MMIWR Task Force members threaten to resign over governor appointee

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SANTA FE, N.M. — Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham has appointed James Mountain to head the Indian Affairs Department.

Concerns have been raised about a 2007 rape charge against Mountain that was later dismissed.

Now he’s poised to head the Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Relatives (MMIWR) Task Force for the state – an agency meant to protect Indigenous people from that type of violence.

Janene Yazzie is a survivor of sexual assault and co-founder of Diné Sáanii for Justice, a group formed to advocated for missing and murdered Indigenous women in New Mexico. Yazzie says the community is angry.

“I think it feels very much like the status quo, like it’s not completely shocking, because this is one of the issues that we are dealing with,” Yazzie said. “But it is disappointing, considering that we really saw our governor as an ally and a compassionate leader that listens to us. But right now, it doesn’t feel that way.”

The Senate has not confirmed Mountain yet. Even if they don’t, he could still hold the position as secretary-designate.

Mountain’s appointment has members of the MMIWR Task Force ready to quit.

“It made me proud that we have individuals on that task force who take this job and this responsibility very seriously,” Yazzie said.

Maddy Hayden, director of communications with the governor’s office, provided the following statement to KOB 4:

Secretary-designate Mountain has worked within and across tribal communities for many years, including the last two with this administration, where he has been integral in carrying out many of the top priorities of the pueblos, tribes and nations of New Mexico. He also served as the elected governor of San Ildefonso Pueblo from 2006-2007 and 2015-2017.   

At this point in the session, we are prioritizing the confirmation of regents, as they cannot begin work in any capacity without being confirmed. We plan to submit Secretary-designate Mountain for confirmation. If necessary, we will continue the confirmation process with the Senate Rules Committee in the interim.

The governor believes that vetting these candidates is crucial, and that process was completed with Secretary-designate Mountain. As with any other leadership position, if there are any substantiated allegations against an individual, that would be cause for significant concern and likely disqualification from holding such a position. We are certainly not in receipt of any such allegations nor is anyone else, to our knowledge. We would strongly encourage anyone with substantiated allegations to bring them to light.