem? Is it with BIA, is it with the FBI, is it with tribal law enforcement? Why are we not finding these people?" Tester asked. "We have got to find a solution to this. We have to."
In addition to representatives from the Bureau of Indian Affairs, the Federal Bureau of Investigations, and the National Institute of Justice the hearing featured testimony from native legislators and advocates, including Kimberly Loring HeavyRunner of Missoula.
"Thank you for allowing me to speak for my sister Ashley," Loring HeavyRunner said. "I'm here today to stress to you that I believe law enforcement did not take Ashley's case seriously, as well as other girls that have gone missing and been murdered in Indian Country."
Ashley HeavyRunner was a 20-year-old member of the Blackfeet Tribe. She disappeared on June 8, 2017. Her sister Kimberly has been looking for Ashley ever since and has become a vocal advocate on this issue.
As a senior member and former Chairman of the Senate Indian Affairs Committee, Tester has taken a three-pronged approach to addressing this epidemic focused on raising awareness, providing resources to support survivors, and empowering tribes to bring assailants to justice. He wrapped up today's hearing with a simple request.
"We've got work to do," Tester said. "I don't think this should be our last hearing on this."