Indigenous woman seeks answers in missing and murder cases, speaks out in support of new Nebraska bill

OMAHA, Nebraska (Nebraska) — Lestina Sol-Merdassi has four relatives from Nebraska who have either gone missing or been killed. None of them answered what happened.

A new bill in the Nebraska legislature, LB328, aims to solve cases of missing and murdered Native people in the state.

This follows LB154, signed by former Gov. Pete Ricketts in 2019, which produced a case report.

Researchers have found about 500 missing First Nations in Nebraska between 1940 and 2020.

“This is my little brother, Shane. Shane Boswell was killed in August 2020 in Minneapolis, Minnesota,” Saul-Merdassi said. “They don’t really have a prime suspect or someone officially under arrest for this crime. He was 23 years old when he was shot, killed and left there to die.”

And then there is her cousin Lakota Renville.

“This is the carpet she was found wrapped in. This is the only evidence they have.

Then Nicholas Lee Adams, another cousin.

“This is probably the most recent photo we have when it was found. His naked body was found in a pond. The cause of his death was blunt trauma to the head and drowning.”

And another cousin, Merle Saul.

“And then Merle holds one of her grandchildren in her arms. And this is him again with all his grandchildren.

Personally affected by the pending cases, Sol-Merdasi testified at the LB328 hearing in Lincoln.

This is a bill introduced by state senator Jane Raybould to establish an Office of Missing and Murdered Indigenous Peoples.

“In many cases, it may be that tribal and non-tribal law enforcement agencies must jointly coordinate the investigation of a case. We know this specialist will go a long way in helping to bridge this huge gap and gap,” Raybould said.

The bill proposes to hire a full-time employee in the Prosecutor General’s Office. Their responsibilities will include synthesizing and communicating information and resources to state, local, tribal, and federal law enforcement agencies.

Assistant Attorney General Glen Parks spoke at the hearing in a neutral capacity.

“We think it’s a good idea. But this is a small step in the right direction. And if it’s in our office, I don’t want to have unrealistic expectations that it’s a silver bullet.”

Nobody testified against LB328. The Judicial Committee also did not take immediate action.

Sol-Merdassi believes missing persons cases are treated differently.

“Gabby Petito… when we look and see that the national police have been notified and are doing all these investigations… it’s also like salt in our wounds,” she said. “Lack of closure is an open wound and I don’t know when that wound will heal or when the grief will end for many of my family members.”

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