LINKEDINCOMMENTMORE

Gov. Doug Ducey on Tuesday signed into law a bill to create a task force that will investigate and gather data about missing and murdered Indigenous women. 

The committee will serve as a way to assess the scope of the problem and identify methods to address cases involving missing and murdered Indigenous women and girls, or MMNWG. 

Ducey tweeted that he was proud to sign House Bill 2570, adding, "the crisis of missing and murdered and indigenous women and girls must be addressed." 

The Arizona House of Representatives passed the bill, sponsored by Rep. Jennifer Jermaine, unanimously with a vote of 60-0 on Sunday. The Senate endorsed the law.

April Ignacio, chairwoman of the Arizona Democratic Party's Native American Cactus and a member of Indivisible Tohono, got involved in the movement when she began investigating cases on her own. She has been working to get the bill passed. 

"It feels really good to have the bill signed, but now it is time to get to work," Ignacio said. 

The bill recognizes the work a lot of people have been doing for years — even decades. 

For Debbie Nez Manuel, another backer of the bill, the journey started when her 35-year-old mother, Frances Tsinajinnie, went missing in 1973. Manuel was 3 years old. 

Manuel's mother was killed, her body found the same year she went missing.

Follow Arizona politics? Our reporters stay on top of it all. Subscribe now to azcentral.com.

Manuel said she has spent her life wondering how many other women would go missing before the issue was recognized.

"Today, at least we have a law," Manuel said. 

Ignacio said having the bill signed opens a lot of doors to investigate why this is an epidemic. 

"There is so much that is possible now that we have the state recognizing that there is a problem and that they are willing to take a seat at the table to solve it," Ignacio said. 

An investigative committee 

The law calls for the creation of a task force made up of tribal government members, victim advocates, tribal police, social workers, Indian Health Services leaders, and more. Representatives will be appointed by officials from different areas of government and advocacy groups.

Ignacio said the group is expected to form in July. They will conduct a comprehensive study to gather data, and inform future decisions for how the state and local jurisdictions can work to reduce and end violence against indigenous women and girls in Arizona. 

Standardized methods for tracking and collecting data for these cases will also be established by the committee. 

Data on these cases is limited and scattered. 

Manuel said the committee creates a lot of opportunities to look into these jurisdictional and organizational issues. The committee will create avenues to share the information found, link cases back to the tribes by documenting Native American women, and educate the state and community about the issue and its scope. 

"Once we collect data, we might see that the issue is much bigger than Arizona," Manuel said.

She said once the magnitude of the problem is identified, appropriate steps can be taken to allocate state funds to address violence against Indigenous women and girls in Arizona and across the nation.

Ignacio hopes the law will pave the way for tribal leaders and police departments to create more accountability for investigating murdered and missing Indigenous women cases. 

"I really want to be mindful moving forward that there is a lot of layers that are involved," she said. 

Autoplay
Show Thumbnails
Show Captions

Next steps 

The success of the movement, which was largely grassroots, is empowering, Manuel said.

"Every little moving piece was critical," Manuel said, including all of the efforts by the Arizona Legislature. 

READ MORE:  Group gathers to remember missing, murdered Indigenous women

Ignacio said she is celebrating the new law, but knows there is a lot of work ahead.

The Violence Against Women Act still needs to be re-authorized on a federal level, she said.  "You can't have one without the other."

But for today, both women said the Arizona law is a major step forward. 

"It is very meaningful for the families and tribes that continue to have missing members," Manuel said. 

LINKEDINCOMMENTMORE
Read or Share this story: https://www.azcentral.com/story/news/politics/legislature/2019/05/14/missing-and-murdered-indigenous-women-bill-signed-into-law/3671997002/