MMIWG study committee looking to interview families and survivors




Activists march for missing and murdered Indigenous women at the Women's March California 2019 on January 19, 2019, in Los Angeles. Photo by Sarah Morris | Getty Images

Arizona’s study committee on murdered or missing indigenous women or girls is seeking to speak with family members of murdered or missing loved ones or those who themselves have gone missing but were later located. 

The study committee will submit a detailed report to Gov. Doug Ducey and state legislators to guide policy changes to help with the growing concern around the cases, which are often referred to by the abbreviation MMIWG. 

As previously reported, the Murder Accountability Project found that one in three murders of Native Americans in Arizona go unreported to the FBI, and a previous analysis by the Mirror of the sparse publicly available data on MMIWG cases found that more than 25% of murders involving idigenous women in Arizona go unsolved.

The 21-member study committee, which consists of members of indigenous communities, neighboring communities, law enforcement and social services, has been working on gathering data despite the constraints of the ongoing pandemic, said state Rep. Jennifer Jermaine. 

Since March, when the Navajo Nation implemented a lockdown due to COVID-19, the committee’s work has been virtua, said Jermaine, a Chander Democrat who spearheaded the creation of the committee.  

The committee has gathered data from a variety of sources, but now its members are hoping to speak with those who have been directly impacted. 

Originally, they had intended to have social workers interface directly with family members and victims to obtain interviews, but because of COVID-19 limitations, the committee has realized that is no longer possible. 

The aim of the interviews is to speak with family members and victims to get an understanding of how the systems worked — or didn’t work — in order to help guide future policy changes. 

For example, Jermaine and the committee have already begun to identify one issue. 

The state’s Victim Compensation Fund allows those who have been the victim of a crime to get money to help them with needs they cannot meet.

But in many MMIWG cases that involve adults, no police report is created because law enforcement operates under the assumption that the person is not “missing,” but has left willingly. The fund requires victims to have a police report to apply for help. 

“We want to know how to make this system better,” Jermaine said, adding that the interviews will help them get a better understanding of how MMIWG cases have fallen through the cracks. She said she doesn’t have any other ideas on policies at the moment as the committee is “laser focused” on continuing their work.

Interviews will be confidential and kept out of the public record, Jermaine said the committee won’t even be able to see the names of those who have been interviewed. 

“It’s an opportunity to tell your story,” Jermaine said. “We’re not a law enforcement team and so we can’t investigate anything but we are interested in hearing your story.”

Those who live outside of tribal areas can interview right away as they won’t have to sign a mutual agreement between the Arizona State government and Tribal government saying that there will be cultural sensitivity and respect during the process. 

Anyone looking to participate is urged to contact Valaura Imus-Nahsonhoya at 602-975-1240. 

More information on the interview process and who to contact can be found here.