In Oklahoma, the news as it pertains to indigenous people has been contentious lately. The tribes say their gaming compacts with the state automatically renewed, and they're correct - but Gov. Kevin Stitt has his hand out for a bigger piece of the action.
Tribes need some good news, and they may get it. One of the most important issues for Indian Country just came to the forefront last week: the filing of a flurry of measures by a bipartisan group of House legislators to deal with the longstanding problem of missing and murdered indigenous people.
Those who shrug this off as special treatment for the Native population haven't been paying attention; these cases have been getting short shrift since time out of mind, although indigenous people are taken or killed in alarming numbers. Activists have been raising a clarion call for decades, but haven't gained much traction - until now.
Merelyn Bell, D-Norman, introduced HB 3892, which would mandate that law enforcement officials gather "detailed biological information" about any missing child, along with the person who reported that child missing, as well as any suspects that may surface in these cases. A companion measure, HB 3893, would cobble together an electronic database of photographs so law enforcement officers have immediate access to the most recent images of victims. Too often, investigators have little to go on, and must rely on outdated photos that offer little help in recognizing a child - or even an adult - who has been missing for several years. And, as Bell points out, every second counts in a missing persons case.
That doesn't end the long-overdue efforts on behalf of the Native population. HB 3345, by Rep. Mickey Dollens, D-Oklahoma City, would help set up the Office of Liaison as an arm of the Oklahoma State Bureau of Investigation, for missing and murdered indigenous persons. A specialist would work alongside tribes to gather critical information. HB 2847, by Daniel Pae, R-Lawton, homes in on a Red Alert System through the Department of Public Safety that would raise the alarm anytime an indigenous person is reported missing. HB 2848, also by Pae, requires additional CLEET training for officers, aimed at "cultural competency and sensitivity training" for interaction with the missing Natives and their families.
This matter stands as proof that when they set their minds to it, Oklahoma legislators can work across the political aisle to affect real progress for the indigenous communities that make up such a critical part of the state's population. Tribal leaders should push hard to make sure these bills don't fall by the wayside. If they do, tribal citizens should make their voices heard, loud and clear, at the polls when November rolls around.