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Navajo Nation First Lady Phefelia Nez Shares Her Work On Missing And Murdered Indigenous Women


New Mexico PBS correspondent Antonia Gonzales talks with Navajo Nation First Lady Phefelia Nez about her work in New Mexico and Arizona on the issue of Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women. Nez serves on the New Mexico task force that just announced suggestions for dealing with this problem. First Lady Nez also discusses upcoming efforts to educate and provide resources to tribal members.

PHEFELIA NEZ: I have been working with the task force and for the Navajo Nation, from the Office of the First Lady and Second Lady. A lot of our efforts have been revolving around just educating the public on MMIW and then as well as human trafficking, because there is a connection there definitely, but it’s not one and the same. And then we’ve been reaching out to Arizona’s Governor’s Human Trafficking and Advisory Council and then New Mexico Human Trafficking Task Force. So, it's been a lot of efforts of partnering with them to educate the public on some of these items. 

NM PBS: And the task force here in New Mexico recently released a report of the work and recommendations for the Governor and also New Mexico state lawmakers. What is the top priority that the task force found that needs to be done to address missing and murdered Indgienous people in New Mexico?


NEZ: It would be data collection. You know, there’s numerous tribes and pueblos in New Mexico and every one of those tribes and pueblos, we have our own tribal justice systems, everyone has their own laws. And so, as sovereign nations, it's really something that needs to be addressed internally. But then of course, we want to keep support of the state of New Mexico. So, it would be a partnership across jurisdictions, and also with the federal institutions as well. 


NM PBS: How is working with law enforcement key in addressing this issue?

NEZ: A lot of it starts with reporting. And the second step in that is the actual classifications. And so when you’re looking at different databases, they don’t all collect the same types of information. And the other important factor here is accessibility. Who gets access to these data collection centers and how are they utilized? So, when we’re talking about collaborations and partnering, we can’t force another jurisdiction or, like for Navajo Nation, we wouldn’t be able to like, strong arm any border town or any county, or any state, court system, or PD to give us information. So, it really has to be done in a collaborative effort, I think that’s always been the greatest barrier. 

NM PBS: What kind of resources are needed to look, study, create a database, and just keep this movement of MMIW and other missing persons going? 

NEZ: In terms of database, I think, for example, some of our tribal members they have memberships, or they’re either married or have children in other tribal communities. So, when you have two tribal communities who don’t share the same database, it’s really hard to even connect in those ways. But, the other one that we see first hand on tribal communities, is the reluctance to even report certain things to law enforcement and then of course you have to look at if there’s an incident that occurs off the Nation, you’re looking at either working with a city, county, or state. And then of course when the federal justice system gets involved, that’s a whole different layer. So, every case is not always going to be the same, and I think that’s where there’s a lot of confusion. 

NM PBS: And can you share some information about some of the work the Navajo Nation in particular is doing on missing and murdered Indgienous people. 

NEZ: A lot of education and prevention efforts. In the future, we would like to see more in terms of reporting. But of course for anyone to report anything, they need to know what it is that they’re looking for and how some of these things occur. And so maybe that’s the reason why we don't have many people reporting, because they don't know what it is that they are really seeing and witnessing, and happening in their own communities.