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Reporting from the St. George area focused on local government, public lands and the environment, indigenous issues and faith and spirituality.

'Just too late': Missing And Murdered Indigenous Women Task Force Gets Off To Slow Start

A woman in a red vest looks at a display of missing persons posters.
Courtesy of Meskee Yatsayte

Native American Utahns shared stories of losing family members Wednesday night with a state task force formed to study the missing and murdered Indigenous women crisis.

Only a few people attended the online meeting, including Wade Moon, a member of the Skull Valley Band of Goshute Indians. He said his mother lived in Cedar City and went missing in Nevada when he was young and he’s still looking for answers. But he said the police gave up on her case and marked it as incomplete.

“That type of stuff has affected me, because it seems like they didn’t do their job like they should have back then,” Moon said.

Denae Shanidiin, a Navajo woman, shared a similar story. She lives in Salt Lake City and said the murder of her 19-year old aunt on the Navajo Nation was never solved.

“This violence affects every single Indigenous person,” she said. “And the fact that we’re just now looking at this kind of violence is really…it’s just too late.”

Shanidiin runs a website that collects information about the MMIW crisis, and she pushed the task force to seek out Native experts and data to better understand the issue.

“There is enough data out there, and stories,” she said. “I'm so sad that we don't have those stories here, but I assure you that there are so many stories and so many missing relatives.”

The task force was supposed to present recommendations to state legislators for new laws to address the MMIW crisis on or before Nov. 30, at which point the group is set to expire. But it got a late start because of COVID-19, according to Rep. Angela Romero, D-Salt Lake City, who sponsored legislation to create the task force in January.

She’s seeking an extension for the task force through November 2023.

So far, the group has held one other meeting, and the coronavirus pandemic has also made it hard to meet with tribal communities, according to task force member Moroni Benally. He is the policy director for Restoring Ancestral Winds, a group that aims to reduce domestic violence in Native American households in Utah.

Benally testified in favor of extending the task force for three more years in a subcommittee hearing on Tuesday.

“Because of the remoteness of a number of our Indigenous communities and tribal communities in areas that do not have telecommunications infrastructure networks, it was really hard to … hold a series of meetings,” he said. “So we would really appreciate more time.”

The bill passed out of the subcommittee with a favorable recommendation and will go to the full state legislature for approval in January.

Kate joined KUER from Austin, Texas. She has a master's degree in journalism from the University of Texas at Austin’s Moody School of Communication. She has been an intern, fellow and reporter at Texas Monthly, the Texas Observer, Quartz, the Texas Standard and Voces, an oral history project. Kate began her public radio career at Austin’s NPR station, KUT, as a part-time reporter. She served as a corps member of Report For America, a public service program that partners with local newsrooms to bring reporters to undercovered areas across the country.
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