In the summer of 2018, black and white fliers began popping up all over Missoula. “MISSING” hand-colored with a neon yellow highlighter sat above three black and white photos of Jermain Austin Charlo. Charlo, enrolled on the Flathead reservation, went missing on June 16 in Missoula. A frantic aunt covered the city in the flyers as another side of the family began their own search on the reservation.
Ten months later with no charges brought and few traces for law enforcement to follow, the family joined in April to celebrate Charlo’s 24th birthday under a giant billboard. The billboard, with a full color picture of Charlo and “Missing” blocked out on a red background, sits on the outside of the Flathead reservation confronting southbound Highway 93 drivers.
Charlo is one of the 66 cases of Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women in Montana in the last three years. There have been 671 total cases nationwide in the last three years, according to Sovereign Bodies Institute. However, data is incomplete and poorly gathered by federal, state and even tribal governments.
So Annita Lucchesi, who is Cheyenne and the executive director and founder of the Sovereign Bodies Institute, began collecting her own data using modern day grassroots efforts like news coverage, records request, social media posts and in-person interviews. Her work helped form the institute in 2019.
These stories are not just numbers or data to be formed into graph lines, but women’s lives ended or hanging in the limbo of disappearance. The 2019 Montana Native News Project investigates the complex crisis of Native American women disappearing in Montana, who they leave behind and how communities are trying to address the issue. We are incredibly grateful to Lucchesi’s help in gathering and using the institute’s data to inform our articles. Visit our website for a full interview about her work. The stories encircling these disappearances hold a heaviness that may trigger survivors of abuse or grief.
Across the globe women, particularly women of color bear the brunt of prejudice, historical trauma, socio-economic inequality, racism, and misogyny. The Missing and Murdered Native American Women crisis reflects the larger normalization of the abuse of Native American women in America and Cana-da, but Native American women continue to be on the forefront of confronting this issue. This project’s goal is to highlight the triumphs and resilience of the state’s tribes facing this crisis.
LJ DAWSON, STORY EDITOR
SKYLAR RISPENS, PHOTO EDITOR
CAITLYN PATEL, SOCIAL MEDIA EDITOR
ZOIE KOOSTRA, ART DIRECTOR
JASON BEGAY, ADVISER
JEREMY LURGIO, ADVISER
The Native News Honor Project is reported, photographed, edited, and designed by students of the University of Montana School of Journalism. This is the 28th annual edition. The team appreciates the guidance and contribution of the executive director of the Sovereign Bodies Institute, Annita Lucchesi, the filmmakers, Ivy and Ivan MacDonald, and the director of SARC, Drew Colling.
If you have comments about the project, email email@example.com or firstname.lastname@example.org or write to Native News, School of Journalism, 32 Campus Drive, Missoula, MT 59812.