The Minnesota State Capitol Moves on Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women

By: Rep. Mary Kunesh-Podein (41B)

In July of 2005, JoJo Boswell went missing. Her sister, Dolly, immediately reported her missing, but was told to wait another 48 hours. Imagine law enforcement telling her they had more important things to do. Jojo was never seen again.

Heartbreakingly, members from any of Minnesota’s eleven tribal nations and beyond can name the women and girls from generations past who have gone missing or have been murdered. If not their immediate family, then a member of their community. From the stories told, the acknowledgment of a life lived and a life lost, few of these incidents have been pursued or investigated and their circumstances remain unknown.

Dolly Boswell (Center) and mother, Geraldine Jackson share struggle of missing family member, JoJo Boswell. Testifiers Mary Lyons and Mysti Babineau seated behind bill author, Representative Mary Kunesh-Podein (41B)

This is an all too common story across Indian Country. One third of Native women will experience violence and the trauma of rape at some point in their life. Murder is the third leading cause of death for Native women ages 10 to 24. Instead, for these girls and women, the biggest challenge should be which dance to compete in at the next powwow or the plan for their future, not being on guard in order to survive to see their 30s.

Unfortunately, according to the FBI and the U.S. Department of Justice, within Indian Country, nearly half of all Native women – 46% – have experienced rape, physical violence, or stalking by an intimate partner. Furthermore, on some reservations, Native women are murdered at a rate of more than 10 times the national average, more often by a non-Natives. In short, sexual violence against women in the USA and Indian Country is endemic.

For example, Mysti was just 9 years old when she was sexually assaulted for the first time by her foster mother’s boyfriend. Violence didn’t end there for Mysti; in her lifetime, she witnessed her grandmother’s murder, then watched in horror as the murderer went after her mother and then after her. When Mysti was 20, she was kidnapped, taken over 60 miles from her home, held against her will, and raped, yet she managed to escape and fights for women and indigenous rights today.

Representative Mary Kunesh-Podein (41B) gives thumbs up after bi- partisan support for passage of House File 70 (HF70), the creation of a Missing and Murdered Indigenous Womens Task Force.

Jojo and Mysti’s stories illustrate the reality that plagues indigenous women living in Indian Country and urban communities. In response, Minnesota joined a handful of other states in passing Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women (MMIW) legislation during the 2019 legislative session.

Following the commission application process through the Secretary of State’s office, members, which include representatives from all of Minnesota’s 11 tribes, law enforcement, prosecutors, judges, defense attorneys, tribal government officials, nongovernmental agencies, and indigenous women – victims or family members, will be assigned. By the end of a two-year period, the task force will have examined and report- ed to the legislature and the public on the systemic causes behind violence against indigenous women. The report will define appropriate methods for tracking and collecting data, suggest government policies and institutions that impact violence against indigenous women, and finally, propose appropriate measures to address the violence to address the violence to assist victims and their families. The initial meeting of the MMIW task force is expected to occur in September.

This story was originally published in The Quilt: Policy, Art, and Healing, published by The UpTake and our partners at Voices for Racial Justice. For a copy of the print magazine, please email us at

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