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Effort builds for missing and murdered Native women and girls

Filed Under: First Nations in Canada | Law | National | Politics
More on: 114th, ashlynne mike, crime, crow, doj, fort peck, hanna harris, house, ilrc, jon tester, jurisdiction, laura madison, lauren chief elk, lucy simpson, makoons miller-tanner, mmiw, montana, navajo, ncai, niwrc, northern cheyenne, rcmp, roylynn rideshorse, ryan zinke, s.2785, s.res.514, scia, senate, steve daines, terri henry, vawa, violence, women
     
   

Native women rallied at the U.S. Supreme Court on December 7, 2015, to call attention to high rates of victimization in Indian Country. Photo by Indianz.Com

The campaign to raise awareness of missing and murdered Native women and girls continues to grow in the United States.

Reports from the Department of Justice confirm that Native women and girls are victimized at rates far higher than their counterparts. But data on the numbers of those who have gone missing or have been murdered has never been officially collected.

Native women and their advocates, though, are attempting to keep track. Justice for Native Women, a blog maintained by Makoons Miller-Tanner, and the Save Wiyabi Project, an effort of Lauren Chief Elk and Laura Madison, include information on hundreds of unresolved cases -- some of them decades-old -- across the country.

Newer cases also expose the dangers facing Native women and girls. A brutal attack on RoyLynn Rides Horse, a 28-year-old member of the Crow Tribe, along with the murder of a 11-year-old girl on the Navajo Nation in May and the death of a four-year-old girl on the Fort Peck Reservation in April, have drawn national headlines.

Members of Congress are now hoping to bring more attention to what they are calling an "epidemic" with the designation of May 5, 2017, as the National Day of Awareness for Missing and Murdered Native Women and Girls. Their resolution was written in memory of Hanna Harris, a member of the Northern Cheyenne Tribe who was murdered in 2013 at the age of 21, but it came as they learned about Rides Horse's death on Tuesday.

“I am heartbroken by the recent murder of RoyLynn Rides Horse. Tragically it’s a symptom of the greater epidemic of tribal women who go missing and are murdered at staggering rates,” Sen. Steve Daines (R-Montana), a first-term member of Congress who introduced the resolution in the Senate, said in a press release. “We are ringing the alarm to this devastating epidemic.”

"The attack and murder of RoyLynn Rides Horse shook my soul as a husband, father, Montanan, and as someone whose job has been to keep people safe," added Rep. Ryan Zinke (R-Montana), another new member of Congress who will be introducing the resolution in the House when that chamber returns to work next week.

Lucy Simpson, the executive director of the National Indigenous Women's Resource Center, is supporting the effort. The group is a leading voice in the effort to protect Native women and girls from violence.

"The harsh reality of our lives as Native women is that we witness our sisters, mothers, daughters and community members disappear and nothing is done," Simpson said in the press release. "We strongly support the resolution calling for a National Day of Awareness for Missing and Murdered Native Women to help increase awareness and shed light on the countless tragedies involving our Native sisters.”


Native women rallied for justice at the U.S. Capitol on December 7, 2015. Photo by Indianz.Com

Sen. Jon Tester (D-Montana), the vice chairman of the Senate Committee on Indian Affairs, joined his Montana colleagues in sponsoring S.Res.514. The resolution notes that "little data exist on the number of missing American Indian and Alaska Native women in the United States" and that Native women in some communities "face murder rates that are more than 10 times the national average."

The resolution, while symbolic, could help set the stage for more official action like the kind seen in Canada. After decades of lobbying, Native women and their supporters convinced the new administration of Prime Minister Justin Trudeau to launch the National Inquiry into Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls. A 2014 report from the Royal Canadian Mounted Police shocked advocates by confirming that the numbers of missing and murdered Native women was higher than anticipated.

In the U.S., Native women have pushed hard for more tools to help their communities address the crisis. Their work includes the Violence Against Women Act of 2013, which includes landmark provisions that recognize the "inherent" authority of tribes to arrest, prosecute and sentence non-Indians for committing domestic violence crimes against their partners.

The law, however, does not protect children from violence and it does not address crimes committed by non-Indians who lack ties to a tribal community. Along with the National Congress of American Indians and the Indian Law Resource Center, the National Indigenous Women’s Resource Center hosted a briefing on Capitol Hill this month to discuss a new report that highlighted the extent of the problem.

"This research that came out was alarming and shocking," Terri Henry, a member of the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians who co-chairs NCAI's task force on violence against women, said at the June 16 event. "It's really kind of made us stand back and think, 'It's worse than we were saying.'"

To address some of the areas that aren't covered by current law, Tester has introduced S.2785, the Tribal Youth and Community Protection Act. The bill expands on VAWA by recognizing tribal authority against non-Indians who commit drug crimes, domestic violence against children and crimes against law enforcement.

“It is critical that we shed more light on the hardships that Native women and their families often face,” Tester said on Tuesday. “But words must be followed up with actions, and I am committed to working with the Montana Congressional delegation and Montana tribes to increase the safety of Native women and ensure they have every opportunity to thrive.”

Tester's committee approved S.2785 at a business meeting last Wednesday. It has not yet been brought up for consideration on the Senate floor.


Hanna Harris, 1992-2013. Photo from Native Sun News

The National Day of Awareness for Missing and Murdered Native Women and Girls on May 5, 2017, would fall on what would have been the 25th birthday of Hanna Harris. She went missing on the Northern Cheyenne Reservation in Montana on July 4, 2013, the Native Sun News reported. Her body wasn't found until five days later, the paper said.

Eugenia Ann Rowland and Garrett Sydney Wadda were indicted in April March 2014 for the murder, sexual abuse and sexual assault of Harris. Rowland was sentenced to 22 years for her role in the crime and Wadda was sentenced to 10 years.

National Institute of Justice Report:
Violence Against American Indian and Alaska Native Women and Men (May 2016)

Royal Canadian Mounted Police Report:
Missing and Murdered Aboriginal Women: A National Operational Overvie (RCMP May 2014)

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