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Congresswoman Melanie Stansbury on her fight for Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Relatives

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Melanie A. Stansbury

The issue of missing and murdered Indigenous women and relatives is a national crisis, especially here in New Mexico, which leads the country in the number of cases. Congresswoman Melanie Stansbury made the issue a big focus of her campaign earlier this year. KUNM’s Taylor Velazquez spoke with the Congresswoman about how she’s working to address the issue at a national level.

CONGRESSWOMAN MELANIE STANSBURY: Right now, there's just a ton of work happening at the federal level to try to address this crisis. But the work in Congress is really to make sure that these agencies have the funding and the focus and the statutory authorities to do that work. 

We're also working on appropriations bill is still in Congress and Secretary Haaland put forward an initiativein the budget for the Department of Interior that we're hoping to get funding across the finish line for to help support that work. And we're still trying to get theViolence Against Women Act passed in the Senate, which includes really important statutory language to address non-tribal member violence against women and relatives from Indigenous communities.

KUNMAnd going off your point about the importance of lifting up Indigenous voices. During your campaign, you said we must continue to fight to address the system of violence against Indigenous women. One of your suggestions was expanding crisis management for survivors and families. What does this look like to you? And how will you simultaneously address systemic racism that impacts these cases?

STANSBURY: When you're dealing with structural racism and historical challenges that run so deep, there's so much work that has to be done. From the perspective of survivors and families and individuals who are experiencing violence. We really need to make sure that there are enough resources within Indigenous communities and surrounding communities so that people have safe places to go. 

And one of the things that we see is that New Mexico has the highest rates of missing and murdered Indigenous relatives in the entire country. And one of the biggest challenges from a law enforcement and justice standpoint, is that cross jurisdictional coordination and tracking and making sure that when people go missing that the correct authorities are notified that their cases are being monitored, especially in non-Indigenous communities.

KUNM: And continuing on the topic of law enforcement. I've spoken with a few survivors who experienced violence, one of the major frustrations they expressed was jurisdictional issues. How can we better ensure cooperation amongst law enforcement agencies?

STANSBURY: The New Mexico Task Force, a number of the major recommendations that came out of the work that they did talking to leaders and survivors and people on the ground, was really a focus on data, in particular, in ensuring that cases get trapped across law enforcement jurisdictions. And I think more than anything, it's really a dedicated sense of leadership and cooperation across law enforcement between tribal law enforcement, federal law enforcement, and local and state jurisdictions that really prioritizes Indigenous people and the individuals who are missing or who are seeking help or justice.

KUNMAnd my last question for you, what plans do you have for the future when it comes to fighting for missing and murdered Indigenous women and relatives?

STANSBURY: So, in terms of what the future looks like, I think that it's crucial that we continue to shine a light on this issue at the national level, at the international level, because this is a phenomenon that not only affects Indigenous peoples in New Mexico, it actually impacts Indigenous women all across the world.

And we have to continue to be fighting for resources to make sure that we can support our local leaders, our advocates, the survivors, the people doing the work on the ground, to collaborate and consult with tribal leaders to address these issues at the community level, work with our state and federal partners, especially to address these issues across jurisdictions and to really, really focus and fight for the dollars that are needed to support these programs to support people who are doing the work and to get critical legislation passed like the Violence Against Women Act across the finish line.

Taylor is a reporter with our Poverty and Public Health project. She is a lover of books and a proud dog mom. She's been published in Albuquerque The Magazine several times and enjoys writing about politics and travel.