The Indian Affairs Department wants about $350,000 to continue to address a crisis of missing and murdered Indigenous people in New Mexico, Secretary-Designate James Mountain told the Legislative Finance Committee on Tuesday. The money, if approved by state lawmakers, would pay for four full-time employees and build the beginnings of a bureau, Mountain told the legislators on the committee, which plays a critical role in writing the state budget.
“This is, I believe, what is absolutely needed to carry forward the work,” said Mountain, adding that the request is a response to a wide-ranging action plan the now-defunct state Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Relatives Task Force published last year.
That plan includes dozens of recommendations. According to the department’s written justification for its budget request, the task force’s findings show “there is a lot more work for New Mexico” to confront the crisis.
Task force members and lawmakers who advised them agree there is still much work to be done, but say more staff alone won’t cut it. Their work was just beginning, they said, when Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham’s administration quietly disbanded the group earlier this year.
The governor’s office refused to answer questions from New Mexico In Depth last week about the task force, which the Indian Affairs Department last convened in May. Its dissolution, though, came a few months after some task force members opposed Lujan Grisham’s appointment of Mountain in February.
The task force brought together dozens of people, including community organizers and law enforcement officials, to more effectively push for change, Sen. Shannon Pinto, D-Tohatchi, said in an interview earlier this month. A few state employees aren’t a sufficient replacement, said Pinto, a task force policy advisor who also has spoken out against Mountain’s appointment.
Department spokesman Aaron Lopez last week refused to provide details about the work new staff would undertake if the Legislature approved the funding request, simply writing over email that four full-time employees would “make a significant impact on implementing the recommendations of the task force.”
Mountain didn’t offer those details to lawmakers on Tuesday either, and they didn’t ask. Nor did lawmakers mention the task force.
The only question about the request for four employees came from Sen. Pete Campos, D-Las Vegas, who asked Mountain to explain how the agency arrived at the budget increase it’s seeking.
Mountain replied the request is “one of those pieces” in response to the plan the task force authored, which includes dozens of recommendations, from law enforcement training on trauma-informed care to financial support for impacted families.