Native American women suffer sexual and physical violence at higher rates than women in other communities. They are murdered at higher rates.
No one knows exactly how many Native American women have simply vanished. It’s time this ended.
In the U.S., Native American women account for 7 percent of disappearances, but only 2 percent of the U.S. population. In Canada, indigenous women, which make up just 4 percent of the female population, were 19 percent of homicides in 1980 to 2012. Unlike any other group, Native American women are mostly victims of non-natives.
In September 2016, Canada Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s government established the National Inquiry Into Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls. Our neighbors to the north are fully integrating the issue of missing First Nations women in their political priorities.
In the United States, tribes, reservations and reporting are scattered and uncoordinated. Reports of missing women are too often met with questions about how the woman might have been engaged in sex work or simply gone off on a bender.
Four years ago, the Urban Indian Health Initiative began to try to find out what happened to the missing women.
Researchers discovered the higher rates of missing women and unsolved violent crimes. They also found that record keeping had been so poor or nonexistent that there is no way to know for sure just how many native women have disappeared.
The good news is that states are beginning to recognize that Native American women deserve better.
Washington state has passed bills creating two state patrol liaison positions specifically tasked to build relationships with native communities and to develop response protocols. Other states are in various stages of considering the issue.
None of this will be easy.
The long history of bad treatment makes Native Americans understandably mistrustful of government agencies and intentions. Tribal, state and local law enforcement jurisdictions too often conflict and leave law enforcement holes on reservations, some of which are larger than some states.
Awareness is only step one.
The violence suffered by Native American women and their families should move to top of mind and become tops for action immediately in all states.