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Some Colorado Native Leaders disappointed with hiring of Arron Julian for director of new office of missing, murdered indigenous relatives

New missing, murdered indigenous relatives director draws criticism
New missing, murdered indigenous relatives director draws criticism 03:00

On Wednesday, the Colorado Department of Public Safety announced its director for the newly created state Office of Liaison for Missing or Murdered Indigenous Relatives, but some Colorado Native leaders are critical of the hire.

Donna Chrisjohn is an advocate and member of the Denver American Indian Commission. Chrisjohn helped with the founding and passing of Senate Bill 22-150, which lead to the formation of this office. Chrisjohn's 25-year-old nephew was murdered just three years ago. He lived in Denver, and was killed Rosebud, South Dakota.

"A nephew of mine went missing for 3-4 days, and then we discovered his body," Chrisjohn said. "And they have not charged anyone or made any arrests."

Chrisjohn's family is still reeling with her nephew's death and their story is one of several in Colorado, which is why the new office was created to focus on the missing and murdered indigenous relatives in the state.

"We were very specific, in regard to the need and the assurance that this individual that would be hired would be connected to community, not just the indigenous community, but the Denver community and the Colorado community at large," said Chrisjohn.

Gina Lopez, the rural and indigenous program manager at the Colorado Coalition Against Sexual Assault also helped with founding and passing the bill.

"This is not just work of victims, and victimizations, and crimes and violence per say, this is about the relationships we have with each other," Lopez said.

The director appointed to lead the new office is Arron Julian, who's from the Jicarilla Apache tribe, originally from New Mexico with over 36 years of law enforcement experience.

"I've been a federal criminal investigator, chief of police from California, I was recently retired," Julian said.


But leaders like Lopez and Chrisjohn have concerns about his hire, because they said the Colorado Department of Public Safety, and Gov. Jared Polis' team did not include them in the decision, even though they helped create the legislation.

"We were not contacted, not only our group, but our greater community, regarding the hiring process or the selection of the director," said Chrisjohn.

Leaders also feel the director needed to have a Colorado community connection, with less policing experience and more work with MMIR. This is also an issue that impacts indigenous women at higher rates than any other group, including indigenous men, which is why Native leaders believe a woman would have been better suited for the position. CBS Colorado asked Julian about the concerns.

"I have a lot of experience working with tribes, working and helping victims, I've been a victim advocate for many years, and for part of that progress, I was a sexual assault response team coordinator for San Carlos Apache healthcare," said Julian.

Patricia Billinger, a spokesperson with the department, sent a statement about the concerns, saying in part, "The Colorado Department of Public Safety conducted a competitive, nationwide search and turned to several partners with experience on native and MMIR issues to help guide the process. That included the Colorado Commission on Indian Affairs, the Southern Ute Council, and the Tribal and Indigenous Engagement Office of the Keystone Policy Center."

Billinger added that "no other candidate combined the full spectrum of leadership, life experience, and professional qualification that Arron has. His background includes everything necessary for this position: his personal life experience as a member and a leader of a tribe in the Four Corners combined with more than three decades of professional experience dealing with missing and murdered persons; collaborating across agencies and jurisdictions; serving in a leadership role and managing teams; and not only assisting but working to improve the experience of Native American sexual assault survivors."

Despite disagreements, Native leaders said at the end of the day it's about finding justice for relatives, which Lopez hopes is still the outcome.

"We are still working right now, and we will continue to work regardless of how this office is working through obstacles," said Lopez.

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