The crisis of murdered and missing Indigenous women

The response to a disproportionate problem is falling short.

 

Indian Country News is a weekly note from High Country News, as we continue to broaden our coverage of tribal affairs across the West.

May 5 marks the National Day of Awareness for Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls. While the 2016 #NoDAPL and #MeToo movements have helped bring attention to Indigenous and women’s issues in general, little has been done at a policy level to address the high numbers of women who go missing in Indian Country.

U.S. Congress has taken some action, but change has been slow, and the scope of the problem is only now being better understood. In Washington state, Native Americans make up less than 2 percent of the population, but they represent more than 5 percent of its missing persons cases. Nationally, it is non-Native men who commit the majority of assaults against Native women. State lawmakers are just now starting to collect data, Crosscut reported. The legislation’s main supporter, State Rep. Gina McCabe, R-Goldendale, wants local law enforcement and the state government to work with and share data with tribal police departments. “There’s currently no comprehensive data collection system for reporting or tracking missing Native American women,” McCabe told Crosscut. “That’s a travesty, and I know Washington can do better.”

Washington Gov. Jay Inslee met with tribal leaders in 2016, including Swinomish Indian Tribal Community Chairman Brian Cladoosby. In March 2018, Inslee signed a bill to assist with the crisis of missing and murdered Indigenous women.

Washington isn’t the only place where the lack of communication between state and local law enforcement and tribal police departments contributes to the problem of violence against Native women. Tribal prosecutors and law enforcement lack the jurisdiction to try non-Native men who perpetrate violence against Indigenous women in tribal lands, due to a 1973 Supreme Court decision. It was not until 2013 that a provision in the Violence Against Women Act gave tribal governments more authority in cases of domestic violence. But the provision is limited. The law only gives tribal courts jurisdiction to prosecute non-tribal citizens for a narrow set of crimes, which do not include “crimes against children, law enforcement personnel, and sexual assault crimes committed by strangers.”

So far, the provision has not been widely adopted by tribal governments. A National Congress of American Indians report this year found that only 18 tribes have utilized Special Domestic Violence Criminal Jurisdiction, the program created by the provision. Many tribes reported they were unable to participate because of a lack of funding. “Tribes express continued frustration at their inability to prosecute these crimes — many of which occur in conjunction with a domestic violence offense — often with dangerous and devastating consequences for victims,” the NCAI reported.

But to get back some of that sovereign authority, tribes also have to give some up. When VAWA became law in 2013, it also required juries to have a fair cross-section of the public, meaning tribal courts have to allow non-tribal citizens to serve on juries, which prompts some obvious questions. “How do we, as an Indian tribe, want to open up our court system to non-Indians?” Assistant Attorney General for the Cherokee Nation Chrissi Nimmo told USA Today last year. “It’s always been Cherokees. How do we carve out this special seating?”

Within the 18 tribal nations exercising special jurisdiction in cases of domestic violence, NCAI reports 74 convictions of abusers over the past five years. That’s a measure of success, yes, but there are 567 federally recognized tribes in this country. Imagine how many more convictions we would see if even half of those nations participated. Imagine the message that would send to non-Native men who see Indigenous women as easy prey. Imagine how many of those men would be taken off the streets. I don’t know about you, but Im tired of imagining.

Wado.

Graham Lee Brewer is a contributing editor at High Country News and a member of the Cherokee Nation.

High Country News Classifieds
  • EDITOR-IN-CHIEF
    High Country News, an award-winning media organization covering the communities and environment of the Western United States, seeks an Editor-In-Chief to join our senior team...
  • EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR
    The Public Lands Foundation, a non-profit organization supporting the multiple-use management of public lands managed by the Bureau of Land Management, seeks an experienced leader...
  • CLIMATE JUSTICE FELLOW
    High Country News, an award-winning magazine covering the communities and environment of the Western United States, seeks applicants for a climate justice fellowship. The fellowship...
  • YELLOWSTONE TREASURES: THE TRAVELER'S COMPANION TO THE NATIONAL PARK
    Dreaming of a trip to Yellowstone Park? This book makes you the tour guide for your group! Janet Chapple shares plenty of history anecdotes and...
  • OLIVERBRANCH CONSULTING
    Non-Profit Management Professional specializing in Transitional Leadership, Strategic Collaborations, Communications and Grant Management/Writing.
  • SAGE GROUSE CCAA COORDINATOR
    The Powder Basin Watershed Council, headquartered in Baker City, Oregon, seeks a full-time Sage Grouse CCAA Coordinator. This position is part of a collaborative effort...
  • MARKETING COMMUNICATIONS MANAGER
    High Country News, an award-winning media organization covering the communities and environment of the Western United States, seeks a Marketing Communications Manager to join our...
  • EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR - OKANOGAN LAND TRUST
    Executive Director, Okanogan Land Trust Position Announcement Do you enjoy rural living, wild places, family farms, challenging politics, and big conservation opportunities? Do you have...
  • GREAT VIEWS, SMALL FOOTPRINT
    Close to town but with a secluded feel, this eco-friendly home includes solar panels, a graywater reuse system, tankless hot water, solar tubes, and rainwater...
  • EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR
    Powder River Basin Resource Council, a progressive non-profit conservation organization based in Sheridan, Wyoming, seeks an Executive Director, preferably with grassroots organizing experience, excellent communication...
  • COMMUNITY ORGANIZER- NORTHERN PLAINS RESOURCE COUNCIL
    Organize with Northern Plains Resource Council to protect Montana's water quality, family farms and ranches, & unique quality of life. Starts $35.5k. Apply now- northernplains.org/careers
  • BEAUTIFUL, AUTHENTIC LIVE YULE LOG CENTERPIECE
    - beautiful 12" yule log made from holly wood, live fragrant firs, rich green and white holly, pinecones and red berries. $78 includes shipping. Our...
  • CRAZY HORSE MEMORIAL DIRECTOR OF PROGRAMS FOR THE INDIAN UNIVERSITY OF NORTH AMERICA
    Crazy Horse Memorial, in the Black Hills of South Dakota, is currently accepting applications and nominations for the Director of Programs for The Indian University...
  • CRAZY HORSE MEMORIAL® MANAGER OF RESIDENCE LIFE FOR THE INDIAN UNIVERSITY OF NORTH AMERICA®
    Crazy Horse Memorial is currently accepting applications for the Manager of Residence Life for The Indian University of North America. This position is responsible for...
  • EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR
    Are you an art lover who dreams of living in the mountains? Is fundraising second nature to you? Do you have experience managing creative people?...
  • LENDER OWNED FIX & FLIP
    2 houses on 37+ acres. Gated subdivision, Penrose Colorado. $400k. Possible lender financing. Bob Kunkler Brokers Welcome.
  • HISTORIC LODGE AND RESTAURANT - FULLY EQUIPPED
    Built in 1901, The Crazy Mountain Inn has 11 guest rooms in a town-center building on 7 city lots (.58 acres). The inn and restaurant...
  • POLLINATOR OASIS
    Seeking an experienced, hardworking partner to help restore a desert watershed/wetland while also creating a pollinator oasis at the mouth of an upland canyon. Compensation:...
  • ELLIE SAYS IT'S SAFE! A GUIDE DOG'S JOURNEY THROUGH LIFE
    by Don Hagedorn. A story of how lives of the visually impaired are improved through the love and courage of guide dogs. Available on Amazon.
  • COMING TO TUCSON?
    Popular vacation house, furnished, 2 bed/1 bath, yard, dog-friendly. Lee at [email protected] or 520-791-9246.