Group highlights problem of missing and murdered Native people
January 07, 2019 06:54 AM
ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. - There’s a silent crisis affecting many Native American communities in our state and across the country. A lot of Indigenous women are missing. Many of them are mysteriously murdered and get no justice.
Native leaders say this problem is not getting the attention it deserves. That is, until now.
"Her full name is Katcinski Ariel Begay, but her first name is hard to pronounce so everyone calls her Ariel,” said Valya Cisco as she looks over faded photographs of her older sister. She remembers these special moments forever frozen in time.
"She was beautiful, she was kind. She was very smart, smarter than me,” she said.
Ariel was about to make her way in this world. She graduated from a medical assistant program and had dreams of becoming a nurse. But that would never happen. She went missing in July 2017 and was last seen leaving her mom's house.
"We tried calling her phone and it would ring but would just go to voicemail and eventually it would just go straight to voicemail,” said Cisco.
They filed a missing person's report with Navajo Police and held search parties. Three months later, Ariel's remains were found in a canyon on the reservation. Cicso says officials believe she was murdered and no one has been arrested.
The Navajo Nation is vast spanning three states. It has a population of roughly 350-thousand people with small communities peppered throughout. With so much open space, there's plenty of room for secrets.
"It's starting to be more and more every week there's, you know, individuals going missing,” said Meskee Yatsayte founder of Navajo Nation Missing Persons Group.
She says she's tracking 40 cases that go back to the 1950s and that it's a problem that many people on the reservation are talking about but she wonders is anyone listening.
Ariel's case brought Yatsayte and Cisco together. They are now on a mission to highlight the growing problem of missing and murdered native people. They pass out fliers of the missing and hold vigils. Yatsayte believes there are hundreds more cases that need attention and those doing the killing think they can get away with it because of the lack of investigative resources. The FBI investigates the most serious kind of crime in Indian country, including murder, while local authorities look into missing person cases.
“I don't think anyone could really tell you why it's happening. There's suspicion of human trafficking,” said Yatsayte.
This problem is widespread in Native communities across the country that it's caught the attention of federal lawmakers.
The U.S. Senate held a committee meeting with Indian country leaders in December to find solutions to the missing and murdered problem. Navajo Nation Council Delegate Amber Crotty is on the task force.
"On the nation what we're finding is because of our jurisdictions and the complications, victims of violence in particular murdered and missing girls, fall through the cracks when we look into these inter-governmental agencies,” said Kanazbah Crotty.
She says there's a big disconnect among tribal, state and federal authorities when sharing information and that needs to be addressed. Kanazbah Crotty says it should also not be just assumed that people are leaving on their own.
"What we see when listening to the stories, in particular with human trafficking victims, we see that there was some type of coercion, exploitation, some type of shame, fear so the missing and especially with social media and access to the internet, we see very few cases where people want to disappear and leave on their own,” she said.
Along with more communication training, she says native communities are going to need sustainable funding to address these issues head on.
"We are not numbers, we are people. We are here. And we should not be forgotten,” said Yatsayte.
She says they meet every month now with tribal officials to go over missing and murdered cases. That’s an effort that began very recently.
Cisco says the stress of her sister's mysterious death took a toll on her mother's health and she has since died. So she's taken on the task of reaching out to authorities constantly to learn any developments in her sister's case. For now, questions remain.
"Just waiting, waiting patiently for the local authorities to serve justice and get this person, this dangerous person away from other women children and family members,” she said.
Created: January 07, 2019 06:54 AM
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