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Arizona ranks third highest in missing indigenous people across the country

Published: Oct. 1, 2021 at 6:57 PM MST
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TUCSON, Ariz. (KOLD News 13) - Across the country, Arizona has the third highest number of missing indigenous people, according to a study done by the Urban Indian Health Institute.

Arizona is home to 22 federally recognized tribes, making up about 7.5% of the state’s more than seven million people.

The issue of missing indigenous people has become a bigger problem than other areas. More than 160 Native American women and girls are known to be missing over the past four decades.

The Pascua Yaqui Tribe’s Attorney General Alfred Urbina says, that is in part due to the number of reservations or lack of housing on reservations.

“There’s also issues that are connected to this matter like problems with criminal jurisdiction, the lack of law enforcement in the investigations that happen sometimes on reservations. That’s a historic issue,” he said.

Urbina says it gets complicated in terms of who investigates a missing persons case or other violent matters on reservations involving tribal victims.

“The fact that reservations are removed, you don’t hear a lot about these communities,” Urbina added.

If it’s a missing person, it will generally be investigated by the tribal law enforcement department. If it’s a homicide, it’s likely to be investigated by federal agents.

“There are men and women who have been victimized who have not seen any justice, not just recently but in years. They haven’t received a response or they’ve received a poor response from the investigative team, whether it be local law enforcement, tribal law enforcement or the FBI,” Urbina said.

An Arizona study about reducing missing and murdered indigenous woman and girls recommends that authorities develop an approach to close law enforcement gaps.

“If it comes out that there’s something suspicious behind their disappearance that might fall into whether they are a danger to themselves or others, they can reach out to us and we do assist, but we just won’t go on the reservation. There’s tribal laws and there’s state laws,” said Sgt. James Brown with the Pima County Sheriff’s Department.

He adds that if it is a case that is strictly on the reservation, tribal law enforcement would be the ones to handle it unless they reach out for county assistance.

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