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KUER’s Southeast Utah Bureau is based in San Juan County. The Southwest Utah Bureau is based in the St. George area. Both initiatives focus on local government, public lands and the environment, indigenous issues, faith and spirituality and other topics of relevance to Utahns.

Virtual Meeting Held About Missing And Murdered Indigenous Women In The Southwest

A line of people on a sidewalk hold signs that say "She was my sister" and "Have you seen us? Pueblo Nations"
Courtesy of Meskee Yatsayte
Meskee Yatsayte, founder of Navajo Nation Missing Persons Updates, holds events to raise awareness about missing persons on the Navajo Nation.

In a first of its kind call Friday, a task force set up by President Donald Trump that focuses on missing and murdered indigenous women hosted a forum to discuss how the crisis is affecting Native Americans in the Southwest. 

But participants were frustrated by the format of the call, which occurred online and gave each participant only three minutes to talk. 

“You know, I developed my talking points and there still was not really enough time to get through them,” said Amber Kanazbah Crotty, a Navajo Nation delegate who joined the call.

Dubbed Operation Lady Justice, the task force was created by an executive order Trump signed in 2019. The group is tasked with gathering information on the issue, which has gained national attention in recent years. But it is not well understood due, in part, to a lack of reliable data. 

On the call, task force members asked participants to address broad questions, including: “Who goes missing and what are the contributing factors?”

But the answers are too complicated to share on a short phone call, said Yolanda Francisco-Nez, director of Restoring Ancestral Winds, an organization in Salt Lake City that works with tribes across Utah. 

“For someone who is new to this looking in, you may not see the problems. And there are so many,” she said. 

Much of the call was plagued by technical issues, and not everyone on the call had a chance to talk.

Meskee Yatsayte, a community advocate who helps look for missing persons on the Navajo Nation, waited for almost an hour to share her comments. She’s also been looking for her own missing relative. 

“He is my closest uncle,” she said. “We’ve been searching for him for 29 days.” 

She raised concerns about the way law enforcement handled her uncle’s case, and asked about a new initiative to investigate cold cases in Indian Country. But she didn’t get an answer to her question. 

“I was sitting there thinking, ‘This a waste of 40 minutes,’” she said. “I was kind of steamed.”

Crotty, the Navajo representative, also raised issues with the task force itself. 

She said it’s hard to follow the task force’s progress, beyond forming working groups and holding listening sessions, and that she would like to see a timeline for when the task force plans to accomplish specific things.

“At the end of the day, this is about the families who have a missing relative,” she said. “They don’t want to hear about the bureaucracy. They want solutions and change.” 

The task force, which is accepting written comments online at operationladyjustice@usdoj.gov, plans to hold three more virtual listening sessions for Native Americans in other parts of the country. It will also hold some in-person sessions in Wyoming before submitting a report to the White House at the end of November.

Kate Groetzinger is a Report for America corps member who reports from KUER's Southeast Bureau in San Juan County. Follow Kate on Twitter @kgroetzi

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