Committee endorses extension for Murdered and Missing Indigenous Women and Girls task force

(KCPW News) A bill that would extend the life of a state task force on Murdered and Missing Indigenous Women and Girls (MMIWG) easily cleared a Senate committee on Tuesday.

The task force was created during the 2020 legislative session at the urging of the nonprofit group Restoring Ancestral Winds. The group pointed to data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention showing that homicide is among the leading causes of death for Native American women — and to a report from the Urban Indian Health Institute, which found Salt Lake City to be in the top ten cities for MMIWG cases.

Moroni Benally speaks during MMIW Awareness Day at the Utah State Capitol, March 3, 2020. (Photo: Russel Daniels)

The state task force was meant to identify causes behind the statistics and develop a report with recommendations for better addressing MMIWG issues.

But Moroni Benally, coordinator of advocacy and public policy with Restoring Ancestral Winds told members of a senate committee on Tuesday that COVID had thrown a wrench in the task force’s plans.

“COVID, obviously as you’ve heard in the news, has impacted tribal communities in ways that a lot of us can’t even imagine – and a lot of other important and prioritized issues in tribes were sort of put on the back burner as a result of COVID,” Benally said.

Originally, the state task force was slated to cease to exist at the end of 2020. Salt Lake Democratic Rep. Angela Romero’s House Bill 41 would extend its sunset date to the end of 2023.

The Senate Natural Resources, Agriculture, and Environment Committee voted unanimously in favor of Romero’s proposal on Tuesday.

Having already passed the House, the measure now has one hurdle left to clear – the full Senate – before being sent to the governor for his signature.