Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls is a serious crisis within the United States. Organizing efforts, from the grassroots to national level, have brought this issue into the public’s eye. As social justice actions continue to increase across Indian tribes and communities, lawmakers and government departments are being educated and held accountable to make the changes needed.
Governmental Responses to Calls for Justice and Change
The increased attention to the issue of MMIW is long overdue. In the first five months of 2019, three bills were introduced in the Senate with companion bills in the House, and hearings on MMIW in both the Senate and House. The changes contained in these bills are needed and will bring attention to the injustices of MMIW. They are critical first steps to fully understanding the injustices and defining solutions.
As affirmed in the 2009 Apology to Native Peoples, the U.S. recognized that there have been years of official depredations, ill-conceived policies, and the breaking of covenants by the Federal Government regarding Indian tribes; and apologized for the many instances of violence, maltreatment, and neglect inflicted on Native Peoples. The release in 2018 of the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights Broken Promises Report also continues to affirm the need for the government to fulfill their trust responsibility with appropriate allocation of resources. The crisis of MMIW is reflective of this history and ongoing failure of the United States to protect Native women. This crisis is in part what the U.S. apologized for; the lack of resources for tribes to provide justice and victim services; and, the failure of local, state and federal responses to these crimes.
The NIWRC is working in partnership with the NCAI Task Force to educate Congress to strengthen tribal authority to respond to these crimes and ensure availability of resources to support such increased tribal responses. Efforts at all levels of tribal, state and the federal government are required to begin making the changes needed. The following state and Congressional legislative actions are highlights of such change.
National Responses: In 2019, Congress introduced three bills in both the Senate and House to recognize, study, and increase the coordination and response of law enforcement agencies to the MMIWG crisis. The Savanna’s Act, Not Invisible Act, and Studying the Missing and Murdered Indian Crisis Act were introduced this year with MMIW. The last bill providing a study by the GAO of the current government response to MMIW passed out of the House and under the Violence Against Women Reauthorization Act (HR 1585). In addition, the House held a hearing on the crisis of MMIW. And, on May 5th, 2019, the White House issued a Presidential Proclamation recognizing May 5th, 2019 as the National Day of Awareness for Missing and Murder Indigenous Women.
The U.S. Congressional effort was launched in 2017 by the delegation from Montana after the murder of Hanna Harris on the Northern Cheyenne Reservation and other abductions and killings of Native women. The 2017, Senate Resolution calling for a National Day of Awareness marked the first Congressional recognition of MMIW as a national issue. Like, every year since 2017, a resolution recognizing May 5, 2019, as a National Day of Awareness for Missing and Murder Native Women and Girls was passed in the Senate with increased support and awareness of the need to take action. These proclamations and social justice actions on May 5 have resulted in the increasing response from Congress and the current administration.
“As a mother, nothing will replace the loss of my daughter but by organizing to support the National Day of Awareness, and creating the changes needed I know it will help others. And Hanna and so many others will not be forgotten.”—Malinda Limberhand, Mother of Hanna Harris, Honored by the National Day of Awareness Senate Proclamation
State Responses: These changes are reflected in actions by city, county, state, and national legislative bodies. From the entire west coast to the great plains, southwest and upper mid-west state lawmakers have acted. Twelve states (AK, AZ, CA, NM, MN, MT, ND, NE, OR, SD, UT, WA) have introduced and passed legislation such as establishing a MMIW Task Force to respond, proclamations recognizing the National Day of Awareness, authorizing and funding a study, etc.
NIWRC is now tracking legislative actions by state and federal governments to address the crisis of MMIW. In May, NIWRC created a system to email weekly updates of this MMIW legislative activity. Every Monday a compilation of MMIW legislative actions, state and federal, is released to our listserv. To sign up for the “Weekly National Legislative Summary Update,” visit https://bit.ly/2Hh1dzM.
Recognition and Support for Tribal Authority and Responses
The NIWRC envisions a return to Indigenous values where women are respected and recognized as sacred. The normalization of violence against Native women occurred over several hundred years as federal law and policies eroded the authority of tribal governments to protect women. It happened as the fundamental right of Native women to safety as human beings were ignored by the United States and violated. These laws and policies over time placed Native women in the status of “unprotected.” Laws shape public perception and change the cultural norm of what is unacceptable or is a crime. Many of the laws that led to this crisis continue to exist today and must be changed.
“Together, we call for prayer and healing for the families in response to this violence,” said Lucy Simpson, Executive Director of the NIWRC. “But we also demand meaningful legislative reforms that remove barriers to safety for Indian women by recognizing and strengthening the sovereign ability of all tribal nations to protect Indian women and their children.”
TAKE ACTION! Organize to Increase Protections for Native Women! Honor MMIWG!
The National Indigenous Women’s Resource Center (NIWRC) continues our efforts to address this crisis and offers resources to raise awareness and organize community action. New resources include a new MMIW Special Collections Resource Page, MMIW digital awareness cards, and access to NIWRC weekly compilation of state and federal MMIW legislative actions. Connect online to any of the following resources provide to assist you in understanding and responding to the crisis of MMIWG.
- LISTEN: “Honoring Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women to Guide our Advocacy for Change.” A recorded webinar available on NIWRC’s Resource Library at www.niwrc.org.
- SIGN ON: Support May 5th as the National Day of Awareness for Missing & Murdered Indigenous Women & Girls! https://docs.google.com/forms/d/e/1FAIpQLScW6R4jHRrDDBLLWXZJhklEQti295BOgi6UGn0-g_xWEpL-Jg/viewform
- EXPLORE: MMIW Special Collections Resource Listing http://www.niwrc.org/resources/special-collection-missing-murdered-indigenous-women-girls
- DOWNLOAD: Wear Red for MMIW Digital Postcards and share on your social media with hashtags: #MMIW, #MMIWG, #WhyWeWearRed- https://drive.google.com/drive/folders/1vodfuuf_xIVW_NgLMhV5am3wVM-wRnxC?usp=sharing
- WATCH: NIWRC’s 2019 Wear Red Slide Show for MMIWG May 5th Social Media Campaign! https://youtu.be/eCloku5VWfw
- DOWNLOAD: “Tribal Community Response When a Woman is Missing: A Toolkit for Action” in NIWRC’s Resource Library. http://www.niwrc.org/resources/tribal-community-response-when-woman-missing-toolkit-action
- EXPLORE: NIWRC’s Online Resource Library for past webinars, reports, and articles on MMIW
- SHARE: The StrongHearts Native Helpline (1-844-7NATIVE). The StrongHearts Native Helpline is a safe, confidential and free helpline for American Indians and Alaska Natives impacted by domestic violence and dating violence. Trained Native advocates offer emotional support, crisis intervention, assistance with safety planning, and a connection to local Native resources. If you or someone you know is in an abusive relationship, get free, confidential support and referrals to resources by calling 1-844-7NATIVE (762-8483), available daily from 7 a.m. to 10 p.m. CST nationwide. Callers reaching out after hours may connect with the National Domestic Violence Hotline (1−800−799−7233) by selecting option 1. More information at www.strongheartshelpline.org
- MMIW DATABASE: The Sovereign Bodies Institute. https://www.sovereign-bodies.org/mmiw-database?fbclid=IwAR15hpz2hfDmSFuqs0PZIvvH9e4VcGvdnk4aT0Cqhhua7DKRR5iPOv7nxag
- DOWNLOAD: Urban Indian Health Institute’s “Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women & Girls: A Snapshot of data from 71 Urban Cities in the United States.” http://www.uihi.org/wp-content/uploads/2018/11/Missing-and-Murdered-Indigenous-Women-and-Girls-Report.pdf
- DATABASE: NamUS-National Missing and Unidentified Persons System. https://www.namus.gov