Weak data and media distortions delay justice for missing and murdered tribal peoples | Columnists


Nobody knows how many indigenous girls or women are missing each year.

There are estimates. In 2019, 8,162 indigenous youths and 2,285 indigenous adults were reported missing from a total of 609,275 cases to the National Crime Information Center (NCIC). But crimes against Native Americans are often not reported, and in cases involving Native Americans and Alaskans, the race is sometimes ignored or mistakenly identified as white.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimate that Indigenous American women are murdered three times as quickly as white American women.

I almost became part of such a statistic. As a child, I was attacked by a person who targeted and usually killed isolated rural children. I know firsthand that the threat of attack and “disappearance” is real. And as a scientist who has studied tribal justice and tried to raise awareness of the problem of missing and murdered indigenous peoples, I find the lack of reliable data particularly frustrating. It is difficult to draw media attention to the seriousness of a problem that cannot be clearly measured.

Furthermore, as the recent Gabby Petito case shows, US media tends to be more compassionate when the victim is a young white woman – a phenomenon former PBS host Gwen Ifill calls “Missing White.” Woman Syndrome ”.

How can researchers and indigenous communities convince the media to pay attention to missing tribal peoples? And how can you convince the authorities to investigate these cases?

The movement of missing and murdered Indigenous women began in Canada with the first official gathering in 2015. MMIW is a loose coalition of groups across Canada and the US seeking to raise awareness of the disproportionate violence that Indigenous women face .

Because databases often list more missing Native American men than women, the MMIW movement is now typically referred to as the Movement of Missing and Murdered Indigenous Peoples (MMIP). Starting in 2021, May 5th in the USA will now be recognized as Awareness Day for missing and murdered indigenous people.

Many indigenous peoples do not trust the authorities. As a result, they do not report the crimes committed. Crimes that are not reported are usually not counted.

Problems with jurisdiction further complicate the bad data problem. Even if a local family decides to report a loved one missing, do they report it to federal, state, tribal, or local authorities? Because tribal communities are often treated as sovereign nations, state or local authorities may not take action. However, tribal authorities may lack the resources to conduct a missing person investigation. And since the missing person is usually not located anywhere on the reservation, tribal authorities may not have legal authority to conduct an investigation outside the reservation or to arrest non-tribesmen.

Even if a missing person report reaches a law enforcement agency who can handle the case, if the missing person is a child, law enforcement agencies have their own discretion to declare the person an outlier. When a child is officially classified as an outlier, there is no yellow alert and usually no media coverage. The crucial time window to locate the victim immediately after the crime is often lost.

Missing person cases with colored people in the United States are less likely to be solved than cases with white victims.

US attorneys declined to prosecute two-thirds of the sexual abuse and related cases referred to them between 2005 and 2009 in India. This was partly due to disagreements between the FBI and the Bureau of Indian Affairs and possibly difficulties in obtaining evidence in violent criminal cases, as well as a perceived lack of credibility of victims due to the interracial nature of many crimes. The fact that many crimes in indigenous communities are not even investigated makes this ratio even more remarkable.

I believe there are many historical and current factors that prevent the police and media from paying attention to missing tribal peoples.

Historically, indigenous peoples, like many colored people, were not viewed as fully human by the white colonizers. Indigenous peoples were considered animal and pagan, and indigenous women were and are considered sexually permissive.

This feeling of superiority over another race led the colonizers to be willing to kill indigenous peoples, force them into slavery, drive them from the desired countries and later take their children to boarding schools, where they can speak their language and Culture were robbed and sometimes died.

In an 1886 speech, Theodore Roosevelt, who would later become US President, said, “I don’t think the only good Indians are the dead Indians, but I think nine out of ten are. “This historic dehumanization of indigenous peoples is still evident today in the violence against the Native Americans.

Native American men and women are both more than twice as likely to be victims of violent crime as the general population. Native Americans between the ages of 18 and 24 have the highest per capita rate of violent crime of any race or age in the United States

The majority of the violence Native American people experience is committed by someone of a different race. This rate of interracial violence is much higher among Native Americans (70%) than among white (38%) or black victims (30%). Additionally, around 90% of Native American rape victims have had attackers of another race – typically white.

Native Americans are also more likely to be killed by U.S. police than any other ethnic group, and twice as likely as white Americans, according to CDC data.

Search for justice

Grassroots Native-led efforts, particularly in the past five or six years, are beginning to draw the nation’s attention to the problems of crime and violence affecting indigenous peoples.

In 2019, the Trump administration formed the Task Force on Missing and Murdered American Indians and Alaska Natives, known as Operation Lady Justice. In April 2021, Home Secretary Deb Haaland, a member of the Pueblo of Laguna, established a Missing and Murdered Persons Unit at the Bureau of Indian Affairs to improve law enforcement cooperation. Previously, as a Representative from New Mexico 2019, she sponsored the Not Invisible Act to improve interstate coordination and consult with tribes to establish best practices to reduce the number of missing tribes.

And in October 2021, President Joe Biden declared October 11th Indigenous Peoples Day, a day to recognize the atrocities committed by the colonizers while recognizing the ongoing contributions of the indigenous people.

As thousands of unsolved cases of missing and murdered Native Americans await justice, there may now be understanding and a commitment to address this ongoing tragedy.

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