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Family of murdered Indigenous woman believes her death could have been prevented

"She's going to be very missed"
Family of murdered Indigenous woman believes her death could have been prevented
Posted at 8:13 AM, Dec 07, 2022
and last updated 2022-12-07 10:13:43-05

IGNACIO, Colo. — The family of a murdered Indigenous woman whose body was found over the weekend believes her death could have been prevented.

28-year-old Raeanna "Nikki" Burch-Woodhull's body was found on Saturday, December 3, around a week after she was last seen. Family members spoke with Denver7 and believe there was not enough urgency or attention paid to their loved one's case when she first disappeared.

Felicia Munguia said her younger sister was known as Nikki, but that family called her Nicole. Munguia and Burch-Woodhull were only two years apart in age.

“She's always making people laugh. She enjoyed talking about her Broncos," said Munguia about Burch-Woodhull. “It's been a nightmare, yeah. That's the only way I can describe it right now.”

Oolca Buckskin's daughter was close with Burch-Woodhull, but Burch-Woodhull was also there for Buckskin.

"She's so loyal to her family, her daughters, her friends. If you called her at 1 a.m. or 2 a.m., whatever time of the day, she would be there for you," Buckskin said. “She adored her babies. And that's why her sister knew something was wrong, because she wouldn't ever leave her kids for that long without contacting anybody.”

Burch-Woodhull was a mother to two young girls, according to Munguia, and was expecting her third daughter. Family identified the suspect in the case as Burch-Woodhull's husband.

RELATED: Investigators take Ignacio man into custody in connection with homicide of Indigenous woman

"There's been some history there of domestic violence before," Buckskin said. “It was not like her to be gone that long. And that's what Felicia kept trying to tell them, like, 'This is not like her. This is not a habit. She's never been gone this long before, especially away from her kids.'”

Munguia said she contacted police quickly, but that Burch-Woodhull had a warrant out for her arrest at the time and apparently police told Munguia that her sister may have been hiding.

“I needed to get more help, getting them to take it seriously," said Munguia. “It could have been avoided if they would have done their jobs.”

Munguia also said she was initially contacting the Southern Ute Police Department, but later learned it was actually the Ignacio Police Department's jurisdiction. Jurisdictional issues are common obstacles in missing Indigenous cases.

“She was Native American. She was not Southern Ute. And I think some of those were kind of, you know, slow reactions, because some people thought she was a Southern Ute Tribal Member, and then we come to find out she was adopted into this other new tribe," said Daisy Bluestar, a member of the Missing and Murdered Indigenous Relatives Taskforce of Colorado.

Munguia contacted Bluestar to help bring attention to her sister's case. Burch-Woodhull's family believes the taskforce helped apply more pressure in the search for Burch-Woodhull.

“Heartbreaking, disappointing, heart-shattering, and it's just a shame," said Bluestar about Burch-Woodhull's murder. This was a very good example of how the system failed another one of our Native American sisters... We're not messing around anymore and we're not going to wait for the police anymore.”

This year, the taskforce helped pass SB22-150, which created the Office of Liaison for Missing and Murdered Indigenous Relatives. The newly formed office helps bridge the gaps historically seen in Indigenous missing people cases.

Arron Julian is the director of the office, and has only been in the position for two weeks. Julian said he received an alert about Burch-Woodhull on Friday, December 2, and arrived to help search for her the next day.

“We arrived, met with the Southern Ute Police Department. Then I met with the Colorado Bureau of Investigations. And from there, we made some phone calls and determined what the jurisdictional issues might be. And then they asked for our assistance," said Julian. “One cohesive group where the community members, the grassroots organization, law enforcement and other entities that wanted to help, we coordinated those efforts.”

This was the first case where the office has been activated, since it is so new. Burch-Woodhull's body was found on the same day as Julian connected all of the groups together.

“The legislation was developed because there was a disparity of what was happening with Native communities, not only in this state, but across other states," said Julian. “With any disconnects that may happen with the Native communities, we're there to work together, join forces and do what we can to help resolve those issues.”

Now, Munguia said Burch-Woodhull's family will await justice in the case.