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Ida's Law provides hope for families of missing and murdered Indigenous people, but some want more done

 Oklahoma Gov. Kevin Stitt signs Ida's Law into law on April 20, 2021.
Oklahoma Gov. Kevin Stitt signs Ida's Law into law on April 20, 2021.

Cheyenne and Arapaho tribal citizen LaRenda Morgan remembers her cousin Ida Beard as someone who was shy and quiet if she didn't know you, but was always helpful and dedicated to her mom.

"As a family member, as her cousin, I knew her to be funny," recalls Morgan. "She always seemed like she was in a good mood and had a happy spirit about her."

Ida, a mother to four children, went missing on June 30, 2015.

Morgan said her disappearance was especially difficult for Ida's mom, who is disabled and depended on Ida to care for her.

"She didn't cope. She was devastated," said Morgan.

Morgan posted about Ida's disappearance on her personal Facebook page. It caught the attention of Oklahoma State Rep. Mickey Dollens, who reached out over Facebook Messenger, first as a friend and then as a state legislator.

Rep. Mickey Dollens (second from right) with LaRenda Morgan (right) and other members of Ida Beard's family at the signing ceremony for Ida's Law on April 20, 2021.
Representative Mickey Dollens / Facebook
Rep. Mickey Dollens (second from right) with LaRenda Morgan (right) and other members of Ida Beard's family at the signing ceremony for Ida's Law on April 20, 2021.

"We met, and she explained everything and said that women — Native American women — disappear and are murdered at disproportionate rates than other groups of people," said Dollens.

Native women are ten times more likely to experience violence than their white counterparts.

Morgan told Dollens she felt Ida's disappearance wasn't thoroughly investigated and that the problem isn't unique to Oklahoma.

After talking with other legislators from different states and law enforcement agencies in Oklahoma, Morgan and Dollens put forth the first draft of a bill in 2019, but it was put on hold in early 2020 because of the pandemic.

Sen. Paul Rosino, R-Oklahoma City and Rep. Colin Walke, D-Oklahoma City took up the legislation in early 2021. It was passed and signed into law by Governor Kevin Stitt in April.

The law — known as Ida's Law — took effect Nov. 1.

What Ida's Law Does

Ida's law creates a Liaison Office of Missing and Murdered Indigenous Persons within the Oklahoma State Bureau of Investigation, or OSBI, to help families navigate the different agencies and get answers about their loved ones.

Dollens said it's supposed to help with one of the biggest problems.

"One of the huge concerning issues is the lack of communication and coordination between different levels of law enforcement," said Dollens.

Sometimes that communication can be difficult. If an Indigenous person goes missing on a reservation, one agency is responsible. If they’re kidnapped by a non-Indigenous person out of tribal boundaries, another agency is responsible.

Ida's Law is one of several created at the state and federal levels to address the problem of Indigenous people going missing.

But, a recent report by the Government Accountability Office shows that two federal laws signed last year — Savanna's Act and the Not One More Act — both sponsored by Oklahoma Congressman Markwayne Mullin, have fallen short of meeting their goals and remain unfunded.

Advocates want more done

NOISE is Northeastern Oklahoma Indigenous Safety & Education
NOISE, or Northeastern Oklahoma Indigenous Safety & Education, is a grassroots organization of volunteers who formed to assist families of Missing and Murdered Indigenous Relatives.

All of this makes people like Olivia Gray skeptical. She’s part of the group Northeastern Oklahoma Indigenous Safety and Education, or NOISE.

"So laws could help," said Gray. "It would depend on the law. Having a liaison still doesn't help us get people found, and it still doesn't bring justice for murdered people."

One reason is because the agencies responsible for finding them don't have accurate data about who is missing.

Trent Shores, a Choctaw citizen and former U.S. Attorney for the Northern District of Oklahoma, said his office started collecting the data. He estimated that there are between 60-70 missing Indigenous people in Oklahoma.

"What we found was there were discrepancies among various reporting agencies," said Shores, referring to tribal and state reporting and NamUs, or the National Missing and Unidentified Persons Systems. "Some of those numbers were underreported and some were overreported."

Shores pointed to one case where the person had been found, but was still listed as missing.

The U.S. Attorney's Office did have a coordinator to help families, but that position has remained vacant since March of this year. It's unclear whether the Biden administration has allocated money for that position in the coming year.

That's why NOISE member Jessi Hasse says tribes should take control of the issue.

"Every single tribe should have a missing and murdered department," said Hasse, who praised the work Dollens did on Ida's Law. "They should have their own liaisons."

The OSBI does have two people on staff under Ida’s Law to help Indigenous families, but the law isn't yet funded. OSBI has until January 2022 to meet its funding goals.

LaRenda Morgan, Ida's cousin, has been on the phone with lawmakers and federal agencies to try to secure some of that funding.

Meanwhile, a new detective is working on Ida's case, one that Morgan says is working with the family. The detective told Morgan that the department made some mistakes when the case was first opened.

"He wants to find Ida," she said. "He wants to find out what happened to her. He's really passionate about it."

On the federal level, the U.S. Department of Justice agreed that it needs to fulfill the obligations and commitment to Savanna's Act and the Not One More Act, which are past the statutory deadlines.

At the state level, it's too early to tell what effect Ida's Law will have when another Indigenous person goes missing.

Allison Herrera covered Indigenous Affairs for KOSU from April 2020 to November 2023.
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