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Colorado Launches Online Tool to Track Missing and Murdered Indigenous People

The dashboard aims to raise public awareness of missing Indigenous people, a population that disproportionately endures a higher risk of violence, murder and going missing in Colorado.

More than 320 people are listed on the missing person list in Colorado. (Photo courtesy of Darwinek)

President Joe Biden signed an executive order directing the federal government to address the “epidemic” of missing and murdered Indigenous people, including coordinating investigations into unsolved cases in November 2021.

In an effort to advance the aims of the executive order, the Colorado Bureau of Investigation (CBI) and the Division of Criminal Justice (DCJ) within the Colorado Department of Public Safety recently launched the Missing and Murdered Indigenous Relatives Dashboard

The National Institute of Justice reported earlier this year that four out of every five Indigenous people have faced violence at some point in their lives. According to Colorado’s new dashboard, the online tool aims to raise public awareness of missing Indigenous people, a population that disproportionately endures a higher risk of violence, murder and going missing. 

Although the U.S. Justice Department recorded 116 incidents of missing or killed Indigenous women and girls in its database, the Urban Indian Health Institute discovered 5,712 documented cases of these crimes in 2016.

“The multifunctional dashboard will contribute to raising awareness, reach a universal audience, provide additional resources and help tell the important stories of those that have gone missing,” Stan Hilkey, the executive director of the Colorado Department of Public Safety, said in a statement released by CBI.

“The interactive component displays a picture of the missing person, a brief description of the case to encourage those with information to call the law enforcement agency listed and share tips leading to their location,” Hilkey said.

The dashboard was created by Colorado Senate Bill 22-150, which specifies that the dashboard includes: the number of cases of missing and murdered Indigenous people in Colorado; the date of incidents; the tribal affiliation and jurisdiction of each case; the status of each case; an interactive map with an image identifying each missing persons and contact resources.

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“No one should be missing, murdered or not found,” Jailin Boehm, a freshman history major and political science and film minor at Howard University, who supports the initiative, said.

“Especially native people, who are at a disadvantage and vulnerable to these types of crimes on top of the harsh treatment they face on and off reservations,” Boehm continued. 

Boehm commented on the history of Indigenous Americans being murdered without the individual perpetrator being reprimanded or taken into custody by the law, in addition to the forced migration into reservations that are in substandard geographic areas.

“Many tribes have either dwindled to an almost non-existent or insignificant amount of individuals or have gone extinct entirely,” Boehm said. 

The state of Colorado is rooted in the history of Indigenous peoples, such as the Apache, Arapaho, Comanche, Cheyenne and Ute tribes, which called the state home for thousands of years. Indigenous populations established societies and adapted to the diverse terrain of plains, mountains and plateaus before coming into contact with European settlers. 

The 16th century saw the beginning of European influence, but the Colorado Gold Rush of the 19th century resulted in the massacre and displacement of Indigenous populations.

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As Europeans proceeded westward, they negotiated treaties with the natives, creating reservations for Indigenous communities. The U.S. government notoriously broke these treaties, which led to boarding school integration programs, forced relocations and mass murder

A map of the common routes settlers followed west into the Colorado Territory during the Pikes Peak Gold Rush. This marked a turning point in the U.S. occupation of Ute territories, eventually leading to the creation of Colorado as a state. (Photo courtesy of The Library of Congress)

The settlement and imposition of white settlers eventually led to a disruption of Indigenous lives in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. Indigenous tribes today, including the Southern Ute Indian Tribe and the Ute Mountain Ute Tribe, struggle with issues like land rights, cultural preservation and economic growth

“I hope this provides Indigenous people some peace and comfort. Whenever people from our community go missing, they are less likely to be found,” Boehm said. 

Boehm views the online tool as a potential prototype that can be expanded to other ethnic and marginalized groups. 

“Things like systemic racism, prejudice, bias and the lack of trying makes it easy for us to be forgotten. This can be something that can help save lives,” Boehm said. 

According to the Colorado Department of Public Safety, the dashboard automatically provides status and statistics updates whenever the CBI gets information about open cases or initiates a Missing Indigenous Person Alert (MIPA). 

Since Dec. 30, 2022, the website lists 45 alerts, including 29 cold case homicides and eight missing people who have been missing for six months or longer, dating back to December 1974. 

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The resource phone line was established under Colorado Senate Bill 23-054 by the Colorado Division of Homeland Security and Emergency Management, which operates a Missing and Murdered Indigenous Relatives (MMIR) Phone Line to receive and refer calls from the public. 

The phone line for missing or murdered Indigenous relatives is available 24 hours a day, seven days a week. Staff provides information, conducts follow-up and connects callers with the appropriate local law enforcement contact or the Office of the Liaison for Missing and Murdered Indigenous Relatives.

In October, Secretary-designate James Mountain said that the Indian Affairs Department is seeking approximately $350,000 to continue addressing the issue of missing and murdered Indigenous people in New Mexico.

At the start of National American Indian Heritage Month, the Not Invisible Act Commission released a 212-page report with recommendations and a demand for a “decade of action and healing” to address the epidemic of Missing and Murdered Indigenous Persons (MMIP). 

“The effort to build this interactive dashboard involved extensive coordination between law enforcement agencies and stakeholders, including the Indigenous advocacy group, the MMIR Task Force of Colorado,” Hilkey said. “It provides visitors with an understanding of these critical cases and will serve as a resource moving forward.”

Copy edited by Kayal Smernoff

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