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Colorado launches new Missing Indigenous Person Alert system

A red handprint decal on car window signifies the MMIWG movement for victimized Indigenous women and girls. The Colorado Bureau of Investigations will launch the Missing Indigenous Person Alert (MIPA) system on Friday after recent legislation (Senate Bill 22-150) that expands the bureau’s investigations of missing and murdered Indigenous people. (Courtesy)
The system will function like an Amber Alert, only second of its kind in the U.S.

Colorado is launching a new missing person alert system that focuses on missing Indigenous people.

The Colorado Bureau of Investigations will launch the Missing Indigenous Person Alert (MIPA) system on Friday after recent legislation (Senate Bill 22-150) that expands the bureau’s investigations of missing and murdered Indigenous people.

The new alert system will function in the same vein as Amber Alerts for missing children – sending out statewide alerts to law enforcement, subscriber phones, media outlets and highway message boards.

“The CBI understands the importance and effectiveness of the various alerts that are in place in Colorado, and we are pleased to have been asked to develop this newest alert in an effort to quickly locate missing Indigenous persons and return them safely to their loved ones,” said CBI Director John Camper in a news release.

Colorado is only the second state after Washington to initiate an alert for missing Indigenous people. Washington’s alert system was activated July 1, and has resulted in more than two dozen missing Indigenous cases being resolved.

The template for the new Missing Indigenous Person Alert system that will activate Friday. (Courtesy of the Colorado Bureau of Investigation)

There are an estimated 65 cases of missing or unsolved murders of Indigenous peoples in Colorado between 1977 and 2022, with more than a third of those reported in the last six years, according to The Missing & Murdered Indigenous Relatives Taskforce of Colorado.

“I’m happy that they have an alert for Indigenous people,” said Daisy Bluestar, a representative of the Taskforce and member of the Southern Ute tribe who advocated for the alert’s creation. “It is very important because of the high rate of Indigenous people who go missing or who have been murdered and the cases haven’t been solved.

“And I say this all the time, it’s like the Native American population gets pushed to the back burner or their cases get swept under the rug so it’s not a focus or an importance to anybody,” Bluestar said. “And I think at this time it’s a time to step forward and really start making those moves, and I think that this new alert system will help, a lot, for Indian Country.”

Pinning down the exact numbers of missing Indigenous people across the U.S. remains elusive.

There are 782 tribal members missing from 35 states as of October, according to the National Missing and Unidentified Persons System. The top-five states for missing Indigenous people are: Alaska, 297; Oklahoma, 81; Arizona, 75; Washington, 55; and New Mexico, 55.

But the system is limited to information for people who have been reported missing to NAMUS and whose cases include tribal affiliation, according to its website. “It does not include all American Indian and Alaska Native missing persons.”

Approximately 1,500 American Indian and Alaska Native missing people have been entered into the National Crime Information Center throughout the U.S., according to the U.S. Department of the Interior’s Bureau of Indian Affairs. And an estimated 4,200 missing and murdered cases that have gone unsolved.

In 2016, there were 5,712 reports of missing American Indian and Alaska Native women and girls listed through the Department of Justice’s missing persons database, but NAMUS only logged 116 of those cases.

The BIA concludes that “there is no reliable count of how many Native women go missing or are killed each year.”

The new Colorado MIPA system will have specific criteria for issuing an alert. The missing person must have an active entry with the NCIC along with the Colorado Crime Information Center. There must be enough information made available to the Colorado Bureau of Investigation to believe an alert will aid in finding the missing person. And the request for an alert must come from law enforcement.

The legislation also requires that law enforcement agencies that receive a report of a missing Indigenous person notify CBI within eight hours of a report of a missing adult or within two hours of a report of a missing child. Missing children would also trigger an Amber Alert.

One caveat of the alert system that does concern Bluestar is that if information suggests the missing person is no longer in Colorado, an alert will not be activated, though CBI would communicate with other states as necessary and as requested by law enforcement.

“That was a concern to me,” she said. “My personal opinion is that any Native American child who goes missing, or Indigenous person who goes missing in the state of Colorado, should stay alerted. I wasn’t part of that conversation but I was wondering about that.”

Along with the new alert system, Senate Bill 22-150 established the Office of Liaison for Missing or Murdered Indigenous Relatives within the state’s Division of Criminal Justice. The office will partner with the Colorado Commission of Indian Affairs; federally recognized tribes; state, local and tribal law enforcement, the CBI and other Indigenous-led organizations.

The director of the new office is Arron Julian, who has 36 years of law enforcement experience including as chief of police for the Bishop Paiute Tribe. He is a member of the Jicarilla Apache in northern New Mexico.

Bluestar said the process is still brand new and that there is room to grow, but her group will remain vigilant to closing any loopholes as they continue to push for justice.

“We are going to continue to fight and fight and fight for the justice of our people,” she said. “It’s not just going to be this is it. We will continue to move forward and stand strong to make sure that everyone stays safe.”

For more information, contact the Colorado Bureau of Investigation Department of Public Safety at https://cbi.colorado.gov or call (303) 239-4201.

For updates about missing Indigenous people in Colorado and to view posters of the missing visit the Missing & Murdered Indigenous Relatives Taskforce of Colorado on Facebook at https://www.facebook.com/MMIRofColorado/.

gjaros@durangoherald.com