In a ceremonial event held earlier this month, the Indian Affairs Department released the Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Relatives State Response Plan.

Undertaken by the Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Relatives Task Force, established in 2019, forming the plan brought together survivors, families, advocates, healers, law enforcement, academics, policymakers, data analysts, lawyers, faith leaders and other community members. It represents a crucial step forward in addressing thousands of unsolved cases, providing a symbolic moment for the hundreds of families awaiting justice.

The reality of Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women is a nationwide crisis. Over 84 percent of Indigenous women have experienced violence at some point in their life, with murder being the third-leading cause of death among Indigenous women. In 2020 alone, nearly 10,000 Indigenous women and men were reported missing. Data collected by the task force across five years from two New Mexico counties showed 91 American Indian/Alaskan Native men were reported missing compared to 64 American Indian/Alaskan Native women. The data supports calls by many to include men in this movement.

Unfortunately, New Mexico is the hub for such cases. A 2020 New Mexico Missing, Murdered and Indigenous Women and Relatives report states that “despite having the fifth-largest Indigenous population in the nation, the state of New Mexico has the highest number of [missing and murdered Indigenous women and girls] cases in the country.” With such high rates of violence toward our Indigenous relatives, we must follow through on the objectives outlined in the state response plan.

One major hurdle that must be overcome is reporting cases to the proper databases without delay. The task force has learned that several missing-persons cases are not getting filed, making it difficult to identify the true number of missing and murdered women in our state. It is our responsibility as a state to protect the rights of Indigenous peoples by identifying and breaking down systemic barriers that cause such discrepancy and injustice.

The plan also advocates for victims to receive access to shelter and counseling. Survivors of violence and family members who are still looking for a lost loved one need professional support and safe community spaces to heal and recover. These spaces must be inclusive of our lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer and two-spirit relatives. Healing modalities must incorporate traditional medicines and values.

The task force further supports education on preventing violence toward Indigenous women and relatives, including how to report instances of violence and strategies for intervention. Equipping tribal and rural communities with this information creates more awareness and readiness to intervene, which helps to reduce cases from occurring. This education must begin early on, and resources, such as helplines and victim services, must be readily available.

It was an honor to present the state response plan alongside task force members and so many survivors, families and leaders committed to acting on behalf of hundreds of missing and murdered Indigenous women and relatives. We have a long road ahead of us, but the plan provides a pathway for all stakeholders to take action so our communities find justice and healing.

Lynn Trujillo is the Cabinet secretary for the Indian Affairs Department and chairs the New Mexico Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Relatives Task Force.

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