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How a volunteer group helps find missing Native Americans

(NewsNation) — Having a missing loved one, without any answers on what happened to them, could be one of the hardest things for a family to go through.

At the very least, families want to know that someone is searching for their loved one.

But there are thousands of missing Indigenous people in the U.S., and many Native families say they aren’t getting any help.

But one group is doing everything it can to bring answers to those families. Bernadine Beyale is the founder of 4Corners K9 Search and Rescue. The organization was born after she was told her state-run search team in New Mexico wasn’t allowed to help a Native American family searching for their son.

“He said, if you go, you’re actually going to have to go own your own and not part of the team. You’re going as a community member because we can only deploy when the state police call us,” Beyale said her boss told her.

NewsNation will hold a livestream at 12 p.m. Eastern with Bernadine Beyale. You can watch it in the player above and submit a question using the form at the bottom of this page. We may answer it during the livestream.

It’s a big job, and search dogs Trigger and Gunny rarely get a day off from scouring the breathtaking and dangerous landscapes of America’s tribal lands in search of missing and murdered Indigenous people.

Beyale’s all-female, all-Native American volunteer group fills a gap, helping families searching for missing loved ones on tribal lands.

“We are not tied to anybody. I don’t report to the Navajo Police. I don’t report to the state of New Mexico. We are our own team. So who we report to is the families when they need help,” Beyale said.

Those families include the families of Ranelle Rose Bennett in New Mexico, who has been missing since 2021, and the family of 32-year-old Ryan Tom, missing since June in Utah, and 51-year-old Benny Stash.

Stash suffered from health problems and was going blind, and his family said he never came back from the store one day.

“We searched for a day and a half and we had no clue where he went,” said Cheryl Begaye, Benny’s sister.

Trigger and Gunny, wearing GPS collars that tracked their movements on a map, led searchers to a sad conclusion, finding Stash’s remains just a quarter-mile away.

“Once the dogs got started we found him within 45 minutes,” Beyale said.

While it wasn’t the outcome the family hoped for, they were grateful for the work the team did.

“I was happy they were there to help the family out. How would you say, like a closure for our family,” Begaye said.

Beyale’s team is now being invited to speak at schools and to tribal police groups to explain what they do and how they can work with law enforcement.

“It’s an everyday thing. Every day after work we go home and train on something,” Beyale said.

Both of her parents were Navajo police officers who inspired Beyale’s work.

“That’s where my passion came in, is: How can I help these families and law enforcement bridge that gap?” she said.

Beyale spends nearly all her free time and most of her paychecks on the expensive search missions. She’s hoping the group can add a drone to its arsenal of tools, as well as more trained volunteers to help cover the 27,000 square miles of Navajo Nation.

Beyale’s team is also called to help other reservations, in hopes of chipping away at the thousands of unsolved missing cases and bringing families the answers they are desperately seeking.

Beyale has also launched a GoFundMe campaign to help defray the cost of searches and is actively seeking volunteers.

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