IN DEVELOPMENT … The story will be updated as new information can be verified. Updated 3 times
WASHINGTON – Speaking in personal terms, Home Secretary Deb Haaland said widespread media coverage of the disappearance and death of 22-year-old Gabby Petito on a trip across the country should be a recall the hundreds of Native American girls and women who have gone missing or murdered in the United States.
Haaland, the First Secretary to the Native American Cabinet, said her heart went out to Petito’s family, but she also mourned “so many native women” whose families have endured the same heartache “over the past 500 years “.
Petito’s research has generated a whirlwind of media coverage, especially on cable TV, as well as a frenzy of online sleuths, with advice, possible sightings and theories shared by hundreds of thousands on TikTok. , Instagram and YouTube. The Florida woman, who went missing on a cross-country trip with her boyfriend, was found dead on the edge of Grand Teton National Park in Wyoming. Authorities determined that she was a homicide victim.
A report prepared for the state of Wyoming found that at least 710 Native Americans were reported missing between 2011 and the end of 2020. Between 2010 and 2019, the homicide rate per 100,000 Native people was 26.8, eight times higher. higher than the homicide rate for whites. , according to the report.
Haaland, a member of the Pueblo Laguna tribe, said she had frequently seen members of Native American families post photos on fences and sides of buildings to help locate missing girls or women. When that happens, “you know I see my sisters,” she told reporters at a press conference Thursday. “I see my mother. I see my aunts or my nieces or even my own child. So I think every woman and every person in this victimized place deserves attention and deserves to be taken care of. “
A former New Mexico congressman, Haaland pushed for a law signed last year to address the crisis of missing, murdered and trafficked Indigenous women. The law, known as the Savanna’s Act, is meant to help law enforcement track, resolve, and prevent crimes against Native Americans, especially women and girls.
The law is named after Savanna LaFontaine-Greywind, a member of the Spirit Lake tribe who was kidnapped and killed in 2017 near Fargo, North Dakota. Greywind, 22, was pregnant and her unborn baby was cut from her body. His remains were found in the Red River.
Haaland said she viewed her role as Home Secretary in part as a way to bring attention to Native American issues.
“I feel like it’s my job to solve this problem as best I can. And I hope the people who write the news and broadcast the news will understand that these women are also friends, neighbors, classmates and co-workers, ”she said.
Haaland stressed that his comments were not intended to downplay the pain suffered by Petito’s family.
“Anytime a woman faces assault, rape, murder, kidnapping – any of those things – it’s very difficult and my heart goes out to any family that has to endure this kind of pain.” , she said. “And so, of course, my heart goes out to the young woman who was found in Wyoming.”
Everyone deserves to feel safe in their community, said Haaland, but “where I can make a difference in particular is by addressing the crisis of missing and murdered indigenous peoples, which has occurred since the beginning of the decade. colonization of indigenous peoples on this continent began for about the past 500 years and continues.
Haaland created a Missing & Murdered unit within the Bureau of Indian Affairs Office of Justice Services earlier this year and established a joint commission of national tribal chiefs and experts, led by the Home Affairs and Justice Departments. , to reduce violent crime against American Indians and Alaska. Native.
Haaland also ordered Interior to investigate his past surveillance of Native American boarding schools that forced hundreds of thousands of children to leave their families and communities.
“The main objective of this work is to share the truth about this dark chapter in our nation’s history, so that we can begin to heal,” Haaland said.
A written report is expected next year.