Gov. Doug Ducey, lawmakers and advocates gathered on the third floor of the historic state Capitol building Tuesday morning for a ceremonial signing of a bill that creates a study committee to examine the issue of murdered and missing indigenous women and girls.
House Bill 2570, introduced by Rep. Jennifer Jermaine, D-Chandler, was officially signed by the governor in May. It creates a committee to study murders of indigenous women and girls, often referred to as MMIWG cases. Under the bill, the committee will submit a detailed report to the governor and state legislators.
The committee is hoping to start late this month or early next month, said Jermaine and Sen. Victoria Steele, D-Tucson, the architects of the legislation.
“Sadly, this issue is nothing new,” Ducey said before the ceremonial signing. “Our goal, to determine how Arizona can reduce and end violence against indigenous women and girls.”
The bill establishes a 21-member study committee which will consist of members of indigenous communities, neighboring communities, law enforcement and social services.
“I’m overwhelmed,” Steele told the Arizona Mirror while holding back tears after the ceremony. “I could not be happier, but at the same time, while we are putting together our study committee my biggest fear is more women and girls are going missing.”
A previous analysis by the Arizona Mirror of the sparse publicly available data on MMIWG cases found that more than 25 percent of murders involving idigenous women in Arizona go unsolved.
Additionally, the Murder Accountability Project found that one in three murders of Native Americans in Arizona go unreported to the FBI.
“I’m really anxious to get going,” Steele said.
Jermaine echoed Steele’s feelings and said that the committee will be tackling the problem from a “public health perspective.”
“My hope is that, at the end of this study, we will be able to hand our tribal nations back a dataset that they can turn around and apply for the federal grants for murdered and missing indigenous women and girls,” Jermaine said.
Who will be on the committee hasn’t been finalized yet.
Second Lady of the Navajo Nation Dottie Lizer has been nominated to be on the committee and is eagerly waiting to find out if she will be appointed.
She has a personal connection to the issue: In 2015, a woman she knew went missing, only to be found dead outside of Albuquerque. As is the case in many MMIWG cases, the trail went cold.
“It’s not talked about a lot,” Lizer said. She said that, growing up, her mother often wanted to keep news about things like MMIWG “hush hush,” and that breaking a culture of silence might be part of the solution.
Gila River Indian Community Councilwoman Monica Antone sees it a little differently.
Antone said it is more of an issue with data reporting and cooperation between neighboring municipalities.
Her community is surrounded by several communities, which has led her to wonder how each is classifying and reporting interactions with members of her community.
“We’re probably going to see a high rise,” Antone said of the numbers once the committee really begins digging in.
Antone said that the other big thing that the committee may want to look at next is prevention.
Getting children educated on violence, sex trafficking, bullying and other issues is a key to preventing MMIWG cases.
Furthermore, Antone stressed that the committee’s work won’t be just on women and girls. The language of the bill also does state that men and LGBT will be looked into as well.
“It’s a great day for victims and survivors,” she added.