Wyoming’s task force tackling issues related to missing and murdered Indigenous people continues, with one lawmaker recently saying she’s planning to propose the formation of a legislative group to also examine the problem.
Rep. Andi Clifford, D-Fort Washakie, announced her intention during a Wednesday meeting of Gov. Mark Gordon’s Missing and Murdered Indigenous People Task Force — which has met three times since July — to also ask legislators to approve a state Legislature task force to address the same issue.
She said she’s unsure if she’d introduce the proposal during this year’s general session.
“I just haven’t decided yet. I do have a draft,” Clifford said at the meeting. “What it’s going to do is create an official missing and murdered Indigenous person’s task force legislatively.”
It would authorize consulting services, require reports and requirements from state agencies, similar to Gordon’s group.
Clifford added she and Sen. Affie Ellis, R-Cheyenne, will also be working on a resolution to send to the Legislature, asking it to prioritize addressing the problem.
Gordon’s task force came from an impromptu decision to look into the problem after being challenged by advocates for the movement at a University of Wyoming student group event to raise awareness of the problem last spring.
Increased awareness in the state has followed the task force’s creation, from a statewide billboard campaign to an award-winning film created by students at Fort Washakie High School.
While advocates and other experts say more impactful changes to combat the problem need to come from the federal government, Gordon’s task force was charged with studying the problem at the state level and recommending solutions.
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Since its first meeting over the summer, the task force has created three subcommittees to deal with topics specific to law enforcement, families and advocacy. Victim advocates and state and law enforcement officials make up the group.
Lawmakers are also set to take up a bill this session that would offer solutions like improved reporting and better data, clearer requirements for jurisdictional cooperation and training.
Wyoming joined other states and the federal government in only recently recognizing a problem many in Indian Country have long said existed.
While precise data about the scope of the problem at the state or federal level is lacking, advocates for the movement say it’s clear that Indigenous people face higher rates of sexual and domestic violence or are more susceptible to becoming a victim.
For example, more than four in five Indigenous women and men have experienced violence in their lifetime, according to a 2016 National Institute of Justice study. Also, American Indians and Alaska Natives are 2.5 times as likely to experience violent crimes and at least twice more likely to experience rape or sexual assault compared to other races, according to a 2013 National Congress of American Indians policy brief.
One topic discussed in detail at Wednesday’s task force meeting was a report to be prepared by the end of June by the Wyoming Survey & Analysis Center. That report will include data to identify the scope of the problem; barriers to reporting, investigation and prosecution; identifying potential partnerships; and analyzing the role media plays in framing the public perception of the missing and murdered Indigenous people movement.
In addition, to tell the stories of families affected while continuing to educate the public, the task force also discussed a mixed-media art documentary project that the filmmakers want to complete. The project would include several vignettes about women who have disappeared or been murdered, with insights from family members and a call to action with data.
“We want to highlight different families’ stories,” filmmaker Jordan Dresser, a Northern Arapaho tribal member who has worked on many other projects to document the history and culture of Wyoming’s Indigenous people, said at the meeting. “I think what gets lost within this movement is that a lot of times we don’t get to hear about these women themselves; we don’t get to hear about who she was, what did she do with her life, what were her hopes and dreams. And we want to be able to tell those stories through their families.”
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