An effort to pass a bill that would create a task force on missing and murdered Native American women in Minnesota is moving forward in the legislature.

The Minnesota House Public Safety and Security Policy and Finance Committee heard powerful testimony  about the need for the working group, including from Ojibwe elder Mary Lyons of the Leach Lake reservation, who testified that her sister was brutally murdered years ago. “The reason I support this task force is for the children that need closure. For the families that need closure. For the families that need closure,” she said.

Lyons added that it will also send a message to predators and abusers of native women, “That we will find you. We will. We’ll find you.”

According to the Minnesota Department of Health, between 1990 and 2016 the homicide rate for Native women in Minnesota was seven times that of white women. Committee member Mankato Democrat Representative Jack Considine said, “The numbers are staggering. The number of native women that have been assaulted or just disappear.”

Considine said the concern is tribal authorities have limited prosecutorial abilities once suspects leave the reservation and local non-tribal police have the same restrictions when it comes to crimes on a reservation. The FBI handles anything on tribal land at the felony level.

“There seems to be some issues related to whose jurisdiction it is,” Considine said, “And there seems to be a lot of them are just falling through the cracks and it’s horrendous.”

The task force would start in 2019 at an estimated cost of $79,000, and continue each year after that with an annual cost of $70,000. The group will include representatives from several law enforcement agencies and at least four representatives from tribal governments.

The bill will be included in the House’s public safety omnibus bill.