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Feds Launch Effort to Address Missing and Murdered Native Americans

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Native American women face some of the nation's highest rates of homicide, sexual violence and domestic abuse, according to the federal government. (womenadvancenc.org)
Native American women face some of the nation's highest rates of homicide, sexual violence and domestic abuse, according to the federal government. (womenadvancenc.org)
 By Roz Brown - Producer, Contact
January 31, 2020

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. - A task force charged with solving cases of missing and murdered Native Americans held its first meeting in Washington DC this week.

The Trump administration announced the Missing and Murdered Indigenous Persons Initiative last year and placed coordinators in 11 U.S. Attorney's offices to develop protocols for a better law enforcement response.

Jolene Holgate coordinates the Missing and Murdered Diné Relatives initiative on the Navajo Nation. She leads forums about the resources available to help people when someone they know goes missing.

"This has been happening since the time of colonization in the Southwest for us," says Holgate. "That includes human trafficking, sexual violence - violence perpetrated against us by non-Native individuals."

The Navajo Nation includes parts of New Mexico, Utah and Arizona.

A 2018 Associated Press investigation revealed that it's impossible to know how many Native Americans are missing because some cases go unreported, others aren't documented, and no specific government database exists to track the cases.

Men and women from American Indian and Alaska Native communities face higher rates of domestic and sexual violence than other populations, according to the Department of Justice.

Holgate says the federal task force may be able to make a meaningful difference if it continues to engage with local groups already working to solve the crisis of missing and murdered indigenous peoples.

"It's really a matter of them continuing to connect with organizations that are already engaged in the work," says Holgate. "And our role, especially at the grassroots level, is to hold those federal entities accountable to what they're going to deliver."

Holgate has helped facilitate two forums in New Mexico, with another scheduled in Montezuma Creek, Utah, next month. The federal task force is expected to provide an update on its work in a year and produce a report in two years.

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