Top Stories

Hope Never Fades: Missing and Murdered Indigenous Relatives 

Vanessa Torres | Southern Ute Tribal Council
Photo Credit: Jeremy Wade Shockley | The Southern Ute Drum


I attended the 15th Annual National Missing and Unidentified Persons Conference, held in Las Vegas, Nev. from April 16-18, 2024. This conference brought together a community dedicated to a singular goal: finding missing loved ones. It was a powerful experience, filled with both the heartbreak of unsolved cases and the unwavering determination to bring loved ones home. 

The conference kicked off with a powerful message from Nevada Attorney General Aaron Ford. He highlighted the staggering number of missing person cases each year, the emotional toll on families, and the need for collaboration across jurisdictions. In these cases, there are more questions than answers. He emphasized the need to break down silos and foster collaboration between jurisdictions and agencies. 

One of the keynote speakers, Desiree Young, shared the heartbreaking story of her son, Kyron Harmon, who vanished from his elementary school science fair in Portland, Ore., in 2010. Her struggle to find answers, navigate media scrutiny, and deal with the lack of charges in the case resonated with many attendees.  

The experience of Desiree Young mirrored the stories of many missing Indigenous people. Their cases often fade from the public eye, leaving families without answers, and communities without closure. This conference highlighted the urgent need to raise awareness about missing Indigenous relatives and to ensure their stories are heard.  

This is critical as Native communities are facing a silent crisis. According to the FBI’s National Crime Information Center, in 2020 alone there were 5,295 Indigenous women and 4,276 Indigenous men reported missing across the United States. 

I attended several breakout sessions that addressed the specific challenges faced by Tribes and Indigenous communities.  The Bureau of Indian Affairs (BIA) hosted a session on Missing Murdered Indigenous People (MMIP) and human trafficking in Indian Country. The discussion covered cold cases, jurisdictional issues, and resources available to tribal authorities.  

Another presentation explored the Canadian Residential School Investigation, led by Elder Ernie Lawdette, a First Nations police officer who drew upon his grandfather’s teachings and the experiences of other survivors. This session highlighted the historical trauma faced by Indigenous communities and its lasting impacts.  

This conference was a vital platform for knowledge and resource sharing. Representing the Southern Ute Indian Tribe was an honor, and I remain steadfast in my commitment to raising awareness for this issue.  

Locally, the Missing and Murdered Indigenous Relatives Task Force of Colorado plays a vital role. This volunteer-led group, including Daisy Bluestar and Trennie Burch, is dedicated to leadership, policy development, data collection, advocacy, and support. The Task Force has assisted in the passage of Senate Bill 22-150 and Senate Bill 23-054 which established the Office of Missing and Murdered Indigenous Relatives, required the Colorado Bureau of Investigation (CBI) to engage in data sharing to develop an MMIR dashboard, led to the creation of the MMIR hotline (833-900-6647) and the Missing Indigenous Person Alert (MIP). Their work also includes advocacy in assisting families, coordination of MMIR events, training for law enforcement, and search assistance. Task Force Member, Daisy Bluestar said, “When we come together as a people, we are more likely to bring a relative home safely. Piɵmichirʉ máanúuchiu Nanama! Toghoyaqh pámanɵni.”  

Here are some important steps to take if a loved one goes missing: 

Stay calm and contact law enforcement immediately: 

  • Call the Southern Ute Police Department at 970-563-4401. 
  • In emergencies, dial 911. 

Gather information: 

  • Talk to friends and family to determine your loved ones last known whereabouts. 
  • Below is a list of questions that may be asked, note this list is not all inclusive 
    • Full description, height, weight, eye color, hair color, identifiable scars, marks, and tattoos, last clothing seen in head to toe, jackets, backpacks, and any other notable accessories. 
    • Information on friends, associates, workplace, and coworkers. 
    • Any health conditions, mental illness, or any type of handicap that may need to be known along with any medications, are their medications critical for their health, and did they leave those behind. 
    • Any possible locations they like to hang out or have implied an interest in as a destination. 
    • Current photographs that can be disseminated and shared with CBI for the MIP alert. 
    • Does the missing party have any involvement with special groups or agencies, such as DSS or Alcoholic Anonymous. 
    • Parental or spousal information if they are not the reporting party.

Designate a point of contact: 

  • Establish a single person to communicate with law enforcement and to provide updates with family and friends. 

Seek support: 

  • Remember, you are not alone. The MMIR Task Force of Colorado can be reached at 970-553-0337. They offer assistance and resources to families of missing loved ones.  

The collaboration between the MMIR Task Force of Colorado and Law Enforcement is essential and critical. Early action leads to a faster investigation. When you contact law enforcement about a missing person, a dispatcher will ask you questions. This is standard procedure to collect as much detail as possible. This information is then broadcast to all on-duty officers. An assigned officer will then meet with you to gather further details. There are two important reasons to involve law enforcement immediately: 

Authorization for official alerts:  

  • The law enforcement agency in charge of the investigation is the only entity that has authorization to request and cancel an official Missing Indigenous Person Alert broadcast by the Colorado Bureau of Investigation. This alert is crucial for spreading the word and getting help finding the missing person. 

Professional investigation resources:  

  • Law enforcement has the authority and resources to conduct a thorough investigation. CBI will create an official poster distributed to all regional and state agencies, and the alert will be broadcasted widely through dispatch centers. 

The fight continues, but the unwavering spirit of our community gives me hope. Together, with collaboration and continued awareness, we can bring missing loved ones home. 

To top