Bill addressing missing and murdered indigenous persons signed into law
PIERRE, S.D. — A bill designed to address the problem of missing and murdered indigenous persons has been signed into law.
Gov. Noem signed Senate Bill 164 last week. The bill would lay out guidelines for how law enforcement officials handle and report on cases of missing and murdered indigenous persons.
It would also establish additional training programs for law enforcement on how to conduct investigations into such cases.
For decades, advocates have voiced concern at the issue of missing and murdered Native American persons, particularly women and children.
Indigenous women, who make up less than one percent of the population, represent a disproportionately high number of ongoing missing person cases in the U.S.
Additionally, the Department of Justice reports that Native American women are murdered at ten times the national rate, according to Sen. Lynne DiSanto, the main sponsor of the bill.
There’s also been an overall lack of coordination and data collection due to a breakdown in communication between tribal governments, the FBI and local agencies.
The new law will require that the Division of Criminal Investigation prepare and distribute uniform guidelines on reporting and investigating these cases to law enforcement agencies throughout South Dakota.
Annita Lucchesi, a doctoral student at the University of Lethbridge, worked to establish an estimate of the number of indigenous women and girls that have gone missing or been murdered in South Dakota, Montana and North Dakota since 1972.
She found a total of 296 documented cases between the three states. Of those, 30 are still active missing person cases, 192 are murders and 74 have an unknown status — in which it isn’t clear whether they’ve been found or not.
According to Rep. Tamara St. John, there are likely many more undocumented cases.
Advocates say the issue has long been on the minds of many in the Native American community, and that they hope the new law will help better protect indigenous women going into the future.