Wyoming Gov. Mark Gordon Commits to Strong Executive Action to Address the Murdered and Missing Indigenous Women Crisis

Wyoming Governor Mark Gordon announcing MMIW Executive Order

Published May 1, 2019

CHEYENNE, Wyo. — When Governor Mark Gordon of Wyoming recently traveled to the University of Wyoming, he expected to sign a proclamation establishing May 5 as “Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls Day.” To the surprise of the media and the many who had just completed the preceding “Keepers of the Fire” MMIW march, Governor Gordon (R-WY) opened his address at the Washakie Dining Center by committing to implement one of the strongest executive orders on MMIW yet enacted in any state.

NOND Founder & GIC Senior Vice President Lynette Gray Bull at Yale University

“Senator Ellis and I just talked about this and we said, ‘Let’s do this.’ So we will,” Governor Gordon announced to the crowd, publicly committing to sign the executive order. Gordon and Ellis were seen conferring during a powerful address by Lynette Grey Bull, founder of Not Our Native Daughters (NOND) and Senior Vice President of Global Indigenous Council (GIC). As Grey Bull concluded her call-to-action, she produced the executive order drafted by the Rocky Mountain Tribal Leaders Council (RMTLC) and GIC.

“Governor Gordon, with all due respect, I humbly ask that you implement this executive order to establish an MMIWG Task Force in the State of Wyoming because the truth is, there is going to be another Indigenous person missing, another family who has no answers, another victim who does not receive justice. This is not another ‘native issue’ this is a human rights issue. Across all sectors, we need to fight against this MMIWG epidemic,” Grey Bull implored, and then handed the executive order to Governor Gordon who was seated with Senator Ellis in front of her.

The MMIW Task Force created by the executive order “will be comprised of State, Tribal and Federal law enforcement officers with the requisite authority to submit recommendations for enactment into state statute.” The Task Force will be supplemented by tribal officials from the Northern Arapaho and Eastern Shoshone tribes, representatives from RMTLC-GIC, a victim’s advocate, a mental health professional recommended by the Wyoming Board of Mental Health and an Information Technology expert appointed by the Wyoming Division of Criminal Investigation. “The Task Force will gather facts and consider how best to formulate solution-based policies and their implementation” on the most pressing needs in reducing the MMIW epidemic, including the elimination of the prevailing cross-jurisdictional law enforcement paralysis that stalls many MMIW investigations, efficient and expeditious data collection and sharing, MMIW response criteria and cold case protocols, policing and tightening zoning ordinances for extractive industry “man camps,” and establishing MMIW Tribal Liaison Offices.

The RMTLC had previously appealed to Governor Steve Bullock of Montana to enact a similar executive order. Despite being urged to do so by the state’s largest newspaper, the Billings Gazette, Bullock, a prospective 2020 Democratic Presidential candidate, has so far remained non-comital. While at Yale University for an April 23 presentation, Grey Bull and GIC Executive Director, Rain Bear Stands Last, made the decision to approach Governor Gordon.

Rep. Deb Haaland (center) and Naomi Miquel (right) of the Tohono O’odham Tribe, Legislative Assistant to Rep. Raul Grijalva

“I stand before you today as a full blooded Native American woman, a Northern Arapaho/Hunkpapa Lakota, and the statistics that hang over my head are these: I am among the most stalked, raped, murdered, sexually assaulted, and abused of any women in any ethnic group, and I am among those who suffer domestic violence 50 times higher than the national average,” said Grey Bull, before she gave Gordon the executive order. Gordon responded directly to Grey Bull, who was among a delegation of tribal leaders from the Wind River Indian Reservation, that included Northern Arapaho Councilwoman Kim Harjo and Councilwoman Karen Snyder of the Eastern Shoshone Tribe.

In 2017, Grey Bull provided statistics and research on missing and exploited Native women and children for the UN World Conference on Indigenous Peoples. She previously served as Chair of the Arizona Commission of Indian Affairs at the Governor’s office, and in the Arizona Governor’s Human Trafficking Task Force. The allied GIC-RMTLC-GPTCA-NOND national MMIW billboard campaign arrived in Arizona last week. The campaign, endorsed by multiple Members of Congress, including Representatives Deb Haaland (D-NM), Sharice Davids (D-KS), Senators Lisa Murkowski (R-AK), Jon Tester (D-MT), Cory Booker (D-NJ) and Steve Daines (D-MT), caused controversy with one Arizona media outlet, which editorialized that the imagery on the billboards was shocking and could “trigger” victims’ families. Upon its release, the same was said about Taylor Sheridan’s critically acclaimed movie, Wind River. It is now widely accepted that Wind River elevated the profile of the MMIW epidemic into mainstream consciousness.

Nalene Gene, organizer of Honor Indigenous Women with Phoenix billboard in background

Wind River spoke to me and resonated with me and, in a necessary way, is a devastating look at reality,” wrote Akwesasne Mohawk film critic, Vincent Schilling. That sentiment was echoed by Nalene Gene in a social media post about the MMIW billboard in Phoenix. “This image was placed on a digital billboard near the SW corner of Indian School Rd and I-17. I believe the image can be a trigger for many. I also believe the stakes are too high for pretty pictures. A billboard in Phoenix, AZ helps to stop the stereotype that all Native Americans live in rural areas,” she wrote. Gene is the organizer of Honor Indigenous Women and the 2018 Women’s March.

“It is important for those of us who work with the families of sex trafficking and missing and murdered indigenous victims to demonstrate unity and to avoid lateral violence within the Native community. The billboards promote awareness, not division. The story here isn’t the opinion of a journalist or her colleagues, it’s the MMIW epidemic and saving lives; to support securing meaningful legislation by making the MMIW tragedy impossible to ignore. There is no place for more conflict and more trauma within the MMIWG movement,” cautioned Grey Bull.

The Executive Order presented to Governor Gordon can be viewed in full at www.mmiw-gic.com

Photos courtesy of Alter-Native Media and Lynette Grey Bull.

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