Love will ‘turn the corner’ to prevent violence against Native women

Minnesota task force is part of state’s public safety and judiciary budget

Minnesota Lt. Gov. Peggy Flanagan dropped her 6-year-old daughter off at school Thursday morning. Even though it was the same weekday routine, that morning was different. Flanagan brought her in for a hug, kissed her daughter’s head, and they stood there for a moment.

“Mommy loves you so much,” Flanagan told her. “Be a good friend at school today.” She always tells her this.

Pausing in that moment stood out from other school days.

“And it is that kind of love between a mother and her child that will be the kind of love that helps us turn the corner on this incredibly and horrific issue,” she said standing at the podium in the Minnesota Humanities Center in St. Paul. 

Only 116 cases of missing and murdered Indigenous women and girls were logged in the Department of Justice’s database in 2016 out of approximately 6,000 cases, according to a press release.

“We have all been loved into being here today. The love of those who have gone missing, those who have been murdered, those in our family who experience violence,” Flanagan, White Earth, said still standing at the podium. “We are standing here today despite everything that has been done to us because of love.”

Flanagan stood next to Gov. Tim Walz as he signed the bill that establish the Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women Task Force in the state that was included in the 2019 Omnibus Public Safety and Judiciary budget bill. The bill received bipartisan support.

“Native women and girls are subject to violent crime at alarmingly high rates, and we’re taking action to end this disproportionate epidemic,” Walz said. “That’s why we established a task force to examine the root causes of this violence, collect better data, and provide support to Native families who are caught up in this nightmare.”

The task force is to report to the legislature with recommendations that will “reduce and end violence against Indigenous women and girls in Minnesota.”

“This task force will rely on the experiences of survivors and families as it works towards identifying effective strategies grounded in community,” Flanaga said. “We are witnessing increased awareness around this issue across Minnesota and the country, due to the courage and resilience of Native women who are telling their stories and those of the women we have lost but not forgotten. This task force is long overdue.”

Peggy Flanagan with MMIW Task Force Bill in Minnesota - September 2019
Lt. Gov. Peggy Flanagan, White Earth, poses with the new bill.(Photo by Patty Talahongva)

Flanagan told Indian Country Today that there is a bias from mainstream media and law enforcement when it comes to Native women going missing.

She referred to a Native woman who went missing this past summer. The media reported her missing two weeks after she was reported missing.

“I called the commissioner and said, ‘Do you know this is happening?’ He said, ‘I’m on it. I’m going to call. Then they said, ‘Oh, we thought she was a runaway,’” she said. “And so it’s that kind of bias that happens within our communities all the time where we saw the same thing happen with Savanna Greywind.”

Native journalists and Indian Country know about the issue, she said.

“But dominant culture and mainstream media were not telling the story of what happened,” she said. “And so I think if Savanna had been blonde with blue eyes we would’ve had human chains formed to try and search for evidence in trying to find her” but that didn’t happen because she was a Native woman.

Department of Public Safety Commissioner John Harrington said this will help them “ask the right questions.”

“We measure what we care about and it’s time we start collecting accurate and consistent data on Indigenous women who have been abused and gone missing,” said Harrington.

Twenty-seven members make up the task force where their first report, as part of their duties, is due by December 15, 2020. They are “to advise the Commissioner of Public Safety; to serve as a liaison between the Commissioner of Public Safety, agencies, and organizations that provide legal, social, or other community services; and to report recommendations to the Legislature on how to reduce and end violence against Indigenous women and girls in Minnesota.”

The following members make up the task force:

Luke Hennen
Scott County Sheriff, Minnesota Sheriff’s Association
Law Enforcement Representative

Drew Evans
Superintendent, Bureau of Criminal Apprehension
Law Enforcement Representative

Judge Jeffrey Bryan
Second Judicial District
Legal Field Representative

Deidre Aanstad
Assistant U.S. Attorney, United States Attorney – District of Minnesota
Legal Field Representative

Kim Mammedaty
Hennepin County Attorney, Minnesota County Attorney’s Association
Legal Field Representative

Jon Roesler
Epidemiologist, Minnesota Department of Health Injury and Violence Prevention -Surveillance, Epidemiology, and Analysis Unit
Coroner or Minnesota Department of Health Representative

Patina Park
President and CEO, Minnesota Indian Women's Resource Center
Advocacy Representative

Nicole Matthews
Executive Director, Minnesota Indian Women's Sexual Assault Coalition
Advocacy Representative

Alyxis Feltus
Coalition Director, Mending the Sacred Hoop
Advocacy Representative

Sheila Lamb
Advocate, Life House
Advocacy Representative

Chris Stark
Advocacy Representative

Brook LaFloe
Program Manager, Women’s Foundation of Minnesota
Advocacy Representative

Panda Whiteman
Victim Services Coordinator
Bois Forte Band of Chippewa

Roger Smith, Sr.
District III RBC Member
Fond du Lac Band of Lake Superior Chippewa

Jacki Kozlowski
Domestic Violence Advocate
Grand Portage Band of Lake Superior Chippewa

Brian Pottratz
Human Trafficking Investigator
Leech Lake Band of Ojibwe

Debra Flute
Assistant General Counsel
Lower Sioux Indian Community

Nicole Anderson
Commissioner of Health and Human Services
Mille Lacs Band of Ojibwe

Jacole Hersant
Family Services Specialist
Prairie Island Indian Community

Michelle Mountain
DV/SV Advocate, Chemical Assessor
Red Lake Nation

Denise Prescott
Community Member
Shakopee Mdewakanton Sioux Community

Chris Lee
Police Chief
Upper Sioux Community

Tanya Vold (Appointment Pending)
Program Manager DOVE
White Earth Nation

Senator Paul Utke
Minnesota Senate Majority Member

Senator Patricia Torres Ray
Minnesota Senate Minority Member

Representative Mary Kunesh-Podein
Minnesota House of Representatives Majority Member

Representative Sondra Erickson
Minnesota House of Representatives Minority Member

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Jourdan Bennett-Begaye, Diné, is the Washington editor for Indian Country Today based in Washington, D.C. Follow her on Twitter: @jourdanbb. Email: jbennett-begaye@indiancountrytoday.com

Video produced by Patty Talahongva and edited by Jourdan Bennett-Begaye.

Patty Talahongva contributed to this report.

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