The Attorney General’s Office is working to fill the MMIP position
ROSEBUD, SD (KELO) — Native Americans make up 11% of South Dakota’s population but account for 62% of those currently missing.
In the past four weeks, 22 Native Americans have gone missing in South Dakota. Of the 157 people currently missing in South Dakota, 98 are Native Americans whose disappearances date back to 1976.
The issue of Missing and Murdered Indigenous Peoples (MMIP) is considered an epidemic not just in South Dakota, but across the country. The problem is so widespread that Rapid City Police Chief Don Hedrick has been asked to join the Not Invisible Law Commission to recommend solutions to the Department of Justice to improve communication between the forces. order and the courts.
In Pierre, the Office of the Attorney General is working to create the Liaison Office for Missing and Murdered Indigenous Persons.
In 2021, the South Dakota Legislature established the office to create an intermediary for law enforcement agencies, both municipal, state, and tribal, to improve communication to better address the MMIP issue. . At first, the office received no funding, leaving the position in limbo.
Then, in February 2022, Native Hope provided the Attorney General’s office with three-year funding after then-Attorney General Jason Ravnsborg failed to secure funding from the Legislature.
Now, six months later, the attorney general is busy hiring someone for the office.
“Resumes of interested candidates are in hand and interviews will begin as soon as possible,” the attorney general’s office said in a statement emailed to KELOLAND News on Friday.
‘It’s Crucial’: Confronting the Crisis in South Dakota
The office is indispensable according to LaToya Lunderman, co-director of the South Dakota Coalition Ending Domestic & Sexual Violence.
“I think it’s very important, I think it’s crucial. I think it was essential that it came from the state of South Dakota to say that, but that too, you know, we have to hold them accountable for that,” Lunderman said.
The coalition primarily works with victims of domestic and sexual violence, as its name suggests, but Lunderman said it also focuses on missing and murdered Indigenous people because the problem has become so huge in Indian Country.
“In the state of South Dakota, there are high rates of trafficking, but also high rates of murder or the taking from the lives of many of our young people,” Lunderman said.
The MMIP issue is not new, but the response at the state and federal levels to address it has taken years to prepare. In 2020, then-President Donald Trump signed into law the Savanna’s Act and the Not Invisible Act. Savanna’s Law strives to improve and clarify state, tribal, and local law enforcement responsibilities, as well as increase interagency communication regarding missing persons. The Not Invisible Act focuses more on coordination and communication to reduce violent crimes against Native Americans.
“And with this federal legislation, it allows tribes like us to be here and see Chongo country, to develop our own responses, to train our law enforcement on what to look for, how to access databases, how to coordinate a little better on the response,” Lunderman explained.
Lunderman added that she feels it is the tribe’s responsibility to hold governments accountable through legislation regarding the MMIP issue.
“So hopefully as a coalition, we can kind of help be that liaison between the two and help empower the tribes and empower the groups, like this, to really take charge and decide how we will react if any of our loved ones here are missing or murdered.
Lunderman said that due to all the jurisdictions and agencies, “chaos ensues.” This chaos could be resolved with a coordinated response, she added.
“So when that happens, we know exactly who to call, who is responsible, where the resources need to go, but we also help them with healing opportunities. Sadly, we have many families here who are grieving whether they saw their loved one murdered or are still looking for one,” Lunderman said.
While Lunderman is happy to see the attorney general’s office working to address the MMIP issue with the new office, she thinks support for Indigenous peoples is now needed.
“Because we can’t wait for positions to be filled, too many of our young people are missing,” Lunderman said.
For Lunderman, these cases are personal. Her nephew, Alize Millard, was killed in 2019 and her family is still demanding justice. Lunderman is also a mother of two daughters.
“And I see what families go through my heart their fate, you know, because the possibility of our daughters or nieces becoming these statistics is very widespread. It’s very real.
Over the past few weeks, KELOLAND News has brought you stories of families impacted by the MMIP crisis in Rosebud and Pine Ridge. That’s just a fraction of the cases here in South Dakota.
“But I think it’s also important to remember that, you know, as we watch and learn these stories, families go home tonight thinking of the loved ones they’ve lost and those who are still missing,” Lunderman said.
“Once you’ve all packed up and left, we’re always here to take care of it, because it’s right here in our house.”
Below is a list of all Native Americans currently missing in South Dakota as of Friday, August 19.
For more MMIP coverage from KELOLAND News, click here.