Bridging the gap; attorney general’s office unveils new MMIP & human trafficking coordinators
RAPID CITY, S.D. (KOTA) - In 2021, the South Dakota Attorney General’s Office announced the creation of a position to help coordinate investigations into the disappearance and murder of Indigenous people. Wednesday, that position was been filled.
After more than a year of delays, interim Attorney General Mark Vargo hired someone to fill the Missing and Murdered Indigenous Persons liaison position created by the 2021 Legislature.
“When we were in the Legislature, we looked at the data and at the time, about 77 percent of missing persons in South Dakota were indigenous. That’s 77 out of 100,” said Peri Pourier, a South Dakota state representative. “This is very much an Indigenous problem, but it is just as much a South Dakota problem. This is a huge step in the direction of bridging the gap between our indigenous communities and South Dakota.”
Rather than just one new employee, the state now has two. Allison Morrisette for the MMIP position and Mary Beth Holzwarth to help combat human trafficking.
“When I first heard about this position, I was hoping that it would be filled with a local Native American, whether it be male or female,” said Morrisette. “I think that being an enrolled tribal member of South Dakota is very crucial to this job and you can help be that face for your relative throughout the state.”
“There’s a lot of great organizations and agencies that are out there already doing amazing jobs and it’s not that we need to reinvent the wheels in those areas,” said Holzwarth. “We want to encourage and support those efforts but then also identifying what needs to be improved.”
The positions were created to coordinate efforts across federal, tribal, and local law enforcement agencies to address high rates of unsolved murders and disappearances among South Dakotans, indigenous people especially.
Currently, 157 people are listed as missing in South Dakota. 91 of them are Native America.
“I think a key role in this is to get the communication and the information to the right agencies when somebody does go missing and they say the first 48 hours,” continued Morrisette. “My little sister is 19. She’s a Native American woman and we already know in South Dakota that this is a big issue, all across the United States actually. Everything that I do in this position, I keep her in the back of my mind because if she was to go missing, I want to know that every case is handled and focused on.”
“Children who’ve experienced maltreatment or adults who have high adverse childhood experience scores, they’re more likely to be involved in some sort of human trafficking and it just made sense to begin to get involved in the next step,” said Holzwarth.
Now that the attorney general’s office has announced these positions, “This is a step toward finding that solution,” said Pourier. “This is a step of saying ‘why are these women, these men, and these children, why are they going missing?’ Let’s find the route cause, let’s see what’s going on here.”
“Once we get settled down,” wrapped up Morrisette. “I think that what you can expect is to have different agencies sit down at the table, people who normally wouldn’t sit together or meet and get them on the same page.”
“We have to shine a light into this and see what’s happening so we can prevent these missing stories, this heartbreak within our families,” said Pourier.
See: Red Ribbon Skirt Society founder reacts to new MMIP Liaison
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