Human Trafficking Crisis Worsens in Indian Country, say Tribal Legislators

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Nobody knows how many Indigenous people go missing or are murdered every year on long-neglected reservations such as Rosebud, SD., but tribal governments are renewing pressure on federal and state authorities to devote more resources to the crisis, reports NPR. There are signs that’s starting to happen. Molina Richards, a friend to the family of a 19-year old Indigenous girl who was found dead in 2019 after disappearing in the 1,900-square-mile reservation in one of the most isolated parts of the lower 48 states, recently won a grant from CARES Act funds available to tribes to open a shelter for women and homeless teens on the reservation. The first-of-its-kind safe house will be a badly needed refuge for people who are otherwise walking out in the cold all night, organizers said, moving from boarded up gang-run houses, to drug parties, their feet swollen, or far worse.

Meanwhile, President Joe Biden’s pick as Secretary of Interior, Rep. Deb Haaland (D-N.M.) appears to be gathering support in the Senate after initial Republican opposition. Haaland, who would be the first Native American to hold the post, is seen as a key step forward in reforming Washington policy in Indian country. She will have an uphill challenge in reservations like Rosebud, where unemployment is high and communities have some of the lowest life expectancy rates in the nation; but when it comes to human trafficking, the first target of reformers will be state houses. South Dakota State Rep. Peri Pourier, a Democrat who represents the Pine Ridge Reservation to the west of Rosebud, recently convinced her Republican colleagues to overwhelmingly pass a bill that, if signed by Gov. Kristi Noem, would create a full-time missing indigenous persons specialist in the state Attorney General’s office. Of the 109 people currently listed as missing in South Dakota, 77 are believed to be Indigenous.  The new missing persons liaison would be tasked with coordinating with the FBI and various tribal law enforcement agencies to investigate the unsolved crimes. South Dakota tribes are also committing to help the state lobby the federal government for more resources.

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