Indigenous advocates call for more education on domestic and sexual violence

Tribal leaders need to push for more education within their communities about domestic violence and sexual assault, from consistent training for police to classes on healthy relationships for young people. 

That’s one of the main recommendations to emerge from this week’s annual summit organized by the Coalition to Stop Violence Against Native Women. 

“Always remember the solutions to violence exist within our tribal communities,” Tiffany Jiron (Isleta Pueblo), the coalition’s executive director, said to a room of about 70 people to kick off the event on Wednesday and Thursday at Isleta Resort and Casino. The summit brought together tribal leaders and advocates to discuss challenges but also “celebrate our collective progress” in addressing “one of the most pressing issues facing our communities,” Jiron said. About 84% of American Indian and Alaska Native women have experienced violence in their lifetime, according to a report published by the Department of Justice in 2016. (While about a third reported experiencing violence at the hands of another Indigenous person, 97% had been harmed by a non-Indigenous person.)

Shannon Hoshnic (Navajo) works at Sexual Assault Services of Northwest New Mexico, which provides exams used to collect evidence and therapy, among other services. Some patrol officers she encounters don’t know what resources are available to offer victims or how to interview them, Hoshnic said during a panel discussion Thursday.

New Mexico AG greenlights new task force, creates online portal for missing Indigenous people

This reporting was supported by the International Women’s Media Foundation’s Fund for Indigenous Journalists: Reporting on Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women, Girls, Two Spirit and Transgender People (MMIWG2T). Attorney General Raúl Torrez plans to establish a task force focused on the disproportionate rates at which Indigenous people experience violence and go missing, the New Mexico Department of Justice announced Tuesday. The agency also launched the initial phase of an online portal for tracking cases of missing Indigenous people. Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham’s administration in mid-2023 dissolved a group dedicated to addressing a crisis of missing and murdered Indigenous people. Advocates and affected families spoke against the decision, saying their work was just beginning. 

The Legislature seemed to agree, unanimously passing Senate Joint Memorial 2 last month calling on Torrez to convene tribal representatives, survivors and families, and law enforcement officials to update a state response plan created by the defunct task force in 2022 and offer legislative recommendations. 

The state budget includes $200,000 for that purpose. 

A spokesperson for Torrez, Lauren Rodriguez, said he’ll follow the Legislature’s guidance outlined in the memorial as he figures out the task force’s membership.  

The public portal unveiled on Tuesday — which includes 201 missing Indigenous people, with an average time missing of 2,886 days, or nearly eight years — comes two years after lawmakers mandated it. 

Lawmakers in 2022 passed a bill requiring the attorney general’s office to develop an online portal for cases of missing Indigenous people.

Attorney general gets funding for proposed missing and murdered Indigenous people task force

This reporting was supported by the International Women’s Media Foundation’s Fund for Indigenous Journalists: Reporting on Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women, Girls, Two Spirit and Transgender People (MMIWG2T). Attorney General Raúl Torrez will have $200,000 at his disposal to create a new task force focused on the disproportionate rates at which Indigenous people experience violence and go missing. Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham kept the funding allocated by lawmakers in the $10.2 billion state budget she approved today. It will be available in the next fiscal year starting in July, but it’s unclear if Torrez plans to use it. 

The Legislature unanimously passed a memorial last month calling on him to convene a group made up primarily of tribal representatives, survivors and affected families, and law enforcement officials to update a state response plan delivered in 2022 and provide legislative proposals for confronting what’s been identified as a national crisis. But memorials, unlike bills, don’t have the force of law. 

Torrez’s office hasn’t responded to New Mexico In Depth’s requests for comment about whether he plans to fulfill the Legislature’s request. 

Lawmakers introduced Senate Joint Memorial 2 in response to Lujan Grisham’s quiet disbanding last year of a task force dedicated to finding solutions to the crisis. 

The governor’s administration has argued the group finished its work and the state is now carrying forward its recommendations.

State budget includes $200,000 for new task force on missing and murdered Indigenous people

This reporting was supported by the International Women’s Media Foundation’s Fund for Indigenous Journalists: Reporting on Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women, Girls, Two Spirit and Transgender People (MMIWG2T).The state budget awaiting Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham’s signature contains $200,000 for Attorney General Raúl Torrez to create a new task force concentrated on a crisis of missing and murdered Indigenous people.The money adds weight to the Legislature’s non-binding request that he take such action. Senate Joint Memorial 2 (SJM 2) passed on the last day of the 30-day legislative session. 

The task force’s fate now falls to Lujan Grisham and Torrez, in that sequence.The governor could eliminate the $200,000 appropriation using her line-item authority, which would leave Torrez to decide to form the task force anyway, without funding, or ignore the state Legislature’s request. 

Torrez’s office did not respond to New Mexico In Depth’s request to comment on his plans.The dollars are included in a special section of the budget that was added in the final days of the session. That section contains allocations by individual lawmakers. Which lawmakers provided $200,000 for the proposed task force is unknown, but will be published on the legislative website 30 days after Feb. 15, the day the session ended. 

Sponsors introduced SJM 2 — which, unlike a bill, doesn’t have the force of law — in response to Lujan Grisham’s decision last year to disband an earlier task force dedicated to finding solutions to the crisis, “leaving questions unanswered,” the legislation reads. 

The governor’s staff argue the previous group met its objectives and the state is now executing its numerous recommendations.

Legislature calls on attorney general to create new missing and murdered Indigenous people task force

This reporting was supported by the International Women’s Media Foundation’s Fund for Indigenous Journalists: Reporting on Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women, Girls, Two Spirit and Transgender People (MMIWG2T). The New Mexico Legislature has asked Attorney General Raúl Torrez to create a new task force focused on a crisis of missing and murdered Indigenous people after a memorial containing the request passed in the final hour of the legislative session, which concluded at noon today.Senate Joint Memorial 2 cleared the House on Thursday morning after passing in the Senate last week. 

A spokeswoman for Torrez didn’t respond to a question from New Mexico In Depth about whether he plans to act on lawmakers’ request. Unlike a bill, the memorial isn’t enforceable. Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham quietly dissolved a task force dedicated to finding solutions to the crisis in mid-2023. 

Her staff said the group achieved its objectives and the state is carrying forward its recommendations. But some task force members believed their work was just beginning, and a handful of impacted families protested the governor’s decision in October.

Governor says she’ll push for tribal education trust fund

As New Mexico lawmakers decide how to prioritize spending during another year of historic revenue, Pueblo leaders say they “do not appreciate” being forced to choose between a tribal education trust fund and money for infrastructure on tribal lands. 

A letter Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham sent late last week asking for their input on funding priorities put them in that position, they told her in a letter Wednesday. Having to pick one or the other is “fundamentally wrong and adverse to the commitments of partnership that we have made with you and state legislative leadership,” wrote the All Pueblo Council of Governors, which represents 19 Pueblos in New Mexico and one in Texas. 

Instead, each initiative should be funded at $50 million, the council wrote. 

In response to questions from New Mexico In Depth on Thursday, the governor’s office provided the letter from the council and said the governor will work with the Legislature to deliver on the council’s request. 

It’s the first indication that Lujan Grisham will back the trust fund proposal, which would give tribes more money and control over how they educate their own children. 

But it’s not a total win. 

Rep. Derrick Lente, D-Sandia Pueblo, stands in his office at the Roundhouse on Jan. 25, 2023. Lente, chair of the House Taxation and Revenue Committee, is sponsoring a proposal designed to give tribes more money and control over the education of Indigenous children. Credit: Bella Davis/New Mexico In Depth

The fund’s sponsor, Rep. Derrick Lente, D-Sandia Pueblo, is seeking a $100 million trust fund, rather than $50 million. 

The House Budget includes $50 million, following the Legislative Finance Committee’s recommendation before the legislative session began.

House budget leaves out money for state employees to focus on missing and murdered Indigenous people

This reporting was supported by the International Women’s Media Foundation’s Fund for Indigenous Journalists: Reporting on Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women, Girls, Two Spirit and Transgender People (MMIWG2T). A proposed bureau within the Indian Affairs Department focused on a crisis of missing and murdered Indigenous people might be in peril. 

At issue is how much money the Legislature will give the department.The Legislature’s budget-making Legislative Finance Committee (LFC) says the department, which has a 40% vacancy rate, should use its existing personnel budget to staff up the new bureau. (About 18% of positions across state government were vacant in fiscal year 2022, according to a 2023 report from the LFC to state lawmakers.)But a department spokesman said the agency wants to both create new staff positions to carry out a state response plan the Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Relatives Task Force issued in 2022 and fill the existing vacancies. Officials announced their plan to seek funding for more staffers after Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham’s administration was criticized for quietly disbanding the task force last year. 

The proposed state budget the House passed Wednesday, however, followed the recommendation of the LFC, and only included $120,000 extra — enough to hire one full-time employee — instead of the $600,000 the agency sought. 

Spokesman Aaron Lopez told New Mexico In Depth the department won’t hire more staff to concentrate on missing and murdered Indigenous people unless they get more money. Some of the state task force’s recommendations could be achieved by passing new laws but during this legislative session and last year’s, legislation directly responding to the crisis has been sparse. 

Asked in December if the department would be advocating for any legislation this year to address the crisis, Secretary-designate Josett Monette, then the deputy secretary, only mentioned the request for additional employees.

Lawmakers want attorney general to create new task force on missing and murdered Indigenous people

This reporting was supported by the International Women’s Media Foundation’s Fund for Indigenous Journalists: Reporting on Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women, Girls, Two Spirit and Transgender People (MMIWG2T). Five New Mexico lawmakers want the state attorney general to establish a task force focused on missing and murdered Indigenous people. 

They’ve made the request via Senate Joint Memorial 2, which they introduced this week. The memorial puts on display the disagreement some lawmakers have with Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham’s quiet shuttering last year of a task force dedicated to finding solutions to what’s been identified as a national crisis. Indigenous women in the state, according to the memorial, have the highest homicide rate among all ethnic groups. Because this year’s 30-day session is reserved for putting together the state budget in addition to whatever priorities the governor pinpoints, the lawmakers were limited to proposing a memorial, which is not legally binding. 

Task force members decried the governor’s disbanding of their group last year, telling New Mexico In Depth in October their work was just beginning.

Lawmakers will again push for more tribal control over how Indigenous children are educated 

A proposal to create a trust fund that would give tribes in New Mexico more money and control to run their own education programs is back for the 2024 legislative session. Supporters are optimistic about their chances this year after last year’s unsuccessful attempt to include it in the state budget.There are reasons for optimism.Tucked into the Legislature’s proposed $10.1 billion budget is $50 million for the new fund. Rep. Derrick Lente, a Democrat from Sandia Pueblo, says top lawmakers have assured him the fund will get another $50 million, for $100 million total, during the 30-day session.The question is whether Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham will go along. 

If the $100 million request navigates the sometimes-perilous budgeting process successfully, tribes would use annual interest earned on the fund for language revitalization efforts and career readiness programs, among other needs. 

“What we want in tribal communities is for our elders, our own people to teach our children about what’s important to our communities,” Lente told New Mexico In Depth. “We need to be fluent in our language. We need to know how our government works.

Controversial Indian Affairs secretary leaving agency

This reporting was supported by the International Women’s Media Foundation’s Fund for Indigenous Journalists: Reporting on Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women, Girls, Two Spirit and Transgender People (MMIWG2T). After a tumultuous tenure as Indian Affairs Secretary-designate, James Mountain is departing the agency to join Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham’s office as her senior policy advisor for tribal affairs, her spokeswoman announced Friday. Deputy Secretary Josett Monette will replace Mountain as Indian Affairs cabinet secretary. 

Mountain’s departure comes about 10 months after several members of a state task force on missing and murdered Indigenous people — housed in the Indian Affairs Department — denounced his appointment. Since then, the governor has steadfastly rebuffed demands from task force members and some state lawmakers to replace Mountain.It was unclear why Mountain departed and whose decision it was: Mountain’s or the governor’s. Cabinet secretaries serve at the pleasure of the governor.