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Families of missing and murdered Indigenous women and relatives invite public to Shiprock event

New Mexico has the highest number of missing and murdered indigenous women and relatives in the country, with at least 37 cases reported in Albuquerque. That makes Bernalillo County the second worst in the nation according to the Urban Indian Health Institute. Family members and advocates invite the public to join them in Shiprock this Saturday to remember their missing loved ones. KUNM’s Yasmin Khan spoke with Albuquerque lawyer Darlene Gomez, who is helping organize the event. Gomez says these cases have been neglected for far too long.

DARLENE GOMEZ: So one of the leading issues is jurisdiction, and the lack of resources. When you're talking about native tribes, although they're sovereign, they're dependent on the federal government to prosecute the cases because tribes only have the ability to sentence someone to one year in jail and give them a $5,000 fine. They have their Navajo Nation Police Department, who is not able to have the authority to investigate the missing murder cases, once there is some type of foul play. Then you have the Navajo Nation criminal investigators for individuals where they think there's some kind of foul play. Their caseload could have 1,000 cases that they need to be investigating. The FBI should be called in where when it's a major crime, but oftentimes, they're not

KUNM: How many people are missing nationwide?

GOMEZ: There could be 6,000 missing individuals. And the numbers of data collected in the NamUS system, which is a federal system for missing individuals is only showing are 116 cases of missing Indigenous people, which we know is not the case.

KUNM: How do these gaps in law enforcement jurisdiction and the lack of financial resources in Indian Country affect families?

GOMEZ: Families are not getting the services they need. Their cases are going uninvestigated, there's not going to be crime scene evidence collection that is significant to take a case to prosecution. Some of these cases are misclassified as accidental, some cases are not even investigated at all. And they just close the case, or they just sit on someone's desk.

KUNM: Tell me more about the scope of this problem.

GOMEZ: If you go on any [Indigenous] nation, you can stop and ask an individual, do you know anyone who's murdered or missing? And they will tell you not only one person, but two people and three people these are generations of missing and murdered indigenous people that have got no justice. You have to look at our urban Indians as well, who go missing from Albuquerque, who go missing from Santa Fe who go missing from all these towns within New Mexico.

KUNM: What are families doing?

GOMEZ: I would say 100% of the families are searching for their loved ones on their own. They're spending their own dollars their own gas money. And oftentimes these families are the working poor. So every last dollar they have goes to looking for their loved ones.

KUNM: Tell me about this public event in Shiprock, New Mexico on Saturday.

GOMEZ: So at the event, there's going to be about 20 families who are going to be gathering together to pray, to talk about their stories.

KUNM: Why is it important for non-Native people and those who may not be familiar with the Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Relatives movement and issues to come to this public event?

GOMEZ: Because we are your brothers or your sisters. We are your aunties. We are your grandma. You are us and we are you, whether you are any race. This can happen to anyone. It seems like Indigenous lives do not matter as much as any other life.

For more information about MMIWR and the event in Shiprock, New Mexico at 8 am on January 29, contact the office of Darlene Gomez at mmiw@dargomezlaw.com:

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