Representative Mary Kunesh-Podein called for a Governor’s task force to exclusively address the endemic crisis of missing and murdered Native women in Minnesota.
Today in St. Paul, Minnesota, two of four Minnesota Native American legislators, Rep. Kunesh-Podein, a descendant of the Standing Rock Lakota Tribe and Rep. Becker-Finn, a descendant of the Leech Lake Ojibwe, called for a Governor’s Task Force to stop violence against Indigenous women.
Nationwide, Native women suffer from violence at a rate two and a half times greater than any other group. In some regions of Minnesota, Native women are murdered at rates that are more than 10 times the national average.
Representative Mary Kunesh-Podein (DFL–New Brighton) called for a Governor’s task force at a press conference this morning to exclusively address the crisis in Minnesota.
“The violence against our Indigenous women is staggering and heartbreaking,” said Rep. Kunesh-Podein. “These are our sisters, our mothers, our daughters, our aunts, our colleagues, and our neighbors. These women are Minnesotans and we are failing to protect them. No family should watch a loved one walk out the door and not know if they will see them again.”
“My cousin, Rebecca Anderson, was murdered in 2015 in South Minneapolis,” said Korina Barry, a member of the Leech Lake Ojibwe at the press conference. Rebecca Anderson was also a member of the Mille Lacs/Leech Lake Ojibwe.
“Today, her children live without their mother. Our family has not received justice. Rebecca’s story is one of many missing and murdered Indigenous women in Minnesota,” said Barry.
According to Rep Kunesh-Podein’s office, there is no system in place to collect comprehensive data on missing and murdered Native women in Minnesota. The task force will cost less than a $1 million a year and work with the Commissioner of Public Safety, state, tribal, federal, and non-governmental agencies to develop appropriate methods for tracking and collecting data, including better providing a better definition to the coordinated efforts to end the violence against Indigenous women.
The task force will also provide analysis regarding the systemic causes behind the number of missing Native American women in the state to law enforcement, policymakers and the public.
“Violence disproportionately inflicted on Native women is not a new trend,” said Rep. Jamie Becker-Finn (DFL-Roseville). “This problem has existed for centuries, with sadness and trauma spanning generations. Each one of our Native sisters taken from us had a family and community who is affected by this loss. This violence and loss continues today and it is long past time we do something about it.”
“Today, I want to remember my sister and friend Ingrid Washinawatok, who was murdered 20 years ago,” said Sharon Day. “Also my two-spirit sisters, Marsha Gomez and Faye Wennell, both artists, and Jamie Lee Wounded Arrow, transgender. And finally, my blood sister Debbie Porter, stabbed to death in Duluth. There is not one of us who hasn’t felt the grief of losing someone to violence. It’s time for this to stop.”
“When you hide behind who is right or wrong—while another life is taken or goes missing—speaks volumes of how broken this justice system truly is,” said Mary Lyons, an Ojibwe Elder. “The aftermath, the fallout of what happens to the people, the children, the communities they leave behind, they continue to live and breathe the pain. A special investigation unit would cost less than the foster care or adoption costs that will incur for years. The pain of one woman missing or murdered never fades, it is just buried for eternity or until another life is taken or goes missing. This is a cycle that can be broken if we work together in harmony.”
According to Kunes-Podein’s office, the task force will report annually to the legislature, providing recommendations to reduce and end violence against Indian women and girls in Minnesota, including any proposed legislation that may be needed to confront the problem. When Rep. Kunesh-Podein’s proposed legislation is signed into law, the task force could go into effect as early as July of this year.