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Lawmakers highlight missing indigenous women

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Deb Haaland stands outside her office in Albuquerque last year. (Adolphe Pierre-Louis/Albuquerque Journal)

SANTA FE – Some of New Mexico’s lawmakers recognized American Indian Day at the Capitol on Friday by highlighting Congresswoman Deb Haaland’s push to address the number of missing and murdered indigenous women and girls.

The state Senate also honored Haaland for her role as one of the first Native American women to serve in Congress.

Haaland, a Democrat and member of Laguna Pueblo, said Friday that she hopes the FBI will establish a task force and lead efforts concentrating on the murder and disappearance of women and girls in Indian Country. She said she hopes federal officials will make an appropriation to support the effort.

A nonprofit group, the Urban Indian Health Institute, released a study last year that found many police departments nationwide are failing to adequately identify or report cases of missing and murdered indigenous women and girls. The city of Albuquerque has one of the highest numbers of urban native women reported missing or murdered, according to legislation introduced in the state Senate.

Haaland said a shortage of law-enforcement officers and the challenge of patrolling wide expanses of country contribute to crime in tribal communities. But other improvements – including the expansion of broadband internet service and cell-phone coverage – are also needed, she said.

The lack of officers “is compounded by the fact that a victim may not even have cell service to call them in the first place,” Haaland told reporters. “We need to fix issues across the board.”

Sen. John Pinto, D-Tohatchi, introduced legislation, Senate Memorial 38, supporting calls for an investigation and describing the situation as a “national disgrace.”

Sen. Benny Shendo Jr., D-Jemez Pueblo, said Haaland’s understanding of tribal communities is “refreshing.” And he said she’s doing important work to highlight missing or murdered women.

“These are somebody’s grandmother, auntie, mom, sister. These are human beings,” he said. “Not having the resources and making that an excuse – it’s not justifiable.”

A proposal in the state House would declare an emergency, create a state Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women Task Force and make $100,000 available. House Bill 278 is co-sponsored by Democratic Reps. Andrea Romero of Santa Fe, Derrick Lente of Sandia Pueblo and Melanie Stansbury of Albuquerque.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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