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Morrisette hired as MMIP Coordinator

Lee Strubinger
Missing and Murdered Indigenous People Coordinator Allison Morrisette (right) sits next to Representative Peri Pourier, who brought the bill to establish the position.

An Oglala Lakota woman will lead a position to coordinate resources to find missing and murdered indigenous people.

The South Dakota Attorney General’s office is announcing the hiring of two women to address the issue, as well as human trafficking.

Indigenous people make up a disproportionate number of missing person cases—about 60 percent in South Dakota, alone. Many of those cases can get lost between jurisdictions. Allison Morrisette’s new job is to bring the state and various tribal nations together to solve those cases.

Morrisette, who worked in the Pennington County State’s Attorney’s office, said the position is needed.

“Being able to capitalize off of the past relationships that I’ve built within the Native community and across the state—I’m excited to network more and to get organizations, law enforcement agencies, non-profits, everyone to the table so we can target this issue,” Morrisette said.

After a series of delays tied to funding a native nonprofit announced it would fund the first three years of the position in the state. Democratic Representative Peri Pourier brought a bill to establish the position nearly two years ago. She said the position is off to a promising start.

“There’s a lot of hope—no pressure—but there’s a lot of hope in this position,” Pourier said. “There’s many people across South Dakota who want to see this position successful.”

MMIP announcement
Lee Strubinger
Left to right: Human Trafficking Coordinator Mary Beth Holzwarth, Attorney General Mark Vargo, Representative Peri Pourier and MMIP Coordinator Allison Morrisette. Vargo is announcing a new advisory council that will guide the coordinator position.

The attorney General's office is also hiring a human trafficking coordinator. Mary Beth Holzwarth will build on the efforts of various survivor networks for those who’ve been trafficked.

Holzwarth spent 13 years as CEO of Endeavor 52, an organization dedicated to preventing child sexual assault.

"This new role gives me the opportunity to carry on my work combatting childhood sexual abuse and widen my focus to address other manifestations of exploitation including sexual and labor trafficking,” said Holzwarth.

Attorney General Mark Vargo said the two positions are linked.

“We all face some of the same problems and we have to face them together,” Vargo said. “It is my hope that these two women will be a huge step toward ensuring that we’re united, and we’re coordinated and that we’re doing everything that we can for our citizens.”

Vargo said the next step is to establish an advisory group of state and tribal law enforcement, leaders and community members who are closest to the problem.

Attorney General-elect Marty Jackley said he looks forward to seeing what the coordinators can do.

“Allison Morrisette’s proven ability to work with different law enforcement agencies and Native communities will be a powerful asset furthering our commitment to serving all South Dakotans,” Jackley said. “Mary Beth Holzwarth’s long track record of advocating for children will be a needed and powerful tool in our fight against human trafficking.”

Lee Strubinger is SDPB’s Rapid City-based news and political reporter. A former reporter for Fort Lupton Press (CO) and Colorado Public Radio, Lee holds a master’s in public affairs reporting from the University of Illinois-Springfield.