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Mary Annette Pember: Missing and murdered Indian women go forgotten

The REDress Project raises awareness of missing and murdered Native women in Canada. Photo from Facebook

In a three-part series for Indian Country Today and Rewire, independent journalist Mary Annette Pember reports on the thousands of indigenous women who have gone missing or who have been murdered in the United States and Canada:
Although Trudi Lee was only 7 when her big sister went missing back in 1971, she wept when she talked about that traumatic event 45 years later. “Sometimes I would catch our mom crying alone,” Lee said. “She would never tell me why, but I knew it was over Janice.”

Janice was 15 when she went missing near the Yakama reservation in Washington. Although her parents reported her missing to tribal law enforcement, there was never any news of the lively, pretty girl. “Mom died in 2001 without ever knowing what happened,” Lee said. “We still think of Janice and would at least like to put her to rest in the family burial plot.”

“It happens all the time in Indian country,” said Carmen O’Leary, coordinator of the Native Women’s Society of the Great Plains in South Dakota, a coalition of Native programs that provide services to women who experience violence. “When Native women go missing, they are very likely to be dead.”

Indeed, on some reservations, Native women are murdered at more than 10 times the national average, according to U.S. Associate Attorney General Thomas Perrelli, who presented that gruesome statistic while addressing the Committee on Indian Affairs on Violence Against Women in 2011.

Unlike Canada, where indigenous leaders and advocates have pressured the government to begin to confirm the numbers of missing and murdered indigenous women, the U.S. has done little to address the issue.

Although the Violence Against Women Act (VAWA) and the Tribal Law and Order Act (TLOA) have helped bring attention to this high rate of violence and have begun to address gaps in law enforcement for tribes and federal authorities, there is no comprehensive data collection system regarding the number of missing and murdered women in Indian country.

Under VAWA 2005, a national study authorized by Congress found that between 1979 and 1992 homicide was the third leading cause of death among Native females aged 15-34, and that 75 percent were killed by family members or acquaintances.

Get the Story:
Mary Annette Pember: Missing and Murdered: No One Knows How Many Native Women Have Disappeared (Indian Country Today 4/11)
Mary Annette Pember: Sorrow Like a River: Forcing the World to Listen (Indian Country Today 4/11)
Mary Annette Pember: Conspiracy of Indifference: Press and Police Ignore Violence Against Native Women (Indian Country Today 4/13)

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