States weigh bills addressing Native deaths, disappearances

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. (AP) — Lawmakers in at least seven states have introduced legislation to address the unsolved deaths and disappearances of numerous Native American women and girls.

The legislation calls for state-funded task forces and other actions amid deepening concerns that law enforcement agencies lack the data and resources to understand the scope of the crisis .

On some reservations, federal studies have shown Native American women are killed at more than 10 times the national average.

"This is not about a trend that is popular this year," said state Rep. Derrick Lente, a Democrat who is co-sponsoring a measure in New Mexico. "It's really to bring to light the number of indigenous people who are going missing."

An Associated Press review of the bills found that mostly Native American lawmakers in Minnesota, the Dakotas, Montana, Washington, New Mexico and Arizona have sponsored measures on the issue.

In AP interviews last year, families described feeling dismissed after initially reporting cases of missing female relatives to police. An examination of records found there was no single government database tracking all known cases of missing Native American women.

In Montana, a bill named for Hanna Harris – a 21-year-old found slain on the Northern Cheyenne Reservation in July 2013 – proposes that state authorities hire a specialist responsible for entering cases into databases.

Under Hanna's Act, the state Department of Justice employee would also serve as a liaison for tribal, federal and state authorities and families after a Native American is reported missing.

"To us we've seen study bill after study bill," Peppers said. "Why waste money on a study bill when the issue was right in front of us?"

Peppers, whose district spans the Northern Cheyenne and Crow reservations, lives in Lame Deer, a small community where Harris' body was found days after she was first reported missing.