SIOUX FALLS, S.D. (KELO) — Nearly two years after the Office of Liaison for Missing and Murdered Indigenous Persons was created, the Attorney General has hired two people to fill the positions.
On Wednesday, the South Dakota Attorney General’s Office announced that Allison Morrisette and Mary Beth Holzwarth had started their roles in the office on November 28. Morrisette will become the state’s first Missing and Murdered Indigenous Persons Coordinator while Holzwarth will fill the role of South Dakota Human Trafficking Coordinator.
Morrisette is an enrolled member of the Oglala Lakota Sioux Tribe and previously served as the Adult Diversion Coordinator for the Pennington County State’s Attorney.
“I am excited to begin this work,” Morrisette said in a statement. “A lot of my relatives feel they are overlooked. My job with the Attorney General’s Office is to ensure that is not true. In my culture we live by the words, Mitakuye Oyasin, which means ‘all my relations’ or ‘we are all related.’ I carry that belief with me into this new role.”
At Wednesday’s press conference, Morrisette added that she’s excited to use the relationships she’s built with Native communities across the state to work with law enforcement and nonprofits to address the issue.
Holzwarth left her role as CEO of Endeavor 52, an organization working to prevent child sexual assault, to fill the human trafficking role. She said her new position in the AG’s office will help her to further combat child sexual abuse with a wider scope while also focusing on sex and labor trafficking.
“Right now, that’s my biggest focus, I just really want to get out there and listen to those who are already actively involved in this work,” Holzwarth said Wednesday.
Holzwarth was also a part of the effort to create Jolene’s Law and has spent time working at the South Dakota’s women’s prison where she worked with women who had been trafficked.
“And so, stepping into this role just really made sense to combine my two levels of experience to figure out what we could do to work with those who are already doing this and figure out what else needs to be done for our state,” Holzwarth said.
Attorney General-elect Marty Jackley said that Morrisette’s background and experience will be a “powerful asset” to serving South Dakota.
“Mary Beth Holzwarth’s long track record of advocating for children will be a needed and powerful tool in our fight against human trafficking,” Jackley added.
Representative Peri Pourier (D-Pine Ridge) was present at Wednesday’s announcement.
“This is a historic day and I’m very proud to be sitting here next to these two fine women who have the qualifications and have the experience to bring something of significance to these positions,” Pourier said.
During her time in the legislature, Pourier said that lawmakers studied the missing persons data and found how pervasive the issue was in cities, reservations, and Native communities.
“This is what hard work for from those from the ground from our communities, who took all the data, who took all who know all the names and all the stories, and they raise the issue up. And they said, these women, these men, these children are not going to go overlooked. They’re not going to go silent,” Pourier said.
The announcement comes nine months after the office received funding through Chamberlain non-profit Native Hope after former Attorney General Jason Ravnsborg failed to secure funds through the state legislature.
In South Dakota, Indigenous people make up 11% of the population but 77% of the missing people, according to Pourier.
The Missing and Murdered Indigenous Persons issue is considered an epidemic across the country and especially here in South Dakota.