New ‘Missing and Murdered Indigenous Task Force’ meets for first time at Arizona capitol

Gov. Hobbs created to the task force to address the crisis of why so many native Arizonans disappear or are killed.
Published: May. 8, 2023 at 8:21 PM MST
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PHOENIX (3TV/CBS 5) - Indigenous people with missing and murdered family members have long felt like their voices haven’t been heard and have desperately tried to get more resources and attention on their cases.

Monday was a step in the right direction for Arizona with the first meeting of the new ‘Missing and Murdered Indigenous People’s Task Force.’ It began with heartbreaking words explaining why something like this is necessary. “I’m a survivor. I have not said that until this past year. It’s still fresh in my mind, but I know what it’s like to be missing,” said Wi-Bwa Grey, a task force member, and Salt River Pima Maricopa Indian community council member.

She bravely shared her own personal story. A successful tribal council member, you’d never know the invisible scars she wears. She was taken by someone she knew when she was 20 years old and was missing for two years before she escaped. “Everybody thought I was gone on my own accord, so I know how it feels. My family knows how it feels,” she said through tears. “I knew I had to fight because I was going to be a mom. And I couldn’t have my child, so I fought.”

She’s just one of many members of Governor Katie Hobbs’ new Missing and Murdered Indigenous People’s Task Force created to address the crisis of why so many native Arizonans disappear or are killed. “It will require us to work together to find solutions and take courageous actions to address where we’ve fallen short in the past,” said Gov. Hobbs.

The biggest issues have been jurisdiction - who investigates the case and if they communicate with other agencies? Resources and training: are cases being properly investigated?

Navajo Nation council member Amber Crotty brought up the devastating impact on children, reminding everyone of 11-year-old Ashlynne Mike, who was sexually assaulted and killed by a predator who lured her and her younger brother into his van when they got off the school bus in 2016. “We need communities that are safe, communities where our children can play outside,” said Crotty.

Gov. Hobbs said the task force would collect data, review policies, and make recommendations. Many people on the task force believe those who may make the biggest impact are the young generation of native people, like Jasmine Blackwater-Nygren, the youngest task force member, and wife to Navajo Nation president Buu Nygren, the youngest Navajo Nation president ever. “It’s my hope that my generation, the next generation, can carry on this work and that we can continue to push for solutions and answers,” Blackwater-Nygren said to the task force. “They’re stronger, they’re willing to give it their all, they’re willing to fight back,” said Grey.

New Mexico is a state at the forefront of tackling this crisis. The first lady of the Navajo Nation said they have a task force there, so it’s important for Arizona to catch up and get help to our 22 tribes.

A lot of homicides and disappearances do happen on the reservations because they are so rural and remote. However, the task force said there are still many crimes happening to urban natives who live in Phoenix and Flagstaff. They’re focusing some of their efforts on native people disappearing from sober living homes in the Valley and being exploited.

We want our viewers to know we’re working on a True Crime Arizona documentary about this crisis and some of the cases involved in it that will be airing in June.