Native advocates question Sen. Luján's understanding of Missing, Murdered Indigenous Women crisis
His staff thinks it has something to do with the Native American Graves and Repatriation Act. It does not.
Editor’s note: Breaking news today: Sen. Ben Ray Luján, 49, is being widely reported this afternoon as having suffered a stroke last week and was forced to undergo brain surgery as a result. His office has said he is expected to make a full recovery.
WASHINGTON — Do not expect U.S. Sen. Ben Ray Luján (D-N.M.) to be asking about the Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women, Girls and Two Spirit (MMIW) crisis at tomorrow’s Senate Committee on Indian Affairs hearing.
That’s because the hearing is focused on the Native American Graves and Repatriation Act (NAGPRA), and American Indian advocates have informed his uneducated staffers that MMIW has nothing to do with NAGPRA.
The advocates did so not in an effort to curb embarrassment for the senator, but hopefully, they say, so that he can get up to speed on some crucial Native policy matters.
The 1990 federal NAGPRA law involves the process of the repatriation and disposition to tribes of certain Native American human remains, funerary objects, sacred objects and objects of cultural patrimony.
It has absolutely nothing to do with solving the crisis of missing and murdered Indigenous people, and that’s an objective fact.
Yet there was Luján legislative staffer Alanna Purdy Montesinos, reaching out to more than one Native advocacy organization and Indigenous individual, by phone and by email, asking whether there were any hot MMIW questions her boss might ask at tomorrow’s NAGPRA hearing.
“I would think they would know better,” one Native advocate, who is involved in tomorrow’s hearing, told Indigenous Wire. (We granted them and another advocate knowledgeable of the misstep anonymity to talk more freely and because they have ongoing business before the committee.)
One reason why Luján’s staffers may be confused is that the historical boarding school repatriation problems affecting Native citizens and the MMIW issues have been pushed with increasing fervor by Interior Secretary Deb Haaland. She knows how important they are, and she certainly knows the distinction between them.
But uneducated Senate staffers do not always know the history of Indigenous people and how one of their big issues may be totally separate from another. Some conflation appears to be going on, leading to questions about who the senator has overseeing his Indian affairs work.
“They should know better,” one of the advocates said.
“I’ve never had anyone connect missing and murdered current homicide with the NAGPRA repatriation process,” added another.
Purdy Montesinos shares in her profile on LinkedIn that she’s “proud to handle education, Indian affairs, labor, child welfare, postal, and census policy issues for Senator Luján in his DC office and am blessed to work with an incredible team.”
She adds: “Together, we are happy to serve every constituent and community in New Mexico.”
New Mexico has thousands of Native American citizens, some of whom have been personally impacted by the MMIW crisis, so it would appear Purdy Montesinos has some more outreach to do to better understand this topic, both for herself and for her boss, and most crucially, for Indigenous people — at least according to the Indian folks she’s been contacting.
Beyond federal officials, testifying at the upcoming hearing will be Carmen Hulu Lindsey, chair of the Office of Hawaiian Affairs; Valerie Grussing, executive director of the National Association of Tribal Historic Preservation Officers; and Rosita Worl, president of the Sealaska Heritage Institute.
If any of them receive any MMIW-related questions from Luján or other senators, expect them to be surprised, yet prepared.
Luján’s office has not responded to requests for comment.
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