Kara Plummer, one of the organizers of the MMIW rally on Oct. 3, uses a bullhorn to do call and response with attendees marching through Old Town. (Photo by Shelby Kleinhans / Source NM)
UPDATE: Thursday, Feb. 17, 8:30 a.m.
The measure to create a specialist position at the AG’s Office, a hub for info sharing, and grants for law enforcement agencies was approved unanimously Wednesday night and is heading to the governor for signature.
It’s been more than seven years since Meskee Yanabah Yatsayte started a Facebook page where people could post fliers about relatives on the Navajo Nation that had gone missing.
The term Missing & Murdered Indigenous Women and Relatives had yet to hit the radar of national politics, #MMIW wasn’t trending, and local efforts in New Mexico to address these cases had yet to start.
Now, the Navajo Missing Persons Update Facebook page is a model for legislation sitting on the governor’s desk to help remedy data inconsistencies and close gaps in awareness.
Senate Bill 13 establishes what is called, “Missing In New Mexico Day” where families are encouraged to meet in a central location once a year to provide information to law enforcement and other support services about missing persons of unsolved murder cases. It’s a hub of sorts taken out of the digital space but still meant to put these families in direct contact with the services that could help them.
“I have witnessed the success of this event in Arizona, which is why I proposed this legislation to the (New Mexico) MMIWR Task Force,” Yatsayte said. “This event will help support the resolution of missing relatives’ cases on the Navajo Nation, other tribal communities and across the state.”
Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham is expected to sign the legislation into law. A date for the “Missing in New Mexico Day” has yet to be determined.
“This will not be solely a day of reflection or to remember the ones lost – this is a day of action where we will partner with federal and tribal law enforcement, members of the media, and communities and families to get justice for the loved ones of the missing,” Lujan Grisham said.
Native Americans make up 52% of all missing persons cases in New Mexico, according to the state’s MMIWR task force.
Albuquerque and Gallup — bordertowns where many Native Americans visit and live — are among the 10 worst cities in the U.S. for having the highest number of MMIWR cases.
Tackling systemic issues within law enforcement that exacerbate the issues of finding missing persons or prosecuting cases, Senate Bill 12 cleared the House late Wednesday night.
The bill was unanimously approved by the Senate Monday.
Senate Shannon Pinto (D-Gallup) is a sponsor of both MMIWR bills and said Tuesday she was confident the final bill in the package would pass before the Legislature convened on Thursday.
“Senate bills 12 and 13 will help unite communities in providing better access to the resources needed to help solve these crimes and bring justice to families,” Pinto said. “Let us remain focused, as the opportunity to spread awareness for action continues.”
SB 12 can help ensure police are properly using info that’s collected during the Missing in New Mexico Day to solve these cases.
It would form a task unit within the state Attorney General’s Office that can coordinate between local, state and federal law enforcement agencies to share data and training resources. It also establishes grants so local police can improve their reporting.
Many of those issues are highlighted by the state’s MMIWR Task Force, which supported each bill.
SB 12 seeks a $1 million appropriation to create an online portal for agencies to share information on MMIWR cases and another $1 million to hire and train “missing Indigenous persons specialists.”
It also gives the AG’s Office jurisdiction to investigate or prosecute MMIWR cases statewide. An agreement will need to be established between tribal, state and federal agencies to follow through with the requirements created under the bill.
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