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Missing and Murdered Indigenous People

  • 20 years after the murder of a Native American man on the Ute Mountain Ute reservation, the FBI says it’s offering a new $10,000 reward for any information about the crime. On January 31, 2004, a Towaoc resident named Avery Whiteskunk went missing and was later found dead near County Road G. An FBI bulletin released on Monday said anyone with information about the individual responsible should contact its Denver field office. Whiteskunk is one of 27 cold case homicides involving tribal citizens in Colorado, according to statistics from a newly-created state office. And the Rico Board of Trustees is considering pursuing dark sky certification for the town. At a trustee meeting earlier this month, a representative from Dark Sky Colorado said that the certification could preserve Rico residents’ views of the starry night sky by changing the land-use code or ordinance that regulates lighting in the town, according to the Ore Cart.
  • For months, fraudulent sober living homes have targeted tribal communities across the western United States, including the White Mountain Apache Tribe and the Navajo Nation, coercing vulnerable Native American people into coming to facilities in Phoenix. A victims’ advocate says grassroots organizations like hers have been relying on social media to connect Native families looking for loved ones who’ve ended up living unhoused in Phoenix because of this scheme.
  • In the last month, an advocate for Indigenous people who’ve been targeted by fraudulent sober living facilities says she’s helped dozens of displaced victims from tribal communities like the Navajo Nation return home. In May, the governor of Arizona announced the state would crack down on these fake sober living homes in coordination with the Navajo Nation government, which launched an effort to return Navajo citizens from the Phoenix area to their homes. Since many of the fraudulent facilities are now shutting down, victims advocates in the Phoenix area have noticed an increase in the number of unsheltered Indigenous people who have needed bus fare to return to their communities. And two new state laws that give Colorado renters extra protections go into effect this month.
  • Last month, Navajo Nation officials launched Operation Rainbow Bridge, a program designed to help Navajo citizens caught up in fraudulent rehab centers that cheated Arizona’s Medicaid program millions of dollars by preying on and scamming Indigenous people. Navajo Nation Attorney General Ethel Branch says that in Navajo culture, a rainbow is used to indicate movement from place to place, hence the operation’s name. Governor Katie Hobbs announced in May that the state would take action against over 100 of these predatory sober living homes, which have sent recruiters to tribal communities across the western United States, targeting the unhoused and those struggling with substance abuse, and taking them to facilities in the Phoenix area. And the Colorado Board of Education informally chose the state’s new education commissioner last week.
  • On Friday, victims advocates held a walk in downtown Phoenix to raise awareness about predatory sober living homes targeting Indigenous communities like the Navajo Nation and the Ute Mountain Ute tribe in Colorado. Advocate Reva Stewart, whose cousin was taken by a group home recruiter from New Mexico to Phoenix, Arizona, says that recruiters often look for unhoused people in tribal communities, or those struggling with substance abuse. But Stewart says that a change made last week to Arizona’s Medicaid program closed a loophole that the group homes were exploiting. And today is the last day of Colorado’s legislative session.
  • Colorado is experiencing another uptick in coronavirus cases. And a new Office of Missing and Murdered Indigenous Relatives will be housed in the Colorado Department of Public Safety.
  • The dissolution of Roe v. Wade would have major implications in Utah. National Missing and Murdered Indigenous Peoples Awareness day was marked by a march in Kayenta on Thursday. And there will be a new farmers market in Mancos starting next month.
  • A 2018 murder shocked a small Navajo community just south of Bluff, Utah. Federal agents arrested a suspect later that year. But since then the victim’s family has lived without closure. And in fear.
  • Around the country, native groups and supporters have joined prayer runs to raise awareness for missing and murdered indigenous people. A multi-day run over hundreds of miles ended in San Juan County, Utah late last month. From KZMU in Moab, Justin Higginbottom spoke with participants about the crisis.