Secretary Zinke committed to addressing 'heart-breaking' crimes against Native women and girls

The Quilt Walk for Justice was displayed in Washington, D.C., on December 7, 2015, to draw attention to high rates of crime against Native women. Photo by Indianz.Com / Available for use under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License [More on Flickr]

The new leader of the Department of the Interior is welcoming efforts to address violence in Indian Country, especially crimes against Native women and girls.

As a member of Congress Secretary Ryan Zinke introduced legislation to raise awareness of missing and murdered Native women and girls. He became particularly concerned when RoyLynn Rides Horse, a citizen of the Crow Tribe died after being brutally attacked in his home state of Montana last May.

Now that he's in the executive branch, Zinke will be able to work on the crisis from another angle. The Bureau of Indian Affairs at Interior is part of a new law enforcement group whose goal is to combat violence on tribal lands by increasing collaboration and coordination among 12 federal agencies.

“Law enforcement in Indian Country is especially complex, and it is heart-breaking that crimes against Native American women and girls occur at exponentially higher rates than non-Native populations,,” Zinke said in a press release on Tuesday. “It’s a subject that I have been especially passionate about since my time representing Montana.”

According to the Department of Justice, Native women are victimized at rates far higher than their counterparts. They are more likely to be abused, assaulted and murdered and most of the perpetrators are from another race, the data shows.

Zinke called the problem an "epidemic" when he sought to designate May 5, 2017, as the National Day of Awareness for Missing and Murdered Native Women and Girls. The day was chosen in honor of Hanna Harris, a citizen of the Northern Cheyenne Tribe who was murdered in 2013 at the age of 21. The Montana resident was born on May 5.

The resolution didn't pass during the last session of Congress but Sen. Steve Daines (R-Montana) introduced a new version, S.Res.60, in February. Native women support the effort.

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