New Mexico Launches Unit to Investigate Cases of Missing, Murdered Indigenous People

New Mexico has created a specialized investigative unit to help solve the cases of missing and murdered Indigenous people.

State Indian Affairs Secretary Lynn Trujillo and Bernalillo County District Attorney Raul Torrez announced Thursday they were joining forces to create the unit. It was designed in response to New Mexico having the highest reported number of missing or murdered Indigenous people in the country while having only the fifth-highest Native American population.

Ingenious women and children in the state have some of the highest reported numbers of cases for disappearances and murders in the country. Native American women in New Mexico have the most homicides compared to any other group, Torrez said.

"It is clear that steps need to be taken to help bring resources to the victims, families and communities affected by this crisis," he said in a statement. "Working with Native communities and law enforcement to collect actionable data is crucial to moving these cases forward and preventing future violence."

The unit will be within the district attorney's office and will have at least one analyst, an investigator for victim advocacy and potentially two full-time investigators.

Missing and Murdered Indigenous People
New Mexico has created a specialized investigative unit to help solve the cases of missing and murdered Indigenous people. Above, women listen to speakers during a ceremony to commemorate missing and murdered Indigenous people in front of the Montana state Capitol in Helena on May 5, 2021. Iris Samuels/AP Photo

Trujillo said the crisis has its roots in colonialism and racism and is perpetuated by indifference and silence.

"The responsibility falls on each of us to end this historic violence against our indigenous communities, which has devastated us for far too long," said Trujillo, who is a member of Sandia Pueblo and is part Acoma and Taos Pueblos.

Albuquerque and Gallup were among the top 10 cities nationwide. As a result, New Mexico created a task force in 2019 to begin addressing the crisis.

A report issued by the task force said that between 2014 and 2019, there were 660 Native Americans reported missing in Albuquerque, of which 287 were women.

"These alarming statistics highlight the critical need for partnerships, and that's why the MOU between the New Mexico Indian Affairs Department and the Bernalillo County DA's Office is so crucial," Trujillo said.

Navajo Nation Council Delegate Amber Kanazbah Crotty was among those at the signing ceremony. She leads the Missing and Murdered Diné Relatives task force that is developing a framework for a proposed data institute and a missing persons toolkit for communities.

"It is clear that our Indigenous women are plagued by high rates of violence and in response, there continues to be a lack of government support to meet the growing needs of our families," she said.

Crotty added: "In order to restore harmony and begin the healing process, criminal cases must fully be prosecuted and our Indigenous relatives must be found. The lives of our missing Navajo relatives are sacred and their stories must be told."

Under the agreement, the unit within the district attorney's office will help a statewide task force with analysis, case investigations and interventions.

The district attorney's office has dedicated one analyst to reviewing crime data to understand historical patterns related to human trafficking and the intersection of movement of people between the state's tribal communities and the Albuquerque metropolitan area.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

Deaths and Disappearances of Native American women
New Mexico has created a specialized investigative unit to help solve the cases of missing and murdered Indigenous people. Above, a makeshift memorial stands near the scene where Charlene Mancha was murdered by her husband, on the Blackfeet Indian Reservation in Browning, Montana, on July 14, 2018. David Goldman/AP Photo