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CNA tribal member fights for MMIP

Editor’s note: This is the second part in a series about Ida’s Law, which establishes a liaison to work with law enforcement agencies and families to solve Missing and Murdered Indigenous Persons cases throughout Oklahoma. The series explores Ida Beard’s story, legislation history and more.

LaRenda Morgan, governmental affairs liaison and tribal member of the Cheyenne and Arapaho Tribe, began work on Ida’s Law nearly three years ago.

LaRenda Morgan

Ida’s Law, a 2021 legislation signed by Gov. Kevin Stitt, establishes a Missing and Murdered Indigenous Persons liaison at the Oklahoma State Bureau of Investigations. The liaison will coordinate with all law enforcement agencies and Native American families to solve MMIP cases more effectively.

“It will help Indian Country,” Morgan said. “Ida’s case is not the only one of its kind. There are so many cold cases regarding Native Americans – not only women, but men in the state of Oklahoma.”

Morgan is the cousin of Ida Beard, who the 2021 legislation is named after. To her, it meant helping not only her family in the search for one of their own, but other Native American families in the state who are missing one of theirs.

District 45 Sen. Paul Rosino said Morgan deserves the credit for Ida’s Law. It was Morgan who created the rough draft of the legislation.

“I did the research of other legislations in other states,” Morgan said. “I contacted (OSBI) and talked to several agents.”

To Morgan, MMIP cases are significant because they fall through the cracks of the public eye.

“It was in my hopes of doing this legislation that what we experienced with Ida’s case, other families won’t have to go through,” Morgan said. “… I don’t think the case was taken seriously. There’s a different detective on it now and he has been really helpful.”

 El Reno Police Department detective Todd Ward took over the case March 23, 2016 and keeps a close and open dialogue with the family.

Cheyenne and Arapaho Tribe advocates for finding MMIP

“We’ve supported state legislators and all those who have worked on Ida’s Law,” Morgan said. “We have advocated, held lobbying days at the state Capitol for the bills. Through the tribe, we also have educational awareness events to communities throughout northwest Oklahoma.”

The Cheyenne and Arapaho are one of many tribes in Oklahoma who advocate for Missing and Murdered Indigenous People. Ida Beard, a missing person and an El Reno Native American, is a member of the tribe. Photo / Dacoda McDowell-Wahpekeche

Morgan represents the tribe at state, federal and intertribal meetings. She said her efforts with Oklahoma’s Ida’s Law have left impressions on residents and legislators of other states.

“When we started working on it, so many people reached out,” Morgan said. “I even had people calling from Florida wanting to know if we could help do something in their area. … I had to tell people, ‘I am not an investigator.’”

That didn’t stop Morgan from advising South Dakota Rep. Peri Pourier. Ida’s Law was used as a model this year for the state’s House Bill 1199, which was passed in South Dakota’s Legislature.

Morgan has used the National Missing and Unidentified Persons System to create lists that she uses in discussions with local public officials. A reason she wanted this legislation was because of the lack of data and coordination between law enforcement agencies.

“We need the liaison because the data is not consistent,” Morgan said. “The numbers came from NamUs, and it also came from the FBI.”

Beard has been missing since 2015, and with this legislation, detectives across the state, like Ward, can work together with the MMIP liaison. While the liaison will coordinate with local, state, tribal and federal agencies, they will also maintain a relationship between families and law enforcement, Morgan said.

There was hesitance within the Legislature because of former Attorney General William Barr’s national strategy to employ MMIP coordinators for 11 states, of which Oklahoma was one, Morgan noted.

“There was a lot of confusion amongst some of the Oklahoma Legislature that I had to clarify because they had been told (the MMIP coordinator) and the OSBI position was a duplicate, which was not true,” Morgan said.

The MMIP coordinator was more of an administrative position that isn’t permanent and is affiliated with the federal government, unlike the liaison with OSBI.

The News reached out to OSBI for a comment about the liaison, but did not hear back.

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