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Justice Department names Diné to coordinate missing, murdered Indigenous people response


Noel Lyn Smith   | Farmington Daily Times

FARMINGTON — A member of the Navajo Nation has been appointed to a U.S. Department of Justice position to help address the crisis of missing and murdered Indigenous people.

Denise Billy was named the coordinator for the department's Missing and Murdered Indigenous Person Initiative for the District of New Mexico.

The department launched the initiative last year to address the high number of reports of missing and murdered Native Americans.

Part of the implementation included placing coordinators in 11 U.S. attorney's offices who will develop protocols for a more coordinated law enforcement response to missing persons case.

The press release that announced Billy's selection stated her role includes gathering data to identify MMIP cases connected to tribes and pueblos in the state.

Her role includes reaching out to tribal communities to assist in creating and implementing action plans, work to improve data collection and assist tribes and advocacy groups.

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Billy said in the release that she was honored and delighted to be chosen.

"I look forward to continuing to serve tribal communities here in the heart of Indian Country. This issue is of utmost importance to me and to our tribal nations," she said.

Prior to the appointment, Billy worked as a criminal investigator with the Isleta Pueblo Department of Criminal Investigations.

She also worked as a patrol officer and as a criminal investigator for the Navajo Nation.

Missing and Murdered Diné Relatives is a group that has been addressing the ongoing crisis of missing and murdered Diné – the group identifies such persons as "relatives."

Group members have been working to establish a data institute for cases, encourage community action and develop an action toolkit for communities to be proactive in prevention, awareness and mobilization to find missing relatives and to support families.

MMDR member Jolene Holgate said in an email to The Daily Times the group looks forward to collaborating and working with Billy.

"She has already put forth the offer to meet with our community-based group and that's promising. We are eager to meet with her because we have a list of recommendations at the ready for our federal partners to guide them to begin addressing the needs relating to MMDR, violence and challenges we have faces during the coronavirus pandemic," Holgate said.

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Navajo Nation Council Delegate Amber Kanazbah Crotty is a member of the MMDR.

She welcomed Billy's outreach to the group, which is unusual because community groups are often left out of such discussions.

"We know that governments are not always the experts in these areas, so I am encouraged that our federal partners are reaching out to our community groups who have been engaged in this work – our solutions lie within our communities," Crotty said to The Daily Times.

Noel Lyn Smith covers the Navajo Nation for The Daily Times. She can be reached at 505-564-4636 or by email at nsmith@daily-times.com.

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