ST. PAUL – Today, a bipartisan bill that would create a Governor’s Task Force on Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women received a second hearing before the Minnesota House Public Safety Committee. The bill is chief-authored by State Rep. Mary Kunesh-Podein (DFL-New Brighton) in collaboration with members of the DFL Native American Caucus. The bill (HF 3375) received overwhelming support from the bipartisan group of legislators on the committee, and will be considered for inclusion in an omnibus Public Safety bill. It seeks to address the nationwide problem of Native women being victims of violent crime. In some regions of Minnesota, Native women are murdered at rates that are more than 10 times the national average.
Rep. Kunesh-Podein first called for a Governor’s task force in March to exclusively address the endemic crisis of missing and murdered Native women in Minnesota. Nationwide, Native women suffer from violence at a rate two and a half times greater than any other group.
“The violence against our Indigenous women is staggering and heartbreaking,” says Rep. Kunesh-Podein. “These are our sisters, our mothers, our daughters, our aunts, our colleagues, and our neighbors. These women are Minnesotans and we are failing to protect them. No family should watch a loved one walk out the door and not know if they will see them again."
Mary Lyons, an Ojibwe Elder, spoke to the Public Safety Committee in support of the task force’s creation. Minnesota Sioux and Ojibwe community and tribal leaders have also submitted letters of support for Rep. Kunesh-Podein’s legislation and look forward to addressing this issue with the Legislature and state agencies.
“This task force will help us say to the attackers ‘We’ll find you, and we’ll let the world know,’” said Lyons, who will also be sharing her experiences at the United Nations. “I want to be able to tell the UN that Minnesota is doing something positive about this problem.”
Currently, there is no system in place to collect comprehensive data on missing and murdered Native women in Minnesota. The task force will cost less than $200,000 for the first two years of coordination with the Commissioner of Public Safety, state, tribal, federal, and non-governmental agencies to develop appropriate methods for tracking and collecting data including better providing a better definition to the coordinated efforts to end the violence against Indigenous women.
The task force will provide analysis regarding the systemic causes behind the number of missing Native American women in the state to law enforcement, policymakers and the public.
“Violence disproportionately inflicted on Native women is not a new trend,” said Rep. Jamie Becker-Finn (DFL-Roseville). “This is not only a problem in tribal communities, it is a problem that affects Native women living in Minneapolis and St. Paul and the suburbs and small towns throughout Minnesota. This sadness and trauma spans generations and this violence and loss continues today. It is long past time we do something about it.”
“This task force is a crucial step in ensuring that Native women and girls are seen, heard, valued, and believed,” said Rep. Peggy Flanagan (DFL – St. Louis Park). “I’m honored and humbled to be a co-author of this bill.”
“Thank you to Rep. Kunesh-Podein for bringing this important bill forward and to all who shared stories of lossed loved ones, and hope that more will be done to stop the violence,” said Rep. Susan Allen (DFL – Minneapolis).
The task force will report annually to the legislature, providing recommendations to reduce and end violence against Indigenous women and girls in Minnesota, including any proposed legislation that may be needed to confront the problem. When Rep. Kunesh-Podein’s proposed legislation is signed into law, the task force could go into effect as early as October of this year.
Rep. Kunesh-Podein is a descendant of the Standing Rock Lakota. Rep. Becker-Finn is a descendant of the Leech Lake Ojibwe. Rep. Peggy Flanagan is a member of the White Earth Band of Ojibwe. Rep. Susan Allen is a member of the Rosebud Sioux Tribe. They are members of the DFL Native American Caucus in the Minnesota House of Representatives.