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Kansas law enforcement training about missing or murdered Indigenous people now available

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Kansas law enforcement training about missing or murdered Indigenous people now available

Aug 10, 2022 | 1:10 pm ET
By Lily O'Shea Becker
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Kansas law enforcement training about missing or murdered Indigenous people now available
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Rep. Christina Haswood, D-Lawrence, prays during a May 2021 service at the Statehouse that included an apology to American Indians. Haswood, who is a member of the Navajo Nation, says the effort to focus on missing and murdered indigenous people brings action and awareness to disproportionate rates of abduction, murder, violence and human trafficking. (Sherman Smith/Kansas Reflector)

LAWRENCE — A new training module for Kansas law enforcement agencies focusing on investigations of missing and murdered Indigenous people is now available.

The Kansas Attorney General’s Office partnered with the Kansas Bureau of Investigation and the Kansas Law Enforcement Training Center to develop the training, according to a news release from the attorney general’s office. These three entities incorporated input from the four federally recognized American Indian tribes in Kansas and American Indian legislators who sponsored legislation to create the training module.

“In 2019, lawmakers in 14 states introduced 30 measures about the underreporting and data collecting problems that demonstrate the difficulty in solving the murder cases of (missing and murdered indigenous women),” said Wichita Democratic Rep. Ponka-We Victors-Cozad, who sponsored House Bill 2008.

The legislation passed with bipartisan support in 2021. Kansas Attorney General Derek Schmidt announced the training module was ready last month.

“Of the 30 measures of legislation that were introduced last year, 17 were enacted,” Victors-Cozad said. “Therefore, I know this bill will be a step in the right direction for Kansas.”

Victors said she has had relatives and friends who have been murdered and some who remain missing as of January 2021 because of “this national unspoken crisis.”

In a statement, council members of the Prairie Band Potawatomi Nation said “it is encouraging the AG’s office has begun to focus on missing and murdered Indigenous people, an issue referred to as MMIP, but that there remains room for improvement and the Nation is looking forward to continued substantive dialogue.”

The training module contains information about historical context, definitions, statutes, tribal sovereignty and jurisdictional challenges, the potential nexus with human trafficking, the importance of federal, state and local partnerships, and resources available to aid investigations of MMIP, according to the attorney general’s office.

“Part of the issue that we have experienced and seen over the years is that there are serious jurisdiction problems across the country,” said Joyce Grover, executive director of Kansas Coalition Against Sexual and Domestic Violence, which testified in support of the bill. “And there have been several reports on issues of jurisdiction, so who can enforce laws that involve violence against Native American women. And so we see it from that perspective of sexual assault and domestic violence.”

According to a 2016 study conducted by the National Institute of Justice, 84.3% of American Indian and Alaska Native women have experienced violence, with 56.1% having experienced sexual violence.

Grover said the module is a first step in recognizing the issue of high rates of violence experienced by American Indians. But the challenge is a much bigger issue than training.

According to neutral testimony provided by Robert Jacobs, executive officer of Kansas Bureau of Investigation, 2,402 American Indians or Native Alaskans were reported missing in Kansas between 1984 and 2020. Of those reported missing, 99.7% have been located. According to these statistics, approximately seven American Indians who were reported missing between 1984 and 2020 in Kansas have not been found.

“Missing and Murdered Indigenous Peoples include women, men, and twospirited peoples who are disproportionately impacted by this public health crisis,” said Rep. Christina Haswood, a Lawrence Democrat and member of the Navajo Nation. “It is a movement that brings action and awareness to the disproportionate rates of abduction, murder, violence, and human trafficked Indigenous peoples.”

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Protection, murder is the third leading cause of death of American Indian women, and the murder rate for women living on reservations is 10 times greater than the national average.

American Indian and Alaska Native men experience high rates of violence as well. According to the National Institute of Justice, 81.6% of American Indian and Alaska Native men have experienced violence in their lifetime.

Six days after the announcement of the training module, William Blacksmith was shot multiple times and killed on the Kickapoo Reservation in Brown County, the Hiawatha World reported. Stryder Keo, who was taken into custody at his home on the reservation shortly after the shooting, has been charged with one count of first-degree murder.

According to the National Missing and Unidentified Persons System, an online database administered by the National Institute of Justice, there are three missing American Indian or Native Alaskan individuals in Kansas. All are male, with the most recent reported missing on Dec. 1, 2021.

The training module was released on July 1 and is optional for Kansas law enforcement. The training is available to the public at no cost. It will be updated by the Kansas Law Enforcement Training Center based on feedback provided throughout the year, and an updated version will be available July 1, 2023.