Bill to Address Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women Moves Through MN House

Mysti Babineau testifies. HF70 author Rep. Mary Kunesh-Podein sits to her right.

Mysti Babineau, an enrolled member of the Red Lake Nation, endured horrific trauma growing up, one of many unknown stories of missing and murdered indigenous women and girls. Babineau is a survivor who lived to tell her story.

“I was raped for the first time when I was 9 by a boyfriend of my foster mom at the time,” Babineau told members of the House Public Safety and Criminal Justice Reform Finance and Policy Division Tuesday. “When I was 12, I witnessed my grandmother murdered in front of me. I watched her attacker go after my mother and after me. I fought for my life … I have the scars on my hands today.”

“When I was 20, I was kidnapped. I was taken over 60 miles from my home. I was held and I was raped. I got away.”

Babineau and other indigenous women shared their painful stories to gain support for HF70, a bill carried by Rep. Mary Kunesh-Podein (D-New Brighton) to create a Task Force on Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women (MMIW), a beginning step in addressing this ongoing crisis.

Bill supporters packed the large Senate hearing room.

HF70 passed the committee on a unanimous voice vote. A similar bill passed last year but it was included in an omnibus bill that ultimately got vetoed.  Babineau begged committee members to not allow the bill to become a “bargaining chip” at the end of this year’s legislative session.

Division Chair Rep. Carlos Mariani (D-St. Paul) said the bill would move independently through the legislative process.

One indication of the importance of this bill, three elected officials who were not on the committee sat in on the hearing — Sen. Patricia Torres Ray (D-Minneapolis), Rep. Aisha Gomez (D-Minneapolis) and Rep. Hodan Hassan (D-Minneapolis).

The Task Force

One of the unique challenges to addressing missing and murdered indigenous women are the numerous jurisdictions (at the tribal, local, state and federal level) involved and the poor data collection and information sharing. One recent study recommended by Rep. Kunesh-Podein — Murdered and Missing Indigenous Women and Girls — explains the problem:

The National Crime Information Center reports that, in 2016, there were 5,712 reports of missing American Indian and Alaska Native women and girls, though the US Department of Justice’s federal
missing persons database, NamUs, only logged 116 cases. …

As demonstrated by the findings of this study, reasons for the lack of quality data include underreporting, racial misclassification, poor relationships between law enforcement and American Indian and Alaska Native communities, poor record-keeping protocols, institutional racism in the media, and a lack of substantive relationships between journalists and American Indian and Alaska Native communities.

HF70 creates a large task force to get key stakeholders at the table talking to each other and focused on this issue. The Task Force would include: two representatives each from the House and the Senate, two representatives from law enforcement (such as the Minnesota Chiefs of Police Association or the Minnesota Sheriff’s Association) one or more representatives from prosecutors (such as the Minnesota County Attorney’s Association or the U.S. Attorney’s Office), a county coroner or representative from the Minnesota Department of Health, two representatives from tribal governments, and four or more representatives from organizations serving indigenous people who have suffered sexual assault and/or survivors of such violence.

Powerful Testimony

Dolly Boswell (center) and mother Geraldine Jackson (right).

Babineau said she wanted to highlight the fact that her story is not rare. Most of her sisters had something similar happen to them.

Also testifying was Dolly Boswell, the sister of JoJo Boswell who went missing in 2005. Jojo was arrested in Hennepin County in July, 2005 for charges in Owatonna, Boswell said. She was transferred to Owatonna.

“She was released from the jail on July 11 and she never made it back to Minneapolis,” she said.

Boswell tried to report her sister missing, but was told she had to wait 48 hours. She waited the 48 hours and then faced a dispute on responsibility between Owatonna and Minneapolis, she said. The message she got from law enforcement was they had more important things to do. Boswell said one person told her: “Call me when she returns home.”

“I’m hopeful that somebody will come forward years later and let us know what happened and where she’s at,”Boswell said, fighting back tears.

(For more on Jojo’s case, see KSTP’ April 2, 2017 story: Family Feels Race is Factor in Lack of Coverage About Missing Minneapolis Woman.)

File photo: Mary Lyons, Anishinaabe kwe elder.

Missing and murdered indigenous women was not some isolated issue that emerged out of nowhere but something with deep historical roots. Mary Lyons, an Anishinaabe elder, spoke such truths to committee members, noting that indigenous girls experienced rape and murder in the religious boarding schools, she said.

Lyons spoke of the historical trauma indigenous peoples experienced by having white society dismantle their cultures and traditions and forcing white values on them

Lyons’ comments reflected on why missing and murdered indigenous women can remain invisible in the white world. She borrowed from a recent blog: Nothing But The Truth: A Word to White America After the “Recent Unpleasantness” in Washington, D.C.), written by Marcia Mount Shoop, a white author. Said Lyons:

White people are famous for their fragility, for their need to be right, for their discomfort with criticism, for their inability to listen and honor perspectives other than our own. … [And white people] are famous for trying to normalize [their] violent ways of dealing with problems. …

This has been a historical habit in America—white people get to say what the objective facts are, with little or no acknowledgment that other perspectives and experiences have validity.

HF70 now moves to the House Ways and Means Committee.

2 thoughts on “Bill to Address Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women Moves Through MN House

  1. What a painful but vitally important post. Thank you so much for keeping us informed. It’s late, so late for this, but still so needed.

    Like

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