COLORADO SPRINGS — In the final days of the legislative session, Colorado state lawmakers passed a bill to create an office of liaison for missing and murdered indigenous relatives.
SB22-150 will establish an office with the Department of Public Safety. Staff in the office will help with missing indigenous persons investigations and homicides involving indigenous people, updating numbers and information involving indigenous people, and any other issues this specific community may face.
However, advocates for the bill say more work needs to be done.
“We only got about 70% percent of what we had initially proposed as far as the legislation goes,” said Monycka Snowbird, the executive director for the Haseya Advocate Program. “It's a win, but it's not a victory and we will continue to move forward until we stop having to add more people to this list.”
The list she’s referring to is the list that accounts for missing and murdered endangered relatives, also known as MMIR. She says there’s only 15 indigenous people listed as missing and murdered in the Colorado Bureau of Investigation’s database. However a task force for MMIR in Colorado has counted 53.
Snowbird talked about Sheree Barker, who was shot and killed in Colorado Springs, “and is still listed as a white person in CSPD’s database, even though she was an enrolled tribal member,” said Snowbird.
“Clearly there's a breakdown. We know that 53 is not an accurate number. But it's what we've been able to come up with cross referencing different databases, talking to individual families, and searching online. We shouldn't be having to do that when all of this information should be accurate within local databases and with law enforcement.”
These numbers are just part of the growing crisis of violence against indigenous women and the community as a whole, and inaccurate reporting of the numbers.
“It was essential that the state of Colorado create an office to finally stop turning their backs on these people and address the crisis,” said Senator Jessie Danielson, who sponsored the bill.
Once created, the office will also provide services to families of MMIR. Senator Danielson said Colorado would be one of 15 states that have created a similar MMIR office. While drafting legislation, she and advocates for the bill learned from other states.
“Having a dedicated office is really important because it will establish cross jurisdictional communication between federal, state, local and tribal law enforcement,” said Senator Danielson. “This bill will assist in bringing people's loved ones home and hopefully stop this kind of violent horrific crime from happening to any other families.”
Senator Danielson said part of the bill is creating an advisory council, which includes members of the tribal community and law enforcement.
However, the proposed legislation did receive some pushb ack from Governor Jared Polis, but with a few amendments, it passed the Colorado house and senate.
“His ideas were just not acceptable to the native community. But the community stood their ground, and they said, ‘we have been dealing with this crisis for decades now, and we know what we need in our communities to solve these problems,” said Senator Danielson.
Senator Danielson also said the Department of Public Safety will hire the executive director of the office, and she is strongly encouraging that it’s someone from the native community or works closely with the native community.
The bill is helping to solve the issue and sound the alarm, that four out of five indigenous people face violence, more than half of native women experience sexual violence, and more than 95% of the perpetrators are non-indigenous people. But advocates like Snowbird say, more needs to be done.
“You don't see these rates of violence with any other group of people. This bill isn't going to solve those issues, but it gives us a stepping stone,” said Snowbird. “There is still a lot of positive that's going on in the bill. So we're going to focus on that and we will continue to push forward with additional legislation.”
The bill is now sitting on the desk of Governor Polis to be signed into law. If and when it’s signed, it will also require law enforcement agencies that get a report of a missing indigenous person, to notify the CBI within eight hours of receiving a report of a missing adult and within two hours of receiving a report of a missing child. It also requires that law enforcement officers get training about missing and murdered indigenous people.
“We’ve been told we need to be patient when it comes to murdered native people. But how many lives have to been lost in order for us to no longer be expected to be patient? I’m tired of negotiating that dead Indians are a crisis in Colorado and nationally. The work we’re doing is trying to keep one more person off that list,” said Snowbird.
Representative Monica Duran also sponsored the bill and provided the following statement: “My relatives are part of the Pascua Yaqui Tribe, so this bill is so important to defending not only theirs, but so many others, ways of life. It’s critical we address the high rates of violent crime against Indigenous people. This bill improves coordination, response, and communications surrounding missing and murdered indigenous relatives so we can create a comprehensive and strong response to this crisis. It will also increase visibility and raise public awareness for such a prevalent problem that has little to no media coverage."
The Haseya Advocacy program provides resources for survivors of domestic violence, sexual assault, stalking and trafficking. Snowbird says the organization gets new intakes almost every day. For more information about the program, click here.