March 4, 2022

Indigenous New Mexicans speak to Congress about missing and murdered Native women

Capitol Hill in Washington D.C.

Two New Mexico Native women spoke before a U.S. Congress subcommittee on Thursday about the problems that contribute to the high numbers of missing and murdered Indigenous women and relatives.

Angel Charley, of the Laguna Pueblo and executive director of the Coalition to Stop Violence Against Native Women, testified before the House Subcommittee on Civil Rights and Civil Liberties during a hearing on the Neglected Epidemic of Missing BIPOC Women and Girls. She spoke about the failures of the U.S. government to stop what she called “a crisis” of missing and murdered Indigenous individuals.

According to the 2020 New Mexico Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Relatives Task Force Report, New Mexico has the highest number of missing and murdered Indigenous cases in the U.S., although it has the fifth largest Indigenous population in the nation. U.S. Rep. Carolyn Maloney, a Democrat from New York, said that according to the U.S. Government Accountability Office, the total number of missing Indigenous women is unknown due to a lack of data. U.S. Rep. Jamie Raskin, a Democrat from Maryland and the subcommittee’s chair, said that two-thirds of sex traffic victims are women of color and that Native women face unique danger because of man camps that establish where oil and gas industries flourish.

Charley said during her testimony that the lack of resources and the layers of jurisdictional bureaucracy are key causes of the problem.

“System responses created to date left these families unresourced without direction and lost within the intricacies of Tribal, state and federal bureaucracies,” Charley said before the committee.

Pamela Foster, Diné (Navajo), also testified before the committee to tell her story as a mother whose two children were kidnapped in New Mexico in 2016. One of her children escaped the kidnapper but her 11-year-old daughter, Ashlynn Mike, was murdered. Foster said Tribal law enforcement lacked the training and resources to handle the investigation. Foster said that she and others reached out to law enforcement and search and rescue teams off Tribal land after her daughter went missing but because of jurisdictional issues, the non-Tribal entities could not help.

Foster said that because of her advocacy, a bill known as the Ashlynn Mike Amber Alert in Indian Country Act became law in 2018 to ensure Tribal law enforcement can send out Amber Alerts when an Indigenous child goes missing. She said Tribes were actively implementing the amber alerts when the COVID-19 pandemic began but the pandemic slowed down that process.

“Thousands of stories have fallen through the cracks of the judicial system,” she said.

Charley also said that in addition to the complexity of jurisdictional issues and a historic lack of funding, systemic racism continues to “fuel the crisis of missing and murdered Indigenous women.”

“The disparate treatment of Indigenous women by law enforcement and media goes unchecked and our community experiences multiple disappearances, from family, from community, from the media and the system. Our women are 10 times more likely to be murdered. We continue to ask why,” she said.