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South Dakota updating efforts to search for missing, murdered Indigenous people

Published: Sep. 26, 2021 at 8:12 PM CDT
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SIOUX FALLS, S.D. (Dakota News Now) -There is a heightened level of public interest in the case of Gabby Petito, the young vibrant traveling blogger, first missing, now a victim of homicide. While the case is important, some are asking about bringing attention to other missing people.

As a correspondent with Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women USA, Hashtali Fochik understands the pain the Petito family is enduring.

“I’ve worked with families who have dealt with exactly what they’re dealing with now and it’s gut-wrenching every time,” said Fochik.

In South Dakota, there are 50 women listed as missing, over 30 are Native American. There is a theory that society is more captivated by missing white women, while minorities don’t receive the same attention or response.

“Whether it’s biases about poverty, racial biases, etcetera,” said Fochik.

Fochick is familiar with Missing person databases from every state.

“Why is South Dakota so far behind?” “Frankly I’ve had a problem with the way their missing person’s clearinghouse works, the online program,” said Fochik.

While other states have sortable databases and descriptions surrounding the person’s disappearance, Fochick says, South Dakota is missing the basics.

“Any kind of physicals scars, what clothes they were last seen wearing, that kind of stuff is crucial,” said Fochik.

The state is working on those improvements. HB1199 became last March when Governor Noem signed the bill to establish a liaison for missing Indigenous people within the Attorney General’s clearinghouse. Spokesperson Tim Bormann says their department has submitted funding for the position in their budget, which was due at the end of August.

In the meantime, grassroots organizations in the state try to help. Lily Mendoza of the Red Ribbon Skirt Society says their Facebook posts can make a difference.

“It has really been effective with our young girls that are maybe runaways because as soon as they’re missing, it’s put out on social media and so many of those young girls are found immediately before they do get into danger and before they are MMIW,” said Mendoza.

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