Jonathan Sims is a media producer and former appointed official at the Pueblo of Acoma. He covers news and writes a column on Indigenous People's issues for The Paper.

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MMIWR stands for Missing Murdered Indigenous Women & Relatives (sometimes abbreviated to MMIW). But a more inclusive designation is MMIWG2T (Missing & Murdered Women, Girls, Two-Spirit, Transgender People). This term covers all of our Tribal relatives missing and murdered, including males and those in the LGBTQ+ community. Slowly, efforts are being made across North America to bring attention to this issue. Continent wide–that is the scope of this issue. It affects every Tribal nation in the U.S., Canada and Mexico. New Mexico has the highest rate of MMIWG2T cases among all urban centers in the U.S. Two cities, Albuquerque and Gallup, list in the top 10 nationally for these cases. What is happening here, and why?

Secretary of the Interior Deb Haaland (Laguna) announced this month that her office is contributing to a national database of MMIWG2T people to aid law enforcement in its efforts. As of now, Albuquerque’s FBI office has a list of exactly two Indigenous women whom they categorize as “kidnapped”: nine-year-old Anthonette Christine Cayedito, who has been missing for 34 years, from her family home in Gallup; and Laverda Sorrell, 64 years old from Navajo, NM, who has been missing from her office in Fort Defiance, AZ, since 2002. The local FBI office also holds a list of 24 Indigenous murder victims, male and female. According to the FBI’s National Crime Information Center, 5,700 American Indian and Alaska Native women and girls are known to be missing or murdered, yet only 116 cases are entered into the U.S. Justice Dept. database. This scattered information in part makes it impractical for law enforcement agencies to work together; at worst, it makes the importance of MMIWR cases seem less urgent.

The State of New Mexico began the MMIWR Task Force in 2019 through legislation signed by Governor Michelle Lujan Grisham. The Governor, upon the initial report from the task force in 2021, signed an executive order moving the work of the task force forward with the call for a response plan of action. On May 5, the NM MMIWR Task Force presented their official NM State Response Plan, as follows.

Objective One – Supports services for survivors and families. One example is the establishment of secure and confidential shelters within Tribal communities and border towns for individuals, families, and youth in crisis.

Objective Two – Develops community outreach, education, prevention strategies and other preventative measures. One noted task here is to create a cross-sector statewide training bureau around MMIWR and related issues to strengthen victims’ services.

Objective Three – Strengthen support to communities, families, and survivors of MMIWR. Develop community resources for strong responses. One task here is to create a strong intergenerational community (prevention) response, including youth prevention and education programs that are based on culture and healthy relationships.

Objective Four – Leverage resources for Tribal Judicial Systems. The goal here is to improve coordination and collaboration between tribal, state, city, county and federal agencies.

Objective Five – Increase law enforcement capacity to prevent, investigate, prosecute, and report MMIWR Cases. This requires cross-agency collaboration and the creation of MOUs [Editor’s note: Memoranda of Understanding].

Objective Six – Develop standards and capacity for data to be reported and documented accurately and used to support prevention and response. This will be key to providing current and accurate data as well as urging tribal communities to share data. 

New Mexico Indian Affairs Department (NM IAD) is the lead on this issue and brought together the nearly 80 task force members and stakeholders to provide their knowledge and expertise. This is being done with care and acknowledgment of the traumas that families face every day when losing a loved one in this way.

Stephanie Salazar is the NM IAD legal counsel and the lead on the task force. “Today was also a time to honor families who are still looking for their relatives. It is a time to also bring our federal officials, state officials, and BIA all to one place to hear the stories and be reminded that although we have a state response plan and finally a document that hopefully, our officials can use.”

Acknowledging the city’s role, Mayor Tim Keller was in attendance and proclaimed the day Albuquerque MMIW’s Day, a day meant to strengthen the community and bring light to this problem.

“Part of this declaration is number one, awareness,” Keller said. “But it’s also a commitment and many urban areas that obviously aren’t part of a reservation historically have just said, ‘Oh, you know, that’s the jurisdiction of where the person’s from.’ In the past, where the woman is from was always the default, and that’s legally actually not true.”

How exactly does the city plan on addressing this? The Mayor shared this in a press release: “Through designated APD staff that work closely with impacted families and other jurisdictions in these cases, a new multimedia campaign to help uncover leads, and our commitment to participating in joint sessions of law enforcement to overcome barriers.” The city will also convene the first Tribal, state and federal law enforcement meeting to discuss partnerships.

Indian Affairs Department Secretary Lynn A. Trujillo chimed in on the day: “Earlier today, somebody asked me about how I felt and I didn’t quite know how to answer it. I feel angry and sad and frustrated, but I also feel really hopeful.”

What’s next is outlined in the small book-length document that contains the state response plan. This is only the beginning of a long journey for the families and for all those involved, but at least movement is finally occurring on all levels.

More information can be found at: https://www.iad.state.nm.us/wp-content/uploads/2022/05/MMIWR_ResponsePlan2022_FINAL.pdf