Legal counsel and representation of survivors, their loved ones, families, friends and communities of Missing & Murdered Indigenous Women.
The Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women (MMIW) human-rights crisis disproportionately affects Indigenous peoples in Canada and the United States, notably those in the FNMI (First Nations, Métis, Inuit) and Native American communities.
A corresponding mass movement in the US and Canada works to raise awareness of missing and murdered Indigenous women and girls (MMIWG) through organized marches; the building of databases; local community, city council, and tribal council meetings; and domestic violence trainings for police.
MURDERED & MISSING INDIGENOUS WOMEN
Our women, girls, and two-spirts are being taken from us in an alarming way.
As of 2016, the National Crime Information Center has reported 5,712 cases of missing American Indian and Alaska Native women and girls.
Strikingly, the U.S Department of Justice missing persons database has only reported 116 cases.
The majority of these murders are committed by non-Native people on Native-owned land.
The lack of communication combined with jurisdictional issues between state, local, federal, and tribal law enforcement, make it nearly impossible to begin the investigative process.
Indigenous Women (girls +) murdered 10x higher than all other ethnicities.
Murder is the 3rd leading cause of death for Indigenous Women (Centers for Disease Control).
More than 4 out of 5 Indigenous Women have experienced violence (84.3%) (National Institute of Justice Report).
More than half Indigenous Women experience sexual violence (56.1%).
More than half Indigenous Women have been physically abused by their intimate partners (55.5 percent).
less than half of Indigenous Women have been stalked in their lifetime (48.8 percent).
Indigenous Women are 1.7 times more likely than Anglo-American women to experience violence.
Indigenous Women are 2xs more likely to be raped than Anglo-American white women.
Murder rate of Indigenous Women is 3xs higher than Anglo-American women.
POLICY INITIATIVES AND LANDMARKS
May 5, 2019 - The White House proclamation officially designated as the National Day of Awareness for Missing and Murdered Native Women and Girls.
2019 - Executive Order 13898, a/k/a Operation Lady Justice, creates a task force for missing and murdered AI/AN peoples that will address the concerns of Indigenous communities in the U.S., such as data collection, policies, establish cold-case teams, and improve investigative responses.
2020 - Savanna’s Act became law and requires the Department of Justice to review, revise and develop policies and protocols to address MMIP cases.
2021 - Secretary of the Interior Deb Haaland (Laguna Pueblo) announced the formation of the Missing and Murdered Unit that will focus on analyzing and solving missing and murdered Indigenous peoples (MMIP) cases.
Please click the link to learn more: https://www.nativewomenswilderness.org/mmiw
Families of missing and murdered Native women ask: ‘Where’s the attention for ours?’
Gabby Petito’s case highlights the power of media attention but for Indigenous communities it also emphasizes the lack of attention given to missing and murdered Native people
Fri 24 Sep 2021 06.00 BST
In a report released earlier this year, researchers found that between 2011 and September 2020, 710 Indigenous people were reported missing across Wyoming, and that between 2000 and 2020, Indigenous homicide victims accounted for 21% of all homicides, though they make up only 3% of the state’s population
MISSING AND MURDERED INDIGENOUS WOMEN
Across the United States and Canada Native Women and girls are being taken or murdered at an unrelenting rate.
Facts About Missing And Murdered
There is widespread anger and sadness in First Nations communities. Sisters, wives, mothers, and daughters are gone from their families without clear answers. There are families whose loved ones are missing—babies growing up without mothers, mothers without daughters, and grandmothers without granddaughters. For Native America, this adds one more layer of trauma upon existing wounds that cannot heal. Communities are pleading for justice.
However, the data to confirm the scope of the problem is elusive.
"The National Crime Information Center reports that, in 2016, there were 5,712 reports of missing American Indian and Alaska Native women and girls, though the US Department of Justice’s federal missing person database, NamUs, only logged 116 cases."
A red hand over the mouth has become the symbol of a growing movement, the Murdered and Missing Indigenous Women (MMIW) movement. It stands for all the missing sisters whose voices are not heard. It stands for the silence of the media and law enforcement in the midst of this crisis. It stands for the oppression and subjugation of Native women who are now rising up to say #NoMoreStolenSisters.
Native Americans today face some extraordinary challenges. These statistics from the Urban Indian Health Institute were compiled from a survey of 71 U.S. cities in 2016. The numbers speak for themselves: Native American women make up a significant portion of the missing and murdered cases. Not only is the murder rate ten times higher than the national average for women living on reservations but murder is the third leading cause of death for Native women. This is startling as Native people only make up 2% of the US overall population. Urban Indian Health Institute reports the youngest MMIW victim was a baby less than one year old and the oldest victim was an 83-year-old.
How States Are Addressing Violence Against Indigenous Women
From Wyoming to Wisconsin, states are taking steps to address the crisis of murdered and missing Native American women. Will they make a difference?
By Devon Haynie Assistant Managing Editor, Best StatesNov. 1, 2021, at 1:06 p.m.
While data on the exact number of missing and murdered Indigenous women is hard to come by, available statistics paint a grim picture. From 1999 to 2019, homicide was the third-leading cause of death among American Indian and Alaska Native women and girls ages 12 to 30, according to data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Among white women and girls, it was the fifth-leading cause of death. On some reservations, homicide rates for American Indian women have been more than 10 times the national average.
In 2020, there were 5,295 records for missing American Indian girls and women tallied by the National Crime Information Center, including 578 records that were still "active" by year's end.
Advocates suspect the real number of missing or murdered Indigenous women is far higher than the data suggests, but that systemic racism, jurisdictional confusion and poor data collection leads to underreporting and half-hearted investigations – if an investigation occurs at all.
"Indigenous women, they're subjected to a version of justice that is completely different from everybody else," says Rachel Ward, research director for Amnesty International USA, a human rights group. "Many of these cases slip through the cracks. Everybody spends hours arguing over who has the responsibility to do the primary investigation and meanwhile, days, weeks, months have passed without someone conducting even the most basic investigation."
Incomplete Data Complicates the Search for Missing Native American Women
Amid rising concern about the number of missing Indigenous women and girls, the search is on for something else: reliable data to track their cases.
By Braeden Waddell
Nov. 1, 2021, at 1:17 p.m
Government data collection on missing Indigenous women and girls has been heavily criticized in recent years, driven in large part by a 2018 report from the Urban Indian Health Institute, a research and advocacy organization focused on health in Indigenous communities. They found that while the National Crime Information Center, a criminal justice database available primarily to law enforcement officials, tallied nearly 6,000 reports of missing Indigenous women and girls in 2016, only 116 cases had been logged into the National Missing and Unidentified Persons System, or NamUs, database.
Though each appears to track slightly different metrics, the disparity between the two databases was troubling, indicating that many cases of missing Indigenous women were falling through the cracks. Funded and administered by the Department of Justice, NamUs bills itself as a "resource center" for information on missing people, unidentified remains and unclaimed bodies. Its data is accessible to the public and is used by law enforcement, medical examiners and coroners to cross-check DNA, look for patterns in disappearances and keep statistical information on the people who go missing each year. Compared with NCIC, it provides more publicly available information that could be used to spread the word and potentially locate someone who's gone missing.
The UIHI report outlined a countrywide "data crisis" on missing Indigenous women and girls. It covered 71 cities and identified more than 500 cases where Indigenous women and girls were missing or murdered, or where the status of the case was unknown. At the time, researchers found more than 150 cases that weren't in law enforcement records at all.
In recent years, as stories of law enforcement failing to adequately investigate missing Indigenous people's cases spread, pressure mounted on the government to update the data and to provide more in-depth information about missing native people.
How States Are Addressing Violence Against Indigenous Women
From Wyoming to Wisconsin, states are taking steps to address the crisis of murdered and missing Native American women. Will they make a difference?
By Devon Haynie Assistant Managing Editor, Best StatesNov. 1, 2021, at 1:06 p.m.
Lack of awareness, data hinders cases of missing and murdered Native American women, study finds
A new report documents more than 2,300 missing Native American women and girls in the U.S., underscoring the reasons behind the lack of awareness and scrutiny in these cases.
The absence of awareness or widespread scrutiny in these cases is the focus of a report released Thursday that documented 2,306 missing Native American women and girls in the U.S., about 1,800 of whom were killed or vanished within the past 40 years.
Nearly 60 percent of the cases are homicides and 31 percent involve girls 18 and younger, according to data analyzed by the Sovereign Bodies Institute, a nonprofit, Indigenous-led research organization that began counting and mapping such missing and murdered cases over the past few years. In addition, nearly three-quarters of the cases had victims who were living within the foster care system when they went missing. The vast majority of cases in the U.S., as well as another 2,000 in Canada, remain unsolved, according to the research.
Researchers said they examined 105 cases of missing and murdered Indigenous women and girls from the region and found that 62 percent of cases were never included in any official missing persons database; 74 percent of cases have no public documentation related to manner of death, whether charges were filed or a suspect or person of interest was found; and 56 percent of cases don't mention or make public the victim's tribal affiliation. However, tracking tribal affiliation has begun to change recently, with the National Missing and Unidentified Persons System, a national clearinghouse that falls under the Justice Department, making such information available as of June.
The Justice Department last fall announced a federal initiative known as Operation Lady Justice, which was formed to help combat violence and human trafficking involving tribes.
A 2016 study by the National Institute of Justice estimates that 1.5 million American Indian and Alaskan Native women have experienced violence, including sexual abuse, and the Justice Department found that women on some reservations have been killed at a rate more than 10 times the national average.
NamUs Support for Missing Indigenous Person Cases
How NIJ and its NamUs Program Support Tribal Law Enforcement and Communities
NamUs is working to close data gaps related to missing indigenous persons, and to ensure that every tribal law enforcement agency knows about and can use the NamUs program to help resolve cases. The NamUs 2.0 database (accessible from namus.nij.ojp.gov) allows tribes to collect better data on their missing persons, and provides a tool for sharing and comparing case information across jurisdictional boundaries.
Data fields specific to tribal cases in NamUs include:
A missing person’s tribal enrollment or affiliation
Whether a missing person was last seen on tribal land
Whether a missing person’s primary residence was on tribal land
The Presidential Task Force on Missing and Murdered American Indians and Alaska Natives
Department of Justice Journal of Federal Law and Practice
The Presidential Task Force
Under Executive Order 13898, the Task Force was directed to conduct consultations; develop model protocols to apply to new and unsolved cases of missing or murdered persons in American Indian and Alaska Native (AI/AN) communities, including best practices for law enforcement response, data sharing, and better use of databases; establish multi-disciplinary and multi-jurisdictional teams to review cold cases that involve missing and murdered AI/AN; and develop both an education/outreach campaign and a public awareness campaign. However, the Task Force itself did not have the authority to review or investigate ongoing cases or cold cases, nor to provide direct or indirect support to victims or families at any stage of the criminal investigation or proceedings. If you or your family requires additional assistance, there are resources that may be able to provide assistance or refer you to organizations that might assist you.
As part of the ongoing collaborative efforts between the Department of Justice's Missing and Murdered Indigenous Persons Initiative and the Presidential Task Force on Missing and Murdered American Indians and Alaska Natives (Operation Lady Justice), the Department published two issues of the Department of Justice Journal of Federal Law and Practice dedicated to the topics of missing or murdered American Indians and Alaska Natives.
Department of Justice Journal of Federal Law and Practice
January and March 2021 Issues
Issue on Missing or Murdered Indigenous Persons: Legal, Prosecution, Advocacy and Healthcare
This issue, published March 2021, focuses on topics related to law, prosecution, advocacy and healthcare-related issues.
Issue on Missing or Murdered Indigenous People: Law Enforcement & Prevention
This issue, published January 2021, focuses on law enforcement and prevention-related issues.
Violence Against American Indian and Alaska Native Women and Men
An NIJ-funded study shows that American Indian and Alaska Native women and men suffer violence at alarmingly high rates.
National Institute of Justice Journal
June 1, 2016
By André B. Rosay
On June 23, 2016, NIJ hosted a Research for the Real World seminar with the author, who is the lead researcher of this study. View this seminar.
More than four in five American Indian and Alaska Native women and men have experienced violence in their lifetime, and more than one in three experienced violence in the past year, according to a new report from an NIJ-funded study.
As Native American women go missing and are murdered, who is keeping track?
Jane Simons | Wednesday, August 18, 2021
In 2019, more than 5,590 Native American women were reported missing. Murder is the third-leading cause of death for them. Yet there is still no single database that tracks the number of Native women who go missing or are murdered every year, says Elizabeth Cook, Senior Staff Attorney for the Nottawaseppi Huron Band of the Potawatomi.
Those federal agencies that collect data as it relates to Missing, Murdered Indigenous Women and people “don’t keep track of nationality and if they’re Native American they have been miscategorized as non-white or white and no one really knows,” Cook says. “The information they do find is inaccurate for the most part and oftentimes based on memory, not actual facts.”
Cook cites a report by the Urban Indian Health Institute (UIHI), a tribal epidemiology center based in Seattle, Wash., which says that in 2016 the National Crime Information Center reported that there were 5,712 reports of missing American Indian and Alaska Native women and girls, though the U.S. Department of Justice’s federal missing persons database, NamUs, logged only 116 cases.
“The Center for Disease Control and Prevention has reported that murder is the third-leading cause of death among American Indian and Alaska Native women and that rates of violence on reservations can be up to ten times higher than the national average,” the report says. “However, no research has been done on rates of such violence among American Indian and Alaska Native women living in urban areas despite the fact that approximately 71% of American Indian and Alaska Natives live in urban areas.”
Cook says she has not seen any recent statistics for the State of Michigan but has heard enough anecdotally to know there’s a problem.
“I know there’s a big problem with sex trafficking in Michigan and we have an international border, so I do know there are issues with women becoming missing because it’s easier to get in and out of Canada,” she says.
In 2017, the UIHI began a study aimed at assessing the number and dynamics of cases of missing and murdered American Indian and Alaska Native women and girls in cities across the United States. Using FOIA (Freedom of information Act) requests, UIHI requested all case data from 1900 to the present.
“No agency was able to provide data dating to 1900. The oldest case UIHI identified happened in 1943, but approximately two-thirds of the cases in UIHI’s data are from 2010 to 2018,” the report says. “This suggests the actual number of urban MMIWG (Missing, Murdered Indigenous Women) cases are much higher than what UIHI was able to identify in this study.”
Missing and Murdered Indigenous People
The Missing and Murdered Unit within the Office of Justice Services focuses on analyzing and solving missing and murdered cases involving American Indians and Alaska Natives.
Related to The Not Invisible Act Commission
Provided By Office of Justice Services
Everyone deserves to feel safe in their communities.
American Indian and Alaska Native people are at a disproportionate risk of experiencing violence, murder, or going missing and make up a significant portion of the missing and murdered cases. The Missing and Murdered Unit within the Bureau of Indian Affairs Office of Justice Services (BIA-OJS) investigates missing and murdered cases in pursuit of justice for those impacted by violence.
Establishment of the Missing and Murdered Unit
The Not Invisible Act of 2020 Legislation
H.R. 2438, the ‘‘Not Invisible Act of 2020,’’ is a congressional act designed to address the crisis of violence and sexual violence committed against American Indian and Alaska Native men and women. The Act brings together a committee of law enforcement, tribal authorities, federal partners, and more to study and discuss solutions to the crisis of murdered and missing Indigenous women and to establish better systems of coordination.
Specifically, the Act directs BIA to appoint a federal effort coordinator to combat violence against Native people and establishes, within the Department of the Interior (DOI) and the Department of Justice (DOJ), a Joint Commission on Reducing Violent Crime Against Indians. It also creates a new position within the Interior Department dealing specifically with murder, trafficking, and missing Native Americans, and forms a new joint advisory committee between the Interior and Justice Departments to solve those issues.
The Not Invisible Act appoints BIA to coordinate prevention efforts, grants, and programs relating to murder of, trafficking of, and missing Native Americans, across various federal agencies. The coordinator reports to the Secretary of the Interior, and is directed to take into consideration the unique challenges faced by Tribal communities and works in cooperation with outside organizations to train Tribal law enforcement, Indian Health Service (IHS) providers, and other Tribal community members on identifying, responding to, and reporting on cases of missing persons, murder, and human trafficking. The coordinator also reports to Congress annually on these efforts and provides recommendations for improving coordination.
BIA’s Missing and Murdered Unit
The BIA, Office of Justice Services established the Missing and Murdered Unit to focus on analyzing and solving missing and murdered cases involving American Indians and Alaska Natives. Investigators and other specialists work to leverage tribal, federal, state, and local law enforcement agencies, and other stakeholders to enhance the criminal justice system and address the legitimate concerns of AI/AN communities, regarding missing and murdered people – specifically missing and murdered indigenous women and girls.
The Missing and Murdered Unit is unique in OJS in that it has the ability to marshal law enforcement resources across the Office of Justice Services and was given an expanded ability to collaborate efforts with other agencies, such as enhancing the DOJ’s National Missing and Unidentified Persons System (NamUs), and developing strategic partnerships with additional stakeholders such as the FBI’s Behavioral Analysis Units (BAU’s), the FBI Forensic Laboratory, the US Marshals Missing Child Unit (MCU) and the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children (NCMEC).
In addition to reviewing unsolved cases, the MMU works with Tribal, BIA and FBI Investigators on active missing and murdered investigations. BIA law enforcement have numerous open cases agents are investigating. The MMU handles acute cases, which are cases that are considered either an endangered missing person, have been missing for a long term, or are an unsolved homicide. The BIA seeks public assistance and information on these cases involving missing or murdered victims in Indian Country.
In total, the Unit is responsible for:
Gathering intelligence on active missing and murdered cases,
Reviewing and prioritizing cases for assignment to investigative teams,
Developing investigative plans to guide investigators,
Identify any outside resources that could benefit their investigative efforts and coordinating those resources with their investigative team,
Management of the tips submitted to Tip411, the Cold Case email and 1-800 line
Assigning and investigating cases,
Coordinating with other stakeholders,
Preparing investigative reports,
Analyzing current missing-person protocols, and
Developing missing-person response guidelines.
The Unit is led by a Unit Chief who is responsible for stakeholder collaboration, ongoing policy development and overall performance of the unit.
Supervisory Special Agents (SSA’s) assist the Unit Chief by providing day-to-day supervision of the Special Agents in the field.
Program Analysts develop the collection and analysis of performance data;
Program Specialists coordinate administrative and programmatic responsibilities; and
Victim Specialists to help coordinate services with the families of victims.
There are 15 BIA offices located throughout the nation dedicated to solving missing and murdered cases for American Indians and Alaskan Natives. Office locations were selected based on an analysis that identified regions throughout Indian Country with the highest number of reported missing and murdered AI/ANs as well as the most strategically situated to provide the best service to each regional area.
Missing and Murdered Indigenous People Crisis
Violence Against Native Americans and Alaska Natives far exceed national averages
Related to Missing and Murdered Indigenous People
Provided By Office of Justice Services
For decades, Native American and Alaska Native communities have struggled with high rates of assault, abduction, and murder of women. Community advocates describe the crisis as a legacy of generations of government policies of forced removal, land seizures and violence inflicted on Native peoples.
A 2016 study by the National Institute of Justice (NIJ) found that more than four in five American Indian and Alaska Native women (84.3 percent) have experienced violence in their lifetime, including 56.1 percent who have experienced sexual violence.
In the year leading up to the study, 39.8 percent of American Indian and Alaska Native women had experienced violence, including 14.4 percent who had experienced sexual violence.
Overall, more than 1.5 million American Indian and Alaska Native women have experienced violence in their lifetime.
Native American and Alaska Native rates of murder, rape, and violent crime are all higher than the national averages.
When looking at missing and murdered cases, data shows that Native American and Alaska Native women make up a significant portion of missing and murdered individuals.
According to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention, the murder rate is ten times higher than the national average for women living on reservations, and the third leading cause of death for Native women.
Additionally, this group were significantly more likely to experience a rape in their lifetimes compared to other women.
According to a 2008 report titled Violence Against American Indian and Alaska Native Women and the Criminal Justice Response: What is Known, national rates of homicide victimization against American Indian and Alaska Native women are second to those of their African American counterparts.
Like other women, American Indian and Alaska Native women are more likely to be killed by their intimate partners compared to other offenders.
The NIJ study also found that American Indian and Alaska Native men, too, have high victimization rates.
More than four in five American Indian and Alaska Native men (81.6 percent) have experienced violence in their lifetime. And, overall, more than 1.4 million American Indian and Alaska Native men have experienced violence in their lifetime.
In September 2017, the Government Accountability Office (GAO) released a report titled ‘‘Human Trafficking: Investigations in Indian Country or Involving Native Americans and Actions Needed to Better Report on Victims Served.’’ GAO surveyed tribal and major city law enforcement agencies and victim service providers on human trafficking investigations, victim services, and barriers to identifying and serving Native victims.
Twenty-seven of the 132 tribal law enforcement agencies that responded to the survey reported initiating investigations involving human trafficking from 2014 to 2016 and six of 61 major city law enforcement agencies reported initiating human trafficking investigations that involved at least one Native victim during the same time period. 
Survey respondents identified lack of training on identifying and responding appropriately to victims, victim shame and reluctance to come forward, and lack of service provider resources as barriers to investigating cases and serving victims.
Need for Focused Data
While these rates are staggering, research data shows that national averages hide the extremely high rates of murder against American Indian and Alaska Native women present in some counties comprised primarily of tribal lands. According to the National Institute of Justice Centers for Disease Control and prevention 2008 the National Violence Against Women Survey (NVAWS), less than half of violent victimizations against women are ever reported to police.
According to the National Crime Information Center, in 2016, there were 5,712 reports of missing American Indian and Alaska Native women and girls, though the US Department of Justice’s federal missing persons database, but the national information clearinghouse and resource center for missing, unidentified, and unclaimed person cases across the United States, called the National Missing and Unidentified Persons System (NamUs) only logged 116 of those cases.
While it is estimated that rates of violence on reservation can be up to ten times higher than national averages, research is missing on rates of murder violence among American Indian and Alaska Native women living in urban areas.
An NIJ-funded study from 2008 found that the rates of violence on reservations are much higher than the national average.
However, according to the Urban Indian Health Institute, no research has been done on the rates of such violence among American Indian and Alaska Native women living in urban areas despite the fact that approximately 71 percent of American Indian and Alaska Natives live in urban areas.
Moreover, reports indicate that there is no reliable count of how many Native women go missing or are killed each year.11 Researchers have found that women are often misclassified as Hispanic or Asian or other racial categories on missing-person forms and that thousands have been left off a federal missing-persons.
Need for Investigative Resources
Statistics show us that approximately 1,500 American Indian and Alaska Native missing persons have been entered into the National Crime Information Center (NCIC) throughout the U.S. and approximately 2,700 cases of Murder and Nonnegligent Homicide Offenses have been reported to the Federal Government’s Uniform Crime Reporting (UCR) Program.
In total, BIA estimates there are approximately 4,200 missing and murdered cases that have gone unsolved.
These investigations remain unsolved often due to a lack of investigative resources available to identify new information from witness testimony, re-examine new or retained material evidence, as well as reviewing fresh activities of suspects.
Human Trafficking: Investigations in Indian Country or Involving Native Americans and Actions Needed to Better Report on Victims Served
GAO-17-762T Published: Sep 27, 2017. Publicly Released: Sep 27, 2017.
What GAO Found
While federal agencies generally maintain data on human trafficking cases that occur in Indian country, they do not maintain data on whether the victims are Native American (Native American status). All four federal agencies that investigate or prosecute human trafficking in Indian country—the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), the Bureau of Indian Affairs (BIA), U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), and the U.S. Attorneys' Offices—are required to record in their case management systems whether a human trafficking offense was involved in the case.
With the exception of ICE, these agencies are also required to record whether the crime took place in Indian country. ICE officials explained that the agency does not record this information because, unlike BIA and the FBI, ICE is not generally involved in criminal investigations in Indian country. Also, officials from the four agencies said they do not maintain data on Native American status of victims for various reasons, including that such data has no impact on their investigations and prosecutions.
Some law enforcement agencies (LEA) reported encountering human trafficking in Indian country or of Native Americans and cited victim reluctance to participate in investigations and other factors as barriers to investigation and prosecution. Of the 132 tribal LEAs that responded to GAO's survey, 27 reported initiating investigations they considered to have involved human trafficking from 2014 to 2016. Few major city LEAs—6 of 61 survey respondents—reported that they encountered human trafficking involving Native American victims from 2014 to 2016. Further, among the 27 responding tribal LEAs, 18 indicated that they believe victims are reluctant to participate in investigations for reasons including drug addiction and distrust of law enforcement.
New GAO Reports on Human Trafficking to Congress: A Tribal Perspective
By Caroline LaPorte, Senior Native Affairs Advisor, NIWRC
Trafficking, in multiple forms, has been utilized as a tool of genocide and colonization of American Indians and Alaska Natives within the United States since contact. The intentional use of force, in both sexual and labor contexts, against American Indians and Alaska Natives is an act that seeks to degrade tribal sovereignty through an actual stealing away of our people or a utilization of them in unnatural ways. Recently, there has been an uptick in interest from Congress regarding human trafficking in tribal communities, and as such, this article will serve as an overview and update.
Forms of Human Trafficking Recognized Under Federal Law
There are two forms of human trafficking that are generally recognized in federal law—sex trafficking and labor trafficking. The Trafficking Victims Protection Act of 2000 (TVPA) defines human trafficking as “severe forms of trafficking in persons.” Essentially, this means that trafficking under the TVPA is 1) sex trafficking involving the recruitment, harboring, transportation, provision, obtaining, patronizing, or soliciting of a person for a commercial sex act through force, fraud, or coercion, or where the victim has not yet attained 18 years of age; or 2) labor trafficking involving the recruitment, harboring, transportation, provision, or obtaining of a person for labor or services, through the use of force, fraud, or coercion for the purposes of subjection to involuntary servitude, peonage, debt bondage, or slavery. Various tribes and states also have separate definitions of human trafficking (many of which resemble the federal definitions found in the TVPA).
In 2015, President Obama signed the Justice for Victims of Trafficking Act into law. This act required the United States Attorney General to ensure that law enforcement and federal prosecutors received anti-trafficking training; required the Federal Judicial Center, the research and education agency of the federal judicial system, to provide training for judges on ordering restitution for victims of certain trafficking-related crimes; mandated that the Secretary of Homeland Security implement a human trafficking training program for department personnel; required the Attorney General to implement and maintain a national strategy for combating human trafficking; established the Domestic Trafficking Victims’ Fund to supplement the existing statutorily authorized grants or activities; and amended the federal definition of child abuse to include human trafficking.
The Families of 28 Missing Indigenous Women Seek Justice in Haunting New Documentary
Three cases in Big Horn County are investigated in Oxygen's Murdered & Missing in Montana, premiering Nov. 12.
See the first look trailer.
By Samantha Bergeson Oct 26, 2021 1:00 PM
"I feel like I have a target on my back."
The haunting statement is all too true for Indigenous American women, especially in Big Horn County, Montana. The trailer for Oxygen's new documentary, Murdered and Missing in Montana, premiering Friday, Nov. 12, investigates why these cases remain unsolved—and at times, even overlooked.
"Native American women are the most stalked, raped and murdered out of any women in America," the trailer states. "They go missing, they're found dead. What's the pattern?"
The "crisis in Montana" stems from 28 missing women in Big Horn County where assailants are believed to be taking advantage of reservation laws.
"If a non-tribal person commits a murder on a reservation, tribal police can't even make the arrest," a lawyer explains in the teaser.
Or, as one Indigenous woman explains, Big Horn County is where someone can go to "get away with murder."
Even a law enforcement officer agrees: "Why are these cases not being investigated? No arrests, no charges brought. It keeps happening over, over and over again."
Tribe grapples with missing women crisis on California coast
Five Native American women have disappeared or been killed along California’s rugged Lost Coast in the past 18 months
By GILLIAN FLACCUS
21 February 2022, 14:25
The recent cases spotlight an epidemic that is difficult to quantify but has long disproportionately plagued Native Americans.
A 2021 report by a government watchdog found the true number of missing and murdered Indigenous women is unknown due to reporting problems, distrust of law enforcement and jurisdictional conflicts. But Native women face murder rates almost three times those of white women overall — and up to 10 times the national average in certain locations, according to a 2021 summary of the existing research by the National Congress of American Indians. More than 80% have experienced violence.
In this area peppered with illegal marijuana farms and defined by wilderness, almost everyone knows someone who has vanished.
Missing person posters flutter from gas station doors and road signs. Even the tribal police chief isn’t untouched: He took in the daughter of one missing woman, and Emmilee — an enrolled Hoopa Valley tribal member with Yurok and Karuk blood — babysat his children.
In California alone, the Yurok Tribe and the Sovereign Bodies Institute, an Indigenous-run research and advocacy group, uncovered 18 cases of missing or slain Native American women in roughly the past year — a number they consider a vast undercount. An estimated 62% of those cases are not listed in state or federal databases for missing persons.
There Is a Crisis of Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women in California
22 February 2022
Native American women in California are being kidnapped and murdered at an alarming rate, and tribes are beginning to speak out against it more and more loudly.
The latest disappearance to hit the news is that of Emmilee Risling. Reports say she suffered from mental health and addiction struggles and was accused of arson but ultimately released. The 33-year-old was seen walking across a bridge last September in the Yurok Reservation in northern Humboldt County, and hasn’t been spotted since.
A nonprofit called Native Womens Wilderness says the National Crime Information Center has reported 5,712 incidents where American Indian and Alaska Native women and girls have gone missing, which is likely an under-estimate. The U.S. Department of Justice has only 116 of those cases listed in its missing persons database, though nearly 1500 of them are still considered missing.
American Indians are three times more likely to be murdered than white women, yet murders of Native women in California are seven times less likely to be solved. More than 80% of Indigenous women report experiencing violence.
“The majority of these murders are committed by non-Native people on Native-owned land. The lack of communication combined with jurisdictional issues between state, local, federal, and tribal law enforcement, make it nearly impossible to begin the investigative process,” Native Womens Wilderness says.
OPINION | Missing Indigenous women often ignored
Spotty data collection, historic racism against Indigenous communities contribute to lack of media coverage when Indigenous women go missing
by Wendelin Hume | 1 Dec 2021
No one knows just how many Indigenous girls or women go missing each year.
There are estimates. In 2019, 8,162 Indigenous youth and 2,285 Indigenous adults were reported missing to the National Crime Information Center, or NCIC, out of a total of 609,275 cases. But crimes against Native individuals often go unreported, and with American Indian and Alaskan Native cases, race is sometimes ignored or misclassified as white.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimate that Native American women are murdered at a rate three times that of white American women.
I almost became part of statistics like these. As a child, I was attacked by a person who targeted and typically killed isolated rural children. I know firsthand that the threat of being attacked and “disappearing” is real. And as a scholar who studies tribal justice and has tried to draw attention to the problem of missing and murdered Indigenous people, I find the lack of reliable data particularly frustrating. It is hard to call media attention to the seriousness of an issue that cannot be clearly measured.
Furthermore, as the recent case of Gabby Petito demonstrates, U.S. media tends to provide more compassionate coverage when the victim is a young white female – a phenomenon former PBS anchor Gwen Ifill called “missing white woman syndrome.”
So how can researchers and Native communities convince the media to pay attention to missing Indigenous people? And how can they convince authorities to investigate these cases?