In Light Of Petito Case, Indigenous Women Remain Missing In AZ

Sep 24, 2021

Ella Mae Begay.
Credit Navajo Police Department

The recent homicide case of 22-year-old Gabby Petito has prompted discussion regarding public attention for missing and murdered Indigenous women and girls in the United States. 

Authorities this week confirmed that Petito’s remains were found near Grand Teton National Park.

The non-profit Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women USA expressed condolences for Petito’s family in a statement Thursday, writing that “losing a family member in this manner is one of the most painful things a family can go through.”

“With that being said,'' the statement adds, “the media coverage of [Petito’s] case has shed light on an inequity for the broader United States that people have been talking about in Indian Country for many years.”

The organization, which routinely circulates information on cases of Indigenous women, demanded that law enforcement “step up and start taking Native women's disappearances seriously.”

In Arizona, the FBI says it’s searching for Jamie Lynn Yazzie, a nursing assistant who went missing from the Navajo Nation in Pinon more than two years ago. Search efforts also continue for Ella Mae Begay, a 62-year-old woman reported missing from Sweetwater in June, 2021. The Facebook page Trailing Ellamae was created to share updates.

Ranelle Rose Bennett.
Credit Navajo Police Department

Ranelle Rose Bennett, 33, was reported missing in June after her mother last saw her in Hogback, New Mexico, according to the Navajo Police Department.

In late June, a 15-year-old girl was found safe in Wheatfields, Ariz. after she’d gone missing for days with her father, a registered sex offender, according to the Navajo Police Department. Last week, a 13-year-old girl was kidnapped from Kirtland, New Mexico, and later found safe in Red Valley, Ariz. Police say they are still searching for the suspect.

For Native American and Alaska Native women between 1 and 19 years of age, homicide is the third leading cause of death in the United States, according to a 2016 report from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Overall data on the crisis is largely incomplete, according to a study last fall from Arizona State University. 

The Urban Indian Health Institute, however, ranks Arizona as the state with the third highest number of missing and murdered Indigenous women and girls in urban areas. 

At a press conference Thursday, Interior Secretary Deb Haaland expressed condolences for Petito, calling for more public attention and media coverage for Indigenous people. 

Jamie Yazzie.
Credit Navajo Police Department

“I feel like it’s my job to lift up this issue as best I can. And hopefully, the folks who are writing the news, and broadcasting the news will understand that these women are also friends, neighbors, classmates and work colleagues,″ she told the Associated Press. 

In April of this year, Haaland launched a Missing & Murdered Unit within the Bureau of Indian Affairs.