March declared Missing Persons month by Navajo branch chiefs

The three branch chiefs on Monday signed a proclamation declaring March 2018 as Missing Persons Awareness Month. Pictured, from left: a family member of a missing person, Vice President Jonathan Nez, Navajo Council Speaker LoRenzo Bates, President Russell Begaye and Chief Justice JoAnn Jayne. (Submitted photo)

The three branch chiefs on Monday signed a proclamation declaring March 2018 as Missing Persons Awareness Month. Pictured, from left: a family member of a missing person, Vice President Jonathan Nez, Navajo Council Speaker LoRenzo Bates, President Russell Begaye and Chief Justice JoAnn Jayne. (Submitted photo)

WINDOW ROCK — Flanked by the families of missing, murdered or endangered Navajo people, the chiefs of the Navajo Nation’s executive, legislative and judicial branches signed a proclamation March 12 declaring March as Navajo Nation Missing Persons Awareness Month.

The proclamation, the first of its kind of the Navajo Nation, comes in response to the efforts of family members who have sought help in locating missing loved ones. Hundreds of missing people are reported to Navajo Police every year, and there are 30 missing persons cases currently open — including one that dates back to the 1970s.

“This all started with you,” Navajo Nation Vice President Jonathan Nez told family members who gathered at the proclamation signing ceremony and held up posters bearing photos of their missing loved ones.

“You, the advocates, you never gave up. You came here, to the capital, to let us know that your relatives have yet to be found. You reminded us that they’re missing relatives — our missing relatives — not missing people.”

The signing came just two months after branch chiefs joined to raise awareness of human trafficking, a growing problem on the reservation that likely contributes to the numbers of missing and murdered indigenous people. In a separate proclamation earlier this year, Navajo leaders declared January 2018 as Navajo Nation Human Trafficking Awareness Month.

“Yes, there is human trafficking going on,” Nez said. “There are people out there taking our relatives. This proclamation is a message to those folks who are holding our family members. We will find them. We will not stand and be idle and let people take our loved ones.”

The two proclamations represent a call to families, community partners and local, state and federal law enforcement officers to work together to find missing Navajo people and curb crimes against children and vulnerable adults, according to Navajo Nation President Russell Begaye. They also call on individual families to strengthen their cultural identities and serve as a reminder that children, families and clans are the Nation’s most precious relationships. 

“When someone doesn’t show up when they’re supposed to, when someone goes missing or loses their life, it’s devastating to families,” Begaye said. “We want to bring awareness to every chapter, every community, to really come together as a Nation to put out a concerted effort to find our missing people. Help us make this proclamation an effective tool that will help us find our missing Navajo people that we love and cherish.” 

In the proclamation, the Nation pledged to advocate for and raise awareness of missing persons while also supporting the families of missing persons and organizations working to bring them home. It also encouraged Navajo departments to develop a taskforce to address the crimes of murder, kidnapping and human and sex trafficking. 

The proclamation ended with a call for Navajo departments to improve cultural education among employees and incorporate traditional cultural teachings and values. The proclamation states that by embracing the strengths of the Diné culture, the Nation can improve the self-esteem of its youths, the resiliency of families and the bonds of clan and community, increasing the overall safety of the people.

“Every Navajo has value,” Begaye said. “No matter who they are, where they come from, how old they are, how young they may be, what kind of job they have, what they do with their lives or where they go for relaxation. It doesn’t matter who they are. Every Navajo is valuable. We need to treat each one of us, each other, in that manner. When one is missing it hurts all of us.”

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