SIOUX FALLS, S.D. (KELO) – Since the beginning of the year, the number of missing Indigenous people listed on the South Dakota Attorney General’s Missing Persons Clearinghouse has fluctuated.

Numbers have ranged from more than 20 missing to around 15. One thing that remains true is that there are higher rates of missing Indigenous people than any other race. As of Sunday, there are 31 people listed who haven’t been seen since the beginning of 2023, and 20 of those people are Indigenous.

When young Indigenous people go missing in South Dakota, their families are often left without answers, sometimes for years. Take the family of Larissa Lone Hill. She hasn’t been seen since 2016 after being dropped off at a party in Rapid City. Today, she’s still listed on the South Dakota Missing Persons Clearinghouse.

“Whether she’s alive or not, I don’t know, I just want to find out,” Larissa’s mom Lisa Lone Hill said.

Some cases on the list go back even further than Larissa’s including Donna Larrabe who went missing at the age of 16 in 1976. Today she’d be 62 years old.

There are 20 Indigenous people who have been posted since the beginning of 2023. Most of them didn’t disappear from reservations. The Sioux Falls and Rapid City Police Departments are each investigating six cases of missing Indigenous people. One thing in common between these two cities is that the children listed on the clearinghouse are often runaways.

“We run into a very common theme where we have a youth that is running away from home for whatever reason,” Rapid City Police Chief Don Hedrick said.

Those cases are sometimes easier to solve.

“It’s pretty common that we will be able to find the youth fairly quickly and a lot of times it’s because we get help from our community members,” Hedrick said. “I think over the last couple years we found how valuable it is to share that we’re looking for somebody with the community because a lot of times what we’ll find is the community will help us out.”

Allison Morrisette is South Dakota’s MMIP Coordinator, a new position added to the attorney general’s office. She says she wants to focus on the issue of runaways and work with local non-profits.

“I want to reach out to the ones who are working directly with them and are talking with them just to see, you know, what they’re running away from. And to see if we can get some services or some education,” Morrisette said.

Hedrick says they also find that runaway children sometimes avoid authorities.

“They’re not in trouble. We’re not looking to get them into trouble,” Hedrick said. “We’re just looking to make sure they’re safe and get them connected back with family. We do run into cases where kids are actively avoiding law enforcement or we even have cases where other community members are helping the individual actively avoid getting connected back up with friends or family, whatever the case might be.”

He says the police department has a team in place to try and combat that challenge.

“It’s a group of police officers that partner with some of the service providers locally,” Hedrick said. “When we run into cases where we have a kiddo that’s running away, the youth outreach team will go out and try to connect up with the youth and connect up with family to see if there are any resources that we can help to break the cycle of running away.”

While the number of missing Indigenous People on the clearinghouse may seem high, South Dakota Attorney General Marty Jackley points out there are probably many more people missing.

“That number is a conservative number,” Jackley said. “There’s obviously more persons missing that may come back in time. I always like to talk about the Anna Mae Aquash case, which was a 1975 murder case that I prosecuted. There’s some folks in that era and time frame that aren’t on that list. They’re missing. I mean, obviously, they’re important to their families.”

He says the determination of who gets put on the list falls to local police departments.

“They’re going to look at, again, they’ll look at different factors or totality of circumstances — how long has a person been missing, what is their age, what did the initial investigation show,” Jackley said. “I think they reach a point where they think this is a problem, we need more help. And you get that help by putting them up in the missing persons’ website.”

“There are a lot that are unreported just because, you know, families aren’t aware of how to report or who to report to or they just don’t want to talk to law enforcement so they reach out to some local nonprofit to get a search party going,” Morrisette said.

This past summer, KELOLAND News spoke to Keva Stoneman in Mission, South Dakota, who hasn’t seen her sister Zetta since 1982.

“When she left, I stood out back in my backyard, and I watched her leave, and she went out of sight. And then I never seen her after that,” Stoneman recalled.

At first, Stoneman didn’t do anything when her sister didn’t return. It wasn’t uncommon for her to disappear for a few days, but Stoneman said she always showed up. Later, Stoneman said she would start to fill out the report and go to the police, but something would come up and she would be unable to finish.

“I’m actually putting together like a training or, you know, something we can present to the communities, especially the tribal communities on how to report, you know, tribal versus stateside. I know that does get a little bit tricky with some of the different reporting styles,” Morrisette said.

The epidemic of missing Indigenous persons, whether runaways or not, is an issue officials promise they want to work to fix.

“This is a priority. You know, nationwide it’s a priority. In our state, it’s a priority and locally here it’s a priority,” Hedrick said. “We’re doing everything we can to make sure that we’re serving anyone that needs our help, but particularly those populations that are disproportionately affected.”

“Go to the attorney general’s website, take a look that. There’s 107 different backgrounds, some photos. Take a look at that, see if you know of anything,” Jackley said. “The public is really in the best position to help law enforcement out. Be a good partner for us, take a look at our website.”

And hopefully one day the families of all these people can find closure.

“I never wish this on anybody. I never knew it would happen to us,” Lisa Lone Hill said.

“People need to understand that if you got young girls watch where they’re at all the time,” Stoneman said. “And just keep in contact with your family. Even boys, young boys, you know, they go missing. People don’t think much of that. But they do. You know, every time there’s something happening, I’m calling my family, ‘Where are you at? What are you doing?’ You know, because you never know.”

The South Dakota Missing Persons Clearinghouse lists 106 missing people in total between now and 1979. 46 of those cases involve Indigenous children and 19 are Indigenous adults: 65 total missing Indigenous people.

As for the other races, there are 26 missing white people, seven missing Black people, two missing Asian people, and six listed with an unknown race.