Advocates are calling out New Mexico’s Democratic governor for disbanding a task force that was charged with crafting recommendations to address the high rate of killings and missing person cases in Native American communities.
The Coalition to Stop Violence Against Native Women said in a statement Thursday that dissolving the panel of experts only helps to perpetuate the cycles of violence and intergenerational trauma that have created what many have deemed as a national crisis.
Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham’s office argues that the task force fulfilled its directives to study the scope of the problem and make recommendations and that the state remains committed to implementing those recommendations.
The push by the advocates comes just weeks after a national commission delivered its own recommendations to Congress and the U.S. Justice and Interior departments following hearings across the country and promises by the federal government to funnel more resources to tackling violence in Native American communities.
U.S. Interior Secretary Deb Haaland, who is from Laguna Pueblo in New Mexico, said earlier this month that lives will be saved because of the commission’s work.
“Everyone deserves to feel safe in their community,” Haaland said when the recommendations were announced. “Crimes against Indigenous peoples have long been underfunded and ignored, rooted in the deep history of intergenerational trauma that has affected our communities since colonization.”
Her agency and the Justice Department are mandated to respond to the recommendations by early next year.
Almost 600 people attended the national commission’s seven field hearings, with many giving emotional testimony.
Members of the Not Invisible Commission have said they hope the recommendations are met with urgency.
“With each passing day, more and more American Indian and Alaska Native persons are victimized due to inadequate prevention and response to this crisis,” the commission said in its report.
Still, advocates in New Mexico say more work needs to be done to address jurisdictional challenges among law enforcement agencies and to build support for families.
“It’s essential to recognize that MMIWR is not a distant issue or statistic; these are real-life stories and struggles faced by Indigenous families today. The impact has forced these families to adjust their way of life, advocate for themselves, deplete their savings, and endure stress-induced physical and mental illnesses,” the Coalition to Stop Violence Against Native Women said.
The organization wants state officials to outline a clear plan for advancing New Mexico’s response to the problem.
The New Mexico Indian Affairs Department said Thursday it is developing a dedicated web page and is planning regular meetings and other events aimed at bringing together families with tribal partners and local, state and federal officials.
Aaron Lopez, a spokesperson for the agency, said the task force’s work remains foundational for the state in determining the best strategies for curbing violence against Native Americans.
The New Mexico Attorney General’s Office also has a special agent who has been working with authorities to help recover people on the FBI’s list of those verified as missing from the state and the Navajo Nation, which covers parts of New Mexico, Arizona and Utah. As of October, there were about 190 names on the list.
While budget recommendations are still being hashed out for the next fiscal year, the Indian Affairs Department already is asking for four new full-time staffers who would be dedicated to helping advance the state’s response plan.
James Mountain, head of the department, told lawmakers during a recent hearing that the positions are “absolutely needed” to carry forward the state’s work given that the agency serves numerous tribal nations and pueblos.