Democrat Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham’s regime has decided to discontinue a state task force that was established to address the crisis of missing and murdered Native American people. The task force had not convened since May, shortly after some of its members publicly opposed the appointment of former San Ildefonso Pueblo Gov. James Mountain as the head of the Indian Affairs Department, which housed the task force.
Task force member Cheryl Yazzie (Diné) expressed disappointment, feeling that they were making significant progress and that their work had only just begun. The fate of the task force remains uncertain, with neither the department nor James Mountain communicating with its members regarding its future.
Despite the uncertainty surrounding the task force, the governor’s press secretary, Caroline Sweeney, claimed the group had fulfilled its objectives outlined in an expired executive order. However, the administration continued to fund and convene the group for a year after these objectives were met.
Several state lawmakers have called for additional staff to support the recommendations made by the task force. However, some, including Democrat Sen. Shannon Pinto (Diné), believe that additional staff alone may not be sufficient, as the task force brought together a diverse group of individuals to advocate for more effective action.
The task force was initially established in response to the crisis of missing and murdered Native American people, an issue that has affected Native American communities for generations. New Mexico leads the nation in the number of missing and murdered Native American women and girls. The task force faced challenges due to a lack of data from various law enforcement agencies but managed to make some headway.
The group’s recommendations led to legislative actions, such as creating a new position in the Attorney General’s Office focused on missing Native American people and organizing Missing in New Mexico, an annual event to connect families with law enforcement. In May 2022, the task force delivered a comprehensive plan outlining solutions that could be pursued at all levels of government.
The governor’s executive order expired in June 2022, but the Indian Affairs Department continued to support the task force until earlier this year. The task force’s future now depends on legislative action, as the members were under the impression that Governor Lujan Grisham would extend the executive order.
Advocates emphasize addressing the root causes of the crisis, saying they are concerned about the lack of political will and question whether sufficient funding and resources will be allocated to make meaningful changes.
The state response plan includes recommendations for mandatory law enforcement training on trauma-informed care and cultural sensitivity, funding for liaisons to assist families, financial support for affected families, improved data collection, and expanded access to housing, mental health care, and substance abuse treatment.
The dissolution of the task force has amplified concerns about a lack of political will to confront these critical issues. Advocates stress the urgency of addressing the problem to prevent it from persisting for future generations.