This past legislative session was an important advancement for justice and visibility for Missing and Murdered Indigenous People (MMIP). South Dakota Democratic legislators worked with Tribal Nations and allies to successfully introduce and pass House Bill 1199, legislation that will begin to address the MMIP epidemic within the state.
HB 1199 establishes an MMIP Office of Liaison within the South Dakota Attorney General’s Office, and will employ a full-time staff member who will, among several things, coordinate with various law enforcement jurisdictions in MMIP cases and provide training for locating MMIP.
The bill’s prime sponsor, Democratic Rep. Peri Pourier (Oglala Lakota) stated that although Native Americans make up about nine percent of the state’s population, they comprise 70 percent of all missing people reported in South Dakota.
Accurate statistics about missing and murdered Indigenous people are often incomplete or non-existent. These data gaps impact how law enforcement agencies handle or follow up on MMIP cases. Underreporting, racial bias, racial misclassification, and a lack of law enforcement resources required to follow through and close out cases appropriately are just some of the challenges faced when working on MMIP cases.
The myriad of jurisdictional challenges between State, Federal and Tribal agencies often contribute to significant data gaps which exacerbate the MMIP epidemic. The lack of communication between multiple agencies further complicates the efforts of finding and solving MMIP cases.
An important aspect of HB 1199 will require the MMIP Office of Liaison staff member to create “a more concise effort on behalf of those agencies to locate a person when they go missing, increasing the likelihood of Indigenous relatives being located within that critical early stage of disappearance. The position’s current intent will be to assist further with improving and expanding the current State Missing Person Clearinghouse,” said Rep. Pourier.
The new office harmonizes with the Democratic Party’s national movement to address the MMIP epidemic. At the beginning of this month, Secretary of the Interior Deb Haaland announced the formation of a new Missing & Murdered Unit (MMU) within the Bureau of Indian Affairs Office of Justice Services. The office will provide leadership and direction for cross-departmental and interagency work involving missing and murdered Indigenous people. The MMU will help put the full weight of the federal government into investigating MMIP cases and marshal law enforcement resources across federal agencies and throughout Indian Country.
The passage of HB 1199 is a breakthrough for South Dakota, Indigenous nations, and accomplishing racial justice. The legislation had the support of the Great Plains Tribal Chairmen’s Association and numerous elected tribal leaders, who lauded the historic passage of the bill.
“HB 1199 is a step in the right direction for State and Tribal leaders. This is a non-political issue that we should be able to work together towards addressing and solving,” said Kevin Killer, Oglala Sioux Tribe President.
Chairman Harold Frazier of the Cheyenne River Sioux Tribe stated, “We welcome the move to establish a specific position to address Missing and Murdered Indigenous People. It is this kind of proactive governance that will show us that the State of South Dakota cares about what happens to Native people and is, hopefully, a step towards understanding the difficulties we face.”
The South Dakota Democratic Party advocates for funding and education to minimize and eliminate domestic violence, prevention of missing and murdered Indigenous women, girls, and people, and the tracking of lost neighbors, community members and relatives.
The SDDP continuously promotes racial justice through fair, just, and equitable governing of all public-serving institutions and in the formation of future public policy for the fair treatment of Indigenous people. We reaffirm our commitment to intersectional solidarity with Indigenous Nations and prioritize issues impacting Native American communities in South Dakota. The SDDP advocates and actively works for societal transformation to make it clear that Indigenous lives matter, that life is sacred, and the voices of Missing and Murdered Indigenous relatives are heard.