Lawmaker seeks better records on missing and murdered Indigenous people
Dejalyne Davis, a citizen of the Pyramid Lake Paiute Tribe and a member of the Pyramid Lake High School girl’s basketball team, was one of roughly a dozen speakers in a packed Assembly Judiciary Committee on Tuesday testifying in support of a bill aimed at ensuring Indigenous people who go missing are included in missing person databases.
Throughout the basketball season, Davis said she and her teammates who joined her at the emotional hearing wanted to bring awareness to the disproportionately high rates of violence and disappearances affecting Indigenous populations, including her mother.
“I am giving testimony in honor of my mother, Amanda Davis, who was murdered in December 2020,” Davis said. “We believe Indigenous people should have the same rights and access to justice as all Nevadans.”
Experts noted that across the country, Native American women face murder rates more than 10 times the national average, and Indigenous people face higher rates of abuse and abduction than their white, non-Native counterparts. Presenters said missing and murdered Indigenous people do not receive the same attention from law enforcement, and many are mismarked as runaways.
Assemblywoman Shea Backus (D-Las Vegas) said she’s sponsoring AB125 to ensure Indigenous persons who go missing are included in the National Crime Information Center, a database accessible to federal, state and local law enforcement officials.
Backus said reports give no reliable count on how many Native women go missing annually. Indigenous women are often misclassified as Hispanic or Asian or another racial category in missing people forums, she said.
“Looking at a map of the United States highlighting [these] various MMIW (missing and murdered Indigenous women) cases, I noticed Nevada in a different color … because there was no data,” she said.
When someone goes missing, it’s not necessarily a crime, and Nevada law recognizes that Indian tribes within the state have the power to enact their own laws, regulations and ordinances and enforce them in tribal courts, Backus said. The bill does not allow local or state law enforcement to go onto tribal lands, but instead permits law enforcement to accept a report of an adult who goes missing from an Indian reservation or colony located in Nevada and enter that information into the NCIC.
The bill also requires the Department of Public Safety to have a tribal liaison who will maintain communications related to missing or murdered Indigenous persons and stipulate that officers will receive training on handling those cases.
Speaking on behalf of the Shoshone Paiute Tribes of the Duck Valley Indian Reservation, lobbyist Teresa Melendez said tribes are often told their numbers are too small to get the recognition or support necessary to address the crisis.
“Invisibility is a form of racism,” Melendez said. “We need the data so that we can communicate with the FBI and the U.S. Attorney General’s Office and local law enforcement officials and so we can hold people accountable.”
PLAN environmental justice organizer Eztli Amaya said that as an Indigenous person in Las Vegas, she has her own lived experience with violence, as do many others in her community.
“Assault on Indigenous bodies is so common yet overlooked and never properly addressed nor told to the public what this truly is: an epidemic,” she said. “As we protect our children who are our future from living the same experiences, we need protection and justice for ourselves in our communities.”
The committee did not immediately vote on the measure.
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