Published May 6, 2022

Southern Ute Indian Tribe recognizes Missing and Murdered Indigenous Relatives on National Day of Awareness for MMIP

By Sarah Flower

A red dress hangs on a tree limb with #MMIW sign at Buckley Park in Durango, Colorado, captured on Saturday, May. 8, 2021.
KSUT Tribal Radio | Crystal Ashike

Missing and Murdered Indigenous Relatives Awareness Day is officially recognized by the Southern Ute Tribal Council on May 5th. On the same day, the United States Department of the Interior announced its collaboration with the Not Invisible Act Commission, a national group addressing the Missing and Murdered Indigenous People’s crisis in Indian Country.


Sarah Flower

For centuries, Indigenous people have had to mourn a missing or murdered person or relative without answers or support. Across the country and throughout southwest Colorado, affected families and communities, and Tribal members observed a National Day of Awareness for Missing and Murdered Indigenous Relatives, officially declared on May 5. According to the FBI's (Federal Bureau of Investigation) National Crime Information Center (NCIC), there were nearly 5,300 Indigenous women and 4,300 Indigenous men reported missing in 2020. Across the United States, that number is said to be grossly underreported. In a virtual event held yesterday, US Secretary of the Interior Deb Haaland says that it's time to support MMIR on a Federal level.

Secretary Deb Haaland:

For too long, this issue has been swept under the rug by our government with a lack of urgency, attention, or funding. The race of missing persons cases and violence against American Indian, Alaskan Native, and Native Hawaiian communities are disproportionate, alarming, and unacceptable.

Sarah Flower

Secretary Haaland and Deputy Attorney General Lisa Monaco recognized national Missing or Murdered Indigenous Persons Awareness Day by highlighting the not Invisible Act Commission. The act was established in 2019. And the goal of the Commission is to make recommendations to the Department of the Interior and Justice to improve intergovernmental coordination and establish best practices for state, tribal, and federal law enforcement. The Commission includes Whitney Gravelle, Chairwoman of the Bay Mills Indian Community, president of the National Congress of American Indians, Fawn Sharp, and Lucy Rain Simpson, the executive director of National Indigenous Women's Resource Center. Simpson says the effort to end the MMIR crisis has to be a collaborative one.

Lucy Rain Simpson:

Although, Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls is just recently getting national attention. The MMIW crisis is not new. It was born in colonization, and is a continuation of the traumatic impact of past federal laws and policies that were intended to terminate Indian nations. To move forward. We must demand real and meaningful coordination from all federal agencies beyond the Department of Interior to also include the Department of Justice and the Department of Health and Human Services. But, the federal government can't do it alone, nor should it have been not Invisible Act Commission membership shows we need a broad coalition to create true social change.

Sarah Flower:

Locally, the Southern Ute Indian tribal council officially recognized May 5th, as Missing and Murdered Indigenous Relatives Awareness Day in attendance was Daisy Bluestar. Bluestar is a member of the Southern Ute tribe and an advocate of MMIR. She says it's a difficult balance to honor culture and bring justice to the relatives that don't have a voice.

Daisy Bluestar:

It's tricky because culturally, in some tribes, and I know in our tribe, we are not supposed to speak our loved ones' names when they pass away, we're supposed to let them rest, and we're supposed to let them go to the spirit world and - start their journey there. And, I think that right now, we're in a time in a position to where unfortunately, you know, it's hard for someone like me, but I spoken up, and I started using names, and it's really hard, and I've started stepping into that and - saying we have to protect our people Southern Ute people from Southern Ute tribal member for the Southern Ute tribe. But I don't just speak for Southern Ute people. I speak for all Indigenous people, but we have to cross those boundaries.

Sarah Flower:

Bluestar along with Senator Jessie Danielson is working on the Missing and Murdered Indigenous Relatives Act or Senate bill 150. It was created last month to focus exclusively on the MMIR crisis. If passed, the bill would create an office of Missing and Murdered Indigenous Relatives within Colorado's Department of Public Safety. It would assist with investigations, create an alert system, and support families. As of today, the bill is moving through the house for consideration. Reporting for KSUT Tribal Radio. I'm Sarah Flower

Reporter's Notes

On Oct. 10, 2020, the Not Invisible Act of 2019 was signed into law as the first bill in history to be introduced and passed by four U.S. congressional members enrolled in their respective federally recognized tribes, led by Secretary Deb Haaland during her time in Congress.

Secretary Haaland, in coordination with Attorney General Merrick Garland, is now working to implement the Not Invisible Act. They established the Not Invisible Act Commission, a cross-jurisdictional advisory committee composed of law enforcement, Tribal leaders, federal partners, service providers, family members of missing and murdered individuals, and most importantly — survivors.

The Not Invisible Act Commission Among its mission, the Commission will:

  • Identify, report and respond to instances of Missing and Murdered Indigenous Peoples (MMIP) cases and human trafficking,
  • Develop legislative and administrative changes necessary to use federal programs, properties, and resources to combat the crisis,
  • Track and report data on MMIP and human trafficking cases,
  • Consider issues related to the hiring and retention of law enforcement offices,
  • Coordinate tribal-state-federal resources to combat MMIP and human trafficking offices on Indian lands, and
  • Increase information sharing with Tribal governments on violent crimes investigations and other prosecutions on Indian lands.

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