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New task force created to track violence and missing native females in Minnesota

June 10, 2019 08:13 AM

Every year, an untold number of Native American women in Minnesota have vanished, or worse, have been killed.

It's been a decades-long struggle to determine just how many and why. That's because there hasn't been a state or national database to track the incidents.

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Plus often times, cases get lost in a confusing web of jurisdictional conflict between tribal, federal, state and local police. A study by the Urban Indian Health Institute ranked Minnesota number nine out the top 10 list of states with the highest number of unsolved murders or disappearances.

 "It's unacceptable that an individual should suffer a higher rate of violence because of where they're born," according to US Attorney Erica MacDonald. 

The Minnesota US Attorney's Office and FBI are part of a team which investigates and prosecutes crimes on native land. Experts say missing persons cases often prove to be particularly challenging.

"Missing persons cases in general are hard because you have a perpetrator and a missing individual, often times you might not have a witness to that or evidence and cell phone service isn't reliable on remote reservations,"Jill Sanborn, special agent in charge of the FBI in Minneapolis, said.

For all of those reasons and more, at the end of the legislative session in May, state lawmakers approved $150,000 in funding to create the historic Task Force for Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women. Rep. Mary Kunesh-Podein, DFL-New Brighton, pushed for the new legislation.

"Members will be tasked with streamlining the collection and sharing of data among agencies, then we'll look at the historic trauma, how to address it, acknowledge it and come up with ways to stop this kind of violence against women, give them more access to reporting it to somebody who is doing something about it, that will go investigate in a timely way in a very intentional way," Kunesh-Podein said. 

The task force will be comprised of people from 27 different agencies from tribal officials, to tribal members, law enforcement, attorneys, culturally specific trauma personnel and more. The first report is due to lawmakers by December 2020.  

The measure still needs the signature of Gov. Tim Walz who has indicated his support.

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Beth McDonough

Copyright 2019 - KSTP-TV, LLC A Hubbard Broadcasting Company

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