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.
Over 100 people gathered at the Roundhouse on Saturday for the annual Indigenous Women’s Day, starting with a prayer walk through O’Ga P’Ogeh, the Tewa word for Santa Fe that the event’s organizers used, meaning “white shell water place.” It was the third year the event was held in person after pausing during the pandemic.
“It is a day to celebrate because we are here, we have our young ladies here to show us how beautiful life can be, that they have hope, that they have dreams,” Sen. Shannon Pinto, a Democrat from Tohatchi and member of the Navajo Nation, told the crowd. “We are resilient, we are tough. We can get the work done if we have to.”
Lawmakers and community organizers spoke about the importance of having Native women in leadership positions, as well as the ongoing struggle against colonialism. Speakers also touched on violence against Native women, environmental issues, and abortion rights. The following photo essay was created by Bella Davis for New Mexico in Depth.
The Attorney General’s Office has made advances this year in addressing the crisis of missing and murdered Indigenous people (MMIP), but it needs dedicated funding from the Legislature to keep it up, Mark Probasco, deputy director of the office’s Special Prosecutions Division, told the Indian Affairs Committee on Thursday.
The legislative committee didn’t argue, passing a motion to recommend inclusion of $3 million in the state budget for the office to continue its work on a nationwide issue that’s gained increased attention in New Mexico in recent years.
A state task force published a response plan in May with a number of recommendations, although what legislative action might come next is unclear.
There are at least 192 Indigenous people missing throughout New Mexico and the Navajo Nation, according to a list the FBI last updated in October. State officials and lawmakers say that’s likely an undercount.
Senate Bill 12, signed by Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham in February, created a specialist position in the AG’s Office and allocated $1 million to a grant program aimed at establishing a network to support efforts by tribal nations to identify and find Indigenous people who are missing.
An additional $1 million for at least one full-time specialist didn’t make it into the final version of the bill. As a result, the AG’s Office has been drawing resources from other areas, Probasco told the committee.
“It’s one thing for the state to say that it is committed towards this important work,” Probasco said. “We do the best with the resources that we do have, but the reality is that in order for us to maximize the law that has been passed and to make sure that we give these families the best chance at moving forward, it has to be better funded.”
Since February, the office has assisted in prosecutions, helped compile the FBI list, built partnerships with other law enforcement agencies, and collaborated with the New Mexico Press Association to offer training on how to humanely cover MMIP cases, Probasco said.
Probasco pointed to the murder of Cecelia B. Finona (Diné). After being reported missing in 2019, the 59-year-old Farmington resident was found dead in 2021.
Jerry Jay was prosecuted with help from the AG’s Office and pled guilty in September to first-degree kidnapping and second-degree murder.