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.

Searching for answers at Missing in New Mexico Day

Darian Nevayaktewa went missing 15 years ago from northeastern Arizona. He was 19 and living in New Mexico with his mother, Lynette Pino. But it was during a summer visit to the Hopi reservation where his father lived that he disappeared after going to a gathering and never coming home. 

Pino hasn’t stopped looking for answers about what happened to her son. 

“We take it one day at a time and just pray that one of these days something will come out,” Pino said. 

Her search brought her from Tesuque Pueblo to Albuquerque on Sunday for the second annual Missing in New Mexico Day. Nearly 200 Native Americans are missing from the state and the Navajo Nation, according to an FBI list last updated in November. While geared toward people missing from New Mexico, Pino, who also attended last year, said the event provides face-to-face conversations with law enforcement and information about resources like search and rescue teams. After winter, she hopes to be able to organize another search for her son. 

Over the past decade and a half, she’s struggled to get the Bureau of Indian Affairs, which still lists her son’s case as open on its website, to communicate with her. 

From unanswered calls to dismissed concerns and victim blaming, dealing with law enforcement is one of the main obstacles in getting justice for missing or murdered relatives, Indigenous families say.

On the Navajo Nation, a daughter yearns for her mother, missing for five years

Julia Vicente always walked the same route home from visiting her friend. She’d traverse about a mile of Shiprock, a town on the Navajo Nation in New Mexico’s northwestern corner, along a dirt road through a neighborhood, bordered by hills and an irrigation canal on one side and a busy highway on the other. She’d turn onto a well-worn path that cuts around and through a few fields before coming out behind a gas station. She’d cross the highway. From there, her house was straight down a tree-lined street.