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PIERRE, S.D. — South Dakota’s House and Senate passed a bill this month that will establish a liaison in the Attorney General’s Office dedicated to pursuing cases of Missing and Murdered Indigenous Persons (MMIP).

The bill was introduced on Feb. 1 by two-term Democratic Rep. Peri Pourier (Oglala Lakota) and has since passed through the House and unanimously on the Senate floor. Pourier said she saw the legislation as a building block off a momentum of prior legislation aimed at addressing a crisis of missing and murdered Indigenous women. 

In 2019, the South Dakota Legislature unanimously passed a law mandating the collection of data for missing and murdered Indigenous persons. The following year, the state Attorney General’s office established a missing persons clearing house intended to speed up the process by which missing people are found.

Data collected as a result of prior law helped Rep. Pourier make her case in a largely Republican House and Senate. Of 105 House and Senate members in the state, only 11 are Democrats, and only five are Native American. “Being a Democrat, but also being a woman and also being a Native, it’s extremely difficult to get bills passed,” she told Native News Online. “You’re very lucky if you get one Native bill passed. Most of the time you don’t get much.”

In February, the lawmaker pulled data from the Attorney General's website that showed out of 109 missing persons, 77 were Indigenous. “That’s about 71 percent Indigenous,” she said. “I just let the data tell the story.”

Pourier said the Office of Liaison for Missing and Murdered Indigenous Persons will collaborate with federal, state and tribal officials to investigate MMIP cases that have gone cold or fallen through the cracks because of a lack of jurisdictional consistency. Additionally, the role will also provide guidance and training within local communities for locating missing and murdered Indigenous persons.

House Bill 1199 is pending the signature of Gov. Kristi Noem, though Pourier said the governor’s office has set a signing ceremony, indicating her approval. Once the bill is enacted, the Attorney General’s Office will go about hiring and training a full-time missing person specialist. 

“The numbers are there, the alarms and red flags should be going off,” Pourier said. “This is an issue that needs attention, and it needs solutions. This is a step towards that.”

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About The Author
Author: Jenna Kunze
Staff Writer
Jenna Kunze is a reporter for Native News Online and Tribal Business News. Her bylines have appeared in The Arctic Sounder, High Country News, Indian Country Today, Smithsonian Magazine and Anchorage Daily News. In 2020, she was one of 16 U.S. journalists selected by the Pulitzer Center to report on the effects of climate change in the Alaskan Arctic region. Prior to that, she served as lead reporter at the Chilkat Valley News in Haines, Alaska. Kunze is based in New York.