by Senator Murkowski Staff
A report prepared by the Seattle-based Urban Indian Health Institute (UIHI) and released today (Nov. 14th,2018) by U.S. Senator Lisa Murkowski (R-AK) indicates the epidemic of violence against Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls (MMIWG) initially believed to be confined to Indian Country, is far more reaching. It occurs in cities, large and small, across the nation with 75 new cases in 2018, alone.
“Violence against Native American and Alaska Native women is a dire issue, with murder being the third-leading cause of death of indigenous women. This report sheds an important light on the extent of the problem and highlights the urgent need for all jurisdictions to better track the numbers. We cannot fully tackle this problem if we do not have a full picture,” said Senator Lisa Murkowski. “Legislators at all levels of government and law enforcement agencies must commit to better tracking the number of Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women & Girls, and to consulting with tribal nations on the cases involving their members. We have a duty of moral trust toward our nation’s first people and must be part of the solution. I intend to see that the full array of federal programs which address violence in our society are brought to bear to address this epidemic. There is much more that we can be doing, and it’s long time that we start.”
The report, compiled from Freedom of Information Act information, news media accounts, social media and personal contacts documents 506 cases of Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women & Girls (MMIWG) in 71 U.S. cities in 29 states, stretching from Baltimore and Orlando, from Southern California to northern Alaska, and cities in between. The data primarily covers 2003-2018, although it includes cases dating back to 1943. Included in the data is the case of Sophie Sergie, a 20 year old co-ed at the University of Alaska Fairbanks from the Native Village of Pitka’s Point, whose body was found in the bath tub in a residence hall in 1993. Sergie’s assailant was never found and the case has been deemed “cold” by Alaska law enforcement officials for a quarter century.
Of the cases, 128 were involve missing persons, 280 involve murder, and 98 were of “unknown” status. The ten states with the highest number of cases were: New Mexico (78), Washington (71), Arizona (54), Alaska (52), Montana (41), California (40), Nebraska (33), Utah (24), Minnesota (20) and Oklahoma (18). The ten cities with the highest number of cases were: Seattle (45), Albuquerque (37), Anchorage (31), Tucson (31), Billings (29), Gallup NM (25), Tacoma (25), Omaha (24), Salt Lake City (24) and San Francisco (17). In addition to Anchorage, the report documents cases originating in Bethel (8), Fairbanks (6), Juneau (3), Ketchikan (3), Utqiagvik (1).
The Urban Indian Health Institute believes that the data vastly understate the incidence of violence against Indigenous Women and Girls due to inconsistent reporting practices by law enforcement agencies and federal crime data collectors.
“These numbers represent a family member or loved one, and even one is too many. And while I was heartened to hear of the cooperation from several of Alaska’s law enforcement officers in providing researchers with data, it’s clear that more can and should be done to ensure we are vigorously and accurately tracking the numbers,” said Senator Murkowski. “Enactment of Senator Heitkamp’s Senate bill 1942, Savanna’s Act, is an essential first step in addressing the epidemic of missing and murdered indigenous women and girls. I’m proud to cosponsor this legislation, but now that we know the incidence of cases arising from the urban areas, we need to work with law enforcement at all levels to ensure that we have accurate data from which to work. And we need to ensure that law enforcement has the resources and cultural understanding to effectively address the epidemic.”
“When I introduced Savanna’s Act, one of the main goals was to raise the issue of missing and murdered indigenous women to a national level and begin the conversation of how to address it,” said Senator Heitkamp. “Today’s report is significant because it sheds light on the scope of the problem, which we have to understand if we’re going to make policy changes to address it. With today’s report and the Senate Indian Affairs Committee moving forward on Savanna’s Act, we’re taking important steps toward finally raising the awareness needed to save lives and tackle this horrible epidemic.”
“Tlingit and Haida stands with the Seattle Indian Health Board and anyone else prepared to take a stand, bring awareness, and work towards meaningful solutions around this crisis. It’s time to denormalize violence against Native American and Alaska Native women,” said Richard Peterson (Tlingit), President, Central Council of the Tlingit and Haida Indian Tribes of Alaska.
In October of 2017, Senator Heitkamp introduced Savanna’s Act (S.1942), cosponsored by Senator Murkowski, the first piece of major legislation specifically addressing Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls. The Senate Committee on Indian Affairs is expected to report Savanna’s Act, which directs the US Department of Justice to formulate new protocols for the reporting of violent crimes against indigenous people for consideration by the full Senate today. The bill also provides for improved coordination between federal, state, tribal and local law enforcement agencies in investigating cases involving Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls wherever they occur.
UPDATE: This afternoon (Nov. 14th, 2018) the Senate Committee on Indian Affairs passed the S. 1942, Savanna’s Act, sending it to the full Senate for consideration. This legislation combats the epidemic of murdered and missing Native women and girls by improving the federal government’s response to addressing the crisis.