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SALT LAKE CITY – State leaders and advocates tasked with tackling the issue of missing or murdered indigenous women and girls in Utah applauded President Joe Biden's executive order Monday, which aims to get federal agencies involved in combating the problem.
"I think that this is a good thing. A good move" said Yolanda Francisco-Nez, executive director of Restoring Ancestral Winds, a tribal coalition that addresses violence.
"In the past, we've seen our Native American communities kind of be in the background rather than in the forefront, and right now they're in the forefront of what's happening."
Francisco-Nez is a member of the Navajo Tribe and called missing or murdered indigenous women and girls a very big issue in the state of Utah. She said Native American women are at a much higher risk of becoming a victim of violence.
"Offering culturally grounded resources to the community is going to be very important," she said.
There is nothing new about the issue, but Yolanda and others hope Biden's executive order will bring a renewed effort to the cause. It sets a 240-day deadline for federal agencies to come up with a strategy to combat the crisis.
During the signing, Biden called the order long overdue and said it would help them make substantial changes in the country.
"It's exciting to see the Biden administration carry on what the Trump administration started," said Utah Rep. Angela Romero, D-Salt Lake City.
"People felt like they weren't believed and now were finally starting to put this spotlight in this epidemic that's been going on for generations."
Romero co-chairs the state's task force for MMIW, created two years ago. She's been happy to see more people talk about the issue but said, "we haven't really seen any results from it."
For too long Romero said law enforcement and others have not believed or heard native American women and girls. The Justice Department has reported that on some reservations, Native American women are murdered at a rate more than 10 times the national average, according to CNN.
"Native American women are at higher risk. Why is that?" she asked. "A lot of times they haven't been believed and so it's nice to know that at a federal level and at a state level we take this seriously and we want to address the issue."
Romero said the pandemic slowed down the work of the task force but said they planned to hold a community meeting Saturday in Bluff from 9 a.m. to noon to hear from tribal members. She said they plan to direct in-depth research to determine how big of an issue this is in Utah.
She expected gathering more information on the problem would help authorities reopen cold cases and lead to changes to help protect indigenous women and girls. She is grateful to see federal agencies moving in that direction but added, "We still have a long way to go because we've passed some laws at a national level but we still haven't seen outcomes."
"I hope it's going to be enough," she said. "But how are we going to implement things so that it doesn't continue to happen.