Indigenous people across the country – particularly women and girls – go missing and murdered at higher rates than other demographic groups.
For example, the Montana Missing Indigenous Persons Task Force reports that Native Americans are 6% of the state’s population but comprise 27% of missing persons cases. The U.S. Department of Justice has found that in some tribal communities, Native American women are murdered at more than 10 times the national average.
But the epidemic (often abbreviated on social media as #MMIW or #MMIP) has attracted more attention and action in recent years.
In 2019, four Native American members of Congress introduced the “Not Invisible Act,” and “Savanna’s Act.” Both were signed into law in late 2020. The laws established an advisory committee on violent crime comprised of
law enforcement, tribal leaders, survivors and others. The committee then makes recommendations to the Department of Interior and Department of Justice.
The laws also establish best practices for law enforcement on combating the
epidemic of missing, murdered and trafficked Native Americans. It created a new position within the Bureau of Indian Affairs – an expert charged with improving coordination of violent crime prevention efforts across federal agencies.
Many state and local governments have done more as well.
In addition, last December marked the conclusion of a national task force’s first year of addressing the issue.
“Operation Lady Justice” (OLJ) so far has analyzed the data of missing and murdered Natives in Alaska, Idaho, Montana, Nebraska and Washington State.
It’s accomplishments, according to a status report, include the creation of more resources, access to programs, and data organized by state. OLJ officials hosted four listening sessions where Natives – including tribal
leaders – voiced their concerns. It assembled teams to help solve cold cases in multiple states. The operation touted its collaboration with law enforcement to establish culturally sensitive training and protocols to better serve Indigenous communities. Tribal leaders assisted in the development of the protocols, which are tailored to individual tribes.
“The fact that they’re even doing that just means they’re taking a step to understand us better,” Jr. Miss Florida Seminole Aubee Billie said. “Making sure they approach us in a different way, for us to feel comfortable and safe, that’s the best feeling in the world.”
Billie said plenty of work remains to be done.
“It took a very long time. It breaks my heart to see that it took this long for us to get that recognition,” she said.
Last November, Billie participated in a virtual walk/run organized by the National Indigenous Women’s Resource Center to help increase awareness. Billie believes sharing information on social media is one way to support the family members of missing and murdered Natives.
“There’s something about it that sparks something in you. You have to keep on spreading the information,” she said.
As the mainstream media has begun to cover the issue more frequently and social media campaigns thrive, the issue has increasingly become the subject of podcasts.
One recent podcast reviews several cases that have happened in the Northwestern region of the U.S.
“Vanished: A Native American Epidemic,” examines the issue by interviewing family members of victims and looking at situations that contribute to the problem.
The podcast is produced by NBC affiliate KHQ-TV based in Spokane, Washington. The station’s media company has a broadcast reach into areas from central Washington through Idaho to eastern Montana, which contain dozens of tribal communities.
“Many Indigenous People in our communities know a friend or family member who has gone missing or was murdered,” the producers said in a statement. “We are launching Vanished to take a deeper look at this issue as it affects our Native populations [including] external factors that seem to aggravate the issue.”
Episodes are expected to debut every other Tuesday. The first episodes are available on Spotify and were expected to be eventually accessible on Apple Podcasts.
There are other entire podcasts dedicated to the issue, or already established broadcasts that contain singled out episodes on the epidemic.
The “Taken” podcast, produced by Indigenous-owned Eagle Vision, features a 10-part series on the subject. The podcast involves families, law enforcement, advocates, academics, elders and others to shed light on the stories and possibly help to solve open cases.
“Taken” is available on Spotify.
Search your preferred podcast provider for availability of any podcast on the subject.
Meanwhile, the producers of “Vanished” are soliciting stories about the issue from anyone who would like to share. Email firstname.lastname@example.org for more information.
Staff reporter Damon Scott contributed to this story.