ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. (KRQE) – As the disappearance of Gabby Petito continues to get national attention, advocates point out she’s not the only one. Now, they’re trying to draw more attention to the problem of missing women across the West.
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Right now, there are hundreds of missing Native women whose cases are ongoing or cold, including many here in New Mexico. Local organizations are working to change that and bring their loved ones home. From domestic to sexual, violence against women in tribal communities – both nationwide and here in the state – continues to grow, with little light shed on the issue.
“There’s a rate of violence against Native women that’s happening and it doesn’t seem to be highlighted at such a large level as it should be,” said Jolene Holgate, director of training and education for the Coalition to Stop Violence Against Native Women, based here in Albuquerque. “84% of Native American women are affected by violence in some form, whether that’s domestic or sexual or just violence in general. More than 60% of crimes in tribal communities are a result of sexual violence, as well.”
Holgate says the area continues to see many cases that run cold – from Pepita Redhair who went missing from the metro last March to Ella Mae Begay, a Navajo elder abducted from the Shiprock area back in June. As the search for 22-year-old Gabby Petito has gathered national attention, it also brings to light the hundreds of indigenous people missing from the same area, with not nearly the same amount of coverage.
“My heart goes out to the family of Gabby Petito. I know they’re probably looking for closure and that’s very important. Our love and hearts go out to their family,” said Holgate. “We also recognize that the national attention and resources that were put toward that case when there’s such a high number of MMIW cases in Wyoming and even the neighboring state of Montana, it did not feel good. I think there’s this practice of discounting indigenous bodies when it comes to folks who go missing or murdered.”
So why do these cases not get the same attention? Holgate says word is quickly spread via social media and community outreach, but often falls short of attention from media and state and federal leadership.
“If we saw that same energy with all of these resources available for one case, I can’t even imagine how many of our indigenous women and girls they would find,” said Holgate. “Gabby’s case was highlighted on several major news agencies, so I think the question is, with all of the organizing that’s taking place and important questions being asked, why isn’t major media companies also asking these same questions for our indigenous women who go missing or our indigenous women who go murdered.”
There’s been progress as of late with the Missing and Murdered Unit recently launched within the Interior Department, led by former NM representative Deb Haaland. However, Holgate says there’s still so much to be done to bring these relatives home and get justice.
“Those are great, but we need to start putting some of these initiatives into actual actions,” said Holgate. “There’s a lot of grassroots organizations that are taking a very important community approach, to collecting data to following up with cases and providing as much support to families as they can.”
According to the latest report from the state’s Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Relatives task force — established back in 2019, the highest percentage of these missing person cases in the state came from Gallup and Farmington. A Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women march and rally, seeking justice for Redhair, is planned for Oct. 3, from 1-4 p.m. at Tiguex Park in Albuquerque. Attendees are encouraged to wear red and bring their signs.