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'Minnesota will not let indigenous women continue to vanish'

Mysti Babineau testifies Jan. 29 before the House Public Safety and Criminal Justice Reform Finance and Policy Division on HF70, which would create a task force on missing and murdered indigenous women. Photo by Paul Battaglia

Mysti Babineau was raped for the first time when she was just 9 years old. Three years later, she and her grandmother were violently assaulted, resulting in the death of her grandmother and deep knife wounds to Babineau’s hand.

Such traumatic and violent events are all too common among Native American women and girls, Babineau told the House Public Safety and Criminal Justice Reform Finance and Policy Division Tuesday. An unknown number of Native American women and girls also disappear each year, she testified, most presumably dead or victims of sex trafficking.

Babineau and several other Native American women spoke in support of HF70, a bill that would create a task force to track the number of missing Native American women and girls in the state, and to analyze the systemic reasons for the high rate of disappearance in that population.

Committee discusses proposed Task Force on Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women

The division approved the bill and sent it to the House Ways and Means Committee.

The goal of the task force would be to better understand the causes of violence against indigenous women and to reduce and prevent violence where it is happening. The task force would include members of the indigenous community, law enforcement, policymakers and the public.

“We can send a message that Minnesota will not let indigenous women continue to vanish,” Rep. Mary Kunesh-Podein (DFL-New Brighton) said before the meeting.

Kunesh-Podein, the bill sponsor, noted that there is currently no state or national system in place to collect data on missing and murdered Native American women and girls in Minnesota.

On some reservations, she said, women are killed at a rate more than 10 times the national average.  And Department of Justice statistics show that one in three Native American women will at some point in their life be raped.

The bill would appropriate $67,000 in Fiscal Year 2020 and $33,000 in Fiscal Year 2021 to fund the task force.

The companion, SF515, sponsored by Sen. Patricia Torres Ray (DFL-Mpls), awaits action by the Senate Judiciary and Public Safety Finance and Policy Committee.

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