A snapshot of data from 71 U.S. cities identified 506 cases of Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls (MMIWG). In a report released Nov. 14 by the Urban Indian Health Institute (UIHI), a division of the Seattle Indian Health Board, researchers also revealed significant challenges in collecting data on the total number of missing or murdered American Indians and Alaska Natives residing off-reservation and outside rural villages.
“Seventy-one percent of American Indian and Alaska Natives live in urban areas, yet, accurate data does not exist regarding the rates of violence among this population,” said Abigail Echo-Hawk, Director of UIHI and citizen of the Pawnee Nation of Oklahoma. “This report is a step towards addressing this epidemic.”
UIHI intends to provide the report as a resource for urban Indian organizations, tribal governments, and legislators.
“This report provides a necessary snapshot of the epidemic and is a call-to-action to protect Native women and girls,” said Echo-Hawk.
Annita Luccesi is a co-author of the report with Echo-Hawk and is a Southern Cheyenne descendant. Lucchesi found in the course of her research some significant issues: a lack of available data on urban Indians; the need for non-tribal law enforcement agencies to coordinate with tribal nations regarding their members and to share data on MMIWG; the racial misclassification of missing and murder cases who may be American Indian or Alaska Native, but it was not noted in their records; and inadequate funding for research on violence against urban American Indian and Alaska Native women and girls.
“We owe it to these women and girls to fully identify the scope of the problem,” Lucchesi said. “What we found in our research was that in some cases law enforcement agencies didn’t even have records on file to consult, they were simply going off what they could remember of past cases. This is unacceptable.”
U.S. Senator Lisa Murkowski (R-AK) highlighted the report in a press event in Washington, DC, today where she talked about the importance of addressing the MMIWG epidemic. Murkowski was joined by U.S. senators Heidi Heitkamp (D-ND), Patty Murray (D-WA), Maria Cantwell (D-WA), Jon Tester (D-MT), Representative Gwen Moore (D-WI 4th District), and Juana Majel-Dixon (Pauma Band of Mission Indians), Executive Board Member and Recording Secretary of the National Congress of American Indians (NCAI).
“This new report, authored from within the native community, provides leaders on the local, state, and federal levels with important insight for addressing the crisis of missing native women and girls with the urgency and efficacy it deserves,” Sen. Murray said. “Too often, our nation has ignored or misclassified the terrible stories of violence against women and girls in tribal communities who for years have been reported missing or murdered at much higher rates than their non-native counterparts – or worse, not reported at all. It’s a devastating reality for too many native families in Washington state and around the country that has previously received little research or data collection, creating a significant barrier to efforts to end the decades-long epidemic of missing and murdered indigenous women and girls. A sincere thank you to the Seattle Indian Health Board for shining a light on this disturbing trend impacting countless native families and communities, and as a voice for Washington state know that I will continue pushing to strengthen federal support for tribal priorities and listening to native voices as we all work together to end the tragedy of this senseless epidemic.”
The UIHI report identified the state of Alaska as the fourth-leading state for number of cases of MMIWG. Also, in the top 10 states are New Mexico, Washington, Arizona, Montana, California, Nebraska, Utah, Minnesota and Oklahoma.
“This is data that most of these jurisdictions have never seen before,” said Echo-Hawk. “We were able to identify these cases over the course of a year, on a shoestring budget, and our research points to a much larger tragedy. More research is urgently needed so that legislators at all levels of government can address the issue with thoughtful and targeted policies.”
The researchers also note that Urban Indian organizations need this information to better inform programming and to advocate for change. They also note that this issue is more than just data.
“This is much more than data collection,” said Lucchesi. “This work is an assertion of Indigenous women’s right to sovereignty and safety, and of tribal nations and Native researchers’ right to take leadership in efforts aimed at ending violence against indigenous women.”
View the full report at www.uihi.org/wp-content/uploads/2018/11/Missing-and-Murdered-Indigenous-Women-and-Girls-Report.pdf.
Photos courtesy of Cronkite News. For more stories from Cronkite News, visit cronkitenews.azpbs.org.