No money for law to help missing, murdered indigenous persons

KELOLAND.com Original

FILE – In a Monday, Aug. 28, 2017 file photo, a makeshift memorial to Savanna Greywind featuring a painting, flowers, candle and a stuffed animal is seen on Monday, Aug. 28, 2017, in Fargo, N.D., outside the apartment where Greywind lived with her parents. Republican U.S. Sen. Lisa Murkowski from Alaska is taking up the cause for a bill aimed at helping law enforcement with cases of murdered and missing indigenous women. Former North Dakota Democratic Sen. Heidi Heitkamp introduced and helped pass Savanna’s Act in the Senate before she lost election, but it was blocked in the House by a retiring Republican. (AP Photo/Dave Kolpack, File)

SIOUX FALLS, S.D. (KELO) — Each day there are about 30 to 40 missing indigenous persons on the South Dakota Attorney General’s website, AG Jason Ravsnborg said during a Jan. 12 State Tribal Relations Committee meeting.

He said his office has 100 to 120 missing persons listed on a missing persons website on any given day.

NamUs, the National Missing and Unidentified Persons System said as of Aug. 1, 2021, South Dakota had 14 unsolved missing Native person cases.

The actual number of missing native women in the U.S. may be higher than data shows, according to an Oct. 28 report by the U.S. Office of Accountability.

Tribal law enforcement is not required to report a missing person over the age of 21, according to the report. “In addition, instances of missing AI/AN women may be underreported due to mistrust of law enforcement and other reasons,” the GOA report said.

A page view from the state’s missing person website.

The number of murdered and missing American Indian women has drawn the attention of multiple lawmakers in states and the national level over the past several years and South Dakota is among them.

The South Dakota Legislature passed a law in March of 2021 to establish a full-time missing person specialist in a new Office of Liaison for Missing and Murdered Indigenous Persons.

“This office shall be budgeted through the normal budget process,” the law states.

But as of Jan. 12, there is no position.

“Right now, I have an unfunded mandate,” Ravnsborg said during the committee meeting. “We’re looking for that funding.”

His office doesn’t have the $65,000 to $70,000 to pay for the position, Ravnsborg said.

Ravnsborg told the committee he’s been working with tribal leadership to try and secure funds, including possible federal money, according to an audio of the committee meeting shared by South Dakota Public Broadcasting.

A copy of a March 30, 2021, letter from the AG’s office to state Rep. Peri Pourier and Sen. Red Dawn Foster said the position did not have funding. Ravnsborg named three tribal government leaders as among those who committed to help secure funding.

“During the Senate Judiciary Hearing on Thursday March 4th (2021), yourselves, along with President Killer, Chairman Lengkeek, President Bourdeaux and other proponents, committed to putting their best grant writers to work to obtain funding for this position. Please let me know if my office can assist.,” Ravnsborg said in the letter.

During the Jan. 12 tribal relations committee meeting, Pourier said tribal leaders have told her that they are lobbying and advocating to secure federal funds but the state is not asking for the money and is not helping the tribal effort.

Ravsnborg said in response that he has been working with tribal leadership.

Ravnsborg was asked how much money the AG’s office needed for the position. Ravnsborg said $65,000 to $70,000, depending on the person. The AG’s office could handle expenses and related costs, he said.

Ravnsborg has requested the necessary funding in his latest fiscal year budget.

The position was expected to increase cooperation between local, tribal, state and federal law enforcement in the investigation of missing and murdered indigenous people.

Numerous reports and studies have highlighted the high rate of missing and murdered American Indians and the cases that remain unsolved and those not found.

Females are particularly vulnerable.

The Centers for Disease Control and Department of Justice have said violence on some reservations can be 10 times higher than the national average.

Homicide was the third leading cause of death for American Indian and Alaska Native females under the age of 20 in 2016, according to the Centers for Disease Control.

In 2018, homicide was the third leading cause of death in males 45 and under and the sixth leading cause of death in females under 45, according to the CDC.

In April, Secretary of the Interior Deb Haaland announced the “formation of a new Missing & Murdered Unit (MMU) within the Bureau of Indian Affairs Office of Justice Services (BIA-OJS) to provide leadership and direction for cross-departmental and interagency work involving missing and murdered American Indians and Alaska Natives.”

South Dakota updated its website to more accurately show how many missing persons are reported in the state, Ravnsborg said.

He said that was an improvement over the seven cases that were highlighted when he first entered office but there are still challenges to the manual system.

Roughly half of the 100 to 120 missing persons (52) do not have photos, he said. Twenty-eight of the 52 without photos are indigenous people, he said.

When asked if the state had a streamlined way to access photos from items such as driver’s licenses or ID cards, Ravnsborg said the unfilled specialist position would be able help with securing photos.

The AG’s missing person website will be updated in April to a more automated system, he said.

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