In December members of a task force that shines a spotlight on the often-overlooked tragedy of murdered and missing Indigenous women reported that they could not provide a full report. That’s because, they said, no single law enforcement agency was maintaining a database of those cases. The group reported that nearly two dozen law enforcement entities oversaw reports of missing and murdered Indigenous women. This alone was creating a barrier to public information requests about the cases. Responses from record keepers was that the request was simply “too burdensome” on their agency.
Now Democratic House Representatives have introduced House Bill 208, which is designed to bring new investigative efforts and $50,000 in funding to the state Indian Affairs Department to implement recommendations from the task force. “This is not just a tribal issue, this is a wider public safety issue,” said Rep. Andrea Romero (D-Santa Fe). “Indigenous women are murdered at rates up to 10 times higher than other ethnicities, yet it’s been swept under the rug for generations. The work of this task force is critical and necessary, if we’re to bring justice and closure to the families and loved ones of the unknown number of victims.”
Funding provided by HB 208 would provide staffing to track data and demographics, as well as other expenses incurred. A 2017 Urban Indian Health Institute report said New Mexico had the highest number of murdered and missing Indigenous women in the country—78. That report also said Albuquerque and Gallup were among the top 10 cities with the highest reports. “It is so important that we continue the work bringing justice to the survivors of our missing and murdered Native women and relatives. The governor and these legislators give our families hope that their lives have and do matter and that they will no longer be ignored,” said Indian Affairs Secretary Lyn Trujillo.
The task force includes seven members representing the New Mexico Department of Indian Affairs, Public Safety Department, the United States Bureau of Indian Affairs Office of Justice Services, the Jicarilla Apache Nation, Mescalero Apache Tribe and the Navajo Nation. Under House Bill 208, membership would expand to include the DNA People’s Legal Services, First Nations Community HealthSource, the Office of the Medical Investigator and a representative of survivors and families who’ve lost a loved one to violence.